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Mention rugged laptops and one's mind immediately thinks of ToughBooks. Panasonic's range of rugged laptops enjoy the kind of brand recognition once reserved for Sony's Walkmans and still enjoyed by Apple's iPod, but there's no shortage of companies trying to chip into this reputation and one of those is Dell. It has been tinkering with rugged laptops for a while now and the Latitude E6400 XFR is its latest attempt at a fully-rugged laptop.
As the video review partly explains, the E6400 XFR is a little different to most other 'fully-rugged' laptops. It doesn't use ultra-low voltage processors, instead offering full-power Intel Core 2 Duo processors and thus a workstation level of performance. Also, as the name suggests, this system is based on the same platform as the company's standard Latitude E6400 laptop. That means the same BIOS, same basic hardware and similar levels of connectivity, so you could take a hard drive from an E6400 XFR and put it into an E6400 (or vice versa) and it would work. A potentially useful bonus given the hard drive is hot swappable, though the standard E6400 doesn't offer quite so much convenience.
Since the E6400 XFR uses more powerful processors than the likes of the Panasonic ToughBook CF-30, it's not passively cooled like it is, either. Instead it uses what Dell calls its QuadCool Thermal Management System, which uses a fan cooling system that's isolated from the rest of the system. It works well enough, but the system does get pretty noisy when under heavy load - no surprise, really, since Dell is also offering discrete graphics in the form of an nVidia Quadro NVS 160M with 256MB RAM. This isn't included in the starting price, though, which gets you just the standard Intel integrated graphics.
Indeed, as is always the case with Dell, working out exactly what you can or can't have is like an especially irritating cryptic puzzle. Certain options are available in one place but not another and pricing fluctuates wildly, too. For instance, if buying as a small or medium size business the starting price is £2,699 exc. VAT, but you don't get access to all the possible options, such as a touchscreen and integrated HSDPA. For those you must be a large corporate buyer, but then the official starting price is £2,932 - a bit moot since contracts for large orders will be negotiated individually anyway!
For the record our review system came with a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9600 processor, 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM, a 128GB SSD (other options being a 64GB SSD or a 80GB 5,400rpm mechanical drive) and a standard, non-touch 14.1in display with webcam and microphone included. Other standard features include 802.11n Wi-Fi and TPM security, with Bluetooth and HSDPA being options that weren't included on our system.
Buying this system from the 'Small and Medium Business' section of Dell's website would set you back £2,931 exc. VAT. A lot of money; about as much as a Panasonic ToughBook CF-30 costs these days. However, cost is a relatively minor concern in this segment and the Dell does bring a few tangible benefits over the CF-30 in terms of processing power and security, particularly the addition of contact-less RFID authentication like on the normal E6400. It also has exceptionally strong connectivity options, with four USB ports, FireWire, eSATA and Display Port among the highlights. Legacy connectivity is provided via optional docking stations.