So the E6400 XFR has the power and flexibility, but this market is primarily about one thing: ruggedness. Naturally Dell talks a good game on this front, claiming exclusive use of ‘Ballistic Armor Protection’ that’s supposedly stronger and lighter than magnesium alloy. Dell is pretty woolly on the details, though, so quite what ‘Ballistic Armor Protection’ consists of is up for debate.
One thing that isn’t up for debate is the sheer size of the E6400 XFR. Built around a widescreen display, it’s wider (353mm) than a CF-30 and it’s also heavier, weighing in at just a smidgen over four kilos where the CF-30 is a couple of hundred grams under. Not massive degrees of difference and hardly a deciding factor in a rugged laptop, but the E6400 XFR is arguably a little less portable.
It is a nicer machine to use, though. Its keyboard is lifted directly from the E6400 and it’s a very good one, featuring precise, positive key actions and an uncompromised layout. If you did need to sit down and write something then the XFR is about as usable as any ordinary laptop. Another fillip for the Dell is that the keyboard is backlit, a potentially very useful feature if working outdoors late at night. Likewise the touchpad is very good and there’s even a trackpoint, though it’s a little too easy to remove it and seems likely to fall off in a heavy drop.
As for the XFR’s rugged credentials, it passes the US military standard ‘MIL-STD-810F’ for durability and the IP65 standard for ingress (water and dust) protection. In English this means the XFR can survive (among other things) non-operational drops from four feet, operational drops from three feet and 70mph blowing rain and can operate in temperatures between -29 and 63 degrees centigrade – see the Wikipedia entry for more info on all the tests performed. This doesn’t quite match the CF-30, which these days passes level 810G, which most notably adds a six foot non-operational drop, but nonetheless the XFR’s rugged credentials appear to be in order.
But are they?
Where impact protection is concerned, yes they are. Each corner of the machine is protected by moulded rubber, which does a very good job of absorbing bumps and scrapes from any angle of descent. As evident in the video review, the display can also take a pounding and come out looking fine – believe me, my fist was hurt more than the screen was!
However our video doesn’t quite tell the whole story, since the system’s ingress protection is less than perfect. While the XFR did remain operational after we doused it with water, when we returned the next day the system wouldn’t boot. Opening up the various ‘sealed’ doors revealed that some moisture (we’re not talking torrents here) had seeped in, particularly in the large battery compartment at the rear, which isn’t isolated from the system board! We left the system to dry for a day and sure enough it did boot up, but it’s hardly an ideal scenario to deal with if your system ever does get exposed to the elements.