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Product Review: Dell Latitude E6400 XFR

I tested the Dell Latitude E6400 XFR, a MIL-STF-810F laptop designed for less than ideal environments. The XFR, as it will be called henceforth in this text, is an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor 2.60 GHz laptop with shock and water-resistant capabilities.

My XFR was loaded with Microsoft Windows XP Pro. Because of parts commonality between other Dell products, it has exemplary expandability. Dell has included support for next generation standards like WS-MAN and DASH 1.0, as well as excellent common connection features like WLAN, WWAN, and GPS. Although I didn’t use it, there is also a fingerprint reader among several security devices which add to the law enforcement utility of the package.

The XFR is certified to MIL-STF-810F, which means that the XFR was subjected to more than 13 military tests by an independent laboratory. The standards include four-foot drops, exposure to moisture and vibration, and resistance to dust ingress.

The Dell Latitude E6400 XFR is a MIL-STF-810F laptop designed for less than ideal environments. The XFR survived the thermal shock and vibration tests without incident, and although the XFR appears to be resistant to an occasional spilled cup of French Roast, taking it to a pool party is not recommended.
The Dell Latitude E6400 XFR is a MIL-STF-810F laptop designed for less than ideal environments. The XFR survived the thermal shock and vibration tests without incident, and although the XFR appears to be resistant to an occasional spilled cup of French Roast, taking it to a pool party is not recommended.

Dell is one of the few companies in the hard-use computing industry that was a laptop builder first and an extreme environment computer builder later. This is the strongest point about the XFR: It is all Dell, meaning it is a smoothly operating, fast processing, powerful laptop.

It is also a very attractive package for a hard-use piece of equipment. It has a subtly textured case with rubber bumpers, a touch pad and a “stubby eraser” mouse and comfortable palm space for mobile computing. I especially liked that the keyboard has light-touch trapezoidal profile keys.

The XFR weighs 8.5 lbs with the six-cell primary battery. Dell boasts a fast charging cycle and my initial tests showed it charged in half the time (about 1.5 hours) compared to the six other laptops currently in my shop. It had the usual battery-saving devices which were fairly effective even without the optional booster pack.

The XFR showed that it was more than capable in the graphics department. First, it has a superior LCD. This Daylight Readable 14.1” WXGA (1280 x 800) wide-aspect transmissive display with DirectVue™ technology is quite capable of digital photo quality. It is so clear and accurate, I recommend purchasing an aftermarket product like a polarizing screen that prevents prying eyes from viewing confidential information. This LCD was so good that one could read text from angles as oblique as 15 degrees, which means anyone looking inside the patrol car through the driver window could read the display. 

I experimented with graphics-intensive products that tested screen refresh rate and found that the XFR was exceptional in graphics acceleration. This is a bonus if the XFR is installed as a combination MDC/in car video capture device. This is an NVIDIA Quadro NVS 160M running at 256MB DDR26 with a 4500MHD6 Intel Graphics Media Accelerator.

I tested the durability of the LCD, using an industry acceptable impact testing standard. While the unit was operating, I dropped a projectile directly on the screen. The XFR excelled in this test. Additionally, the 14.1 inch wide aspect LCD was viewable during impact. This allowed me to mitigate the boredom of this experiment by watching a movie while trying to hit a character on the screen.

The XFR has optional solid state hard drives. This model came with one. A solid state drive does not spin, and therefore is considerably more shock resistant to things like crashes in patrol cars, a topic for which I have some expertise. This made the transit drop test easy. I dropped this from the prescribed four feet on each corner, then face down and face up while it was operational. The XFR performed flawlessly.

A look inside revealed a well isolated hard drive bay, complete with several shock absorption features and a secondary lock. It was obviously built to protect a spinning hard drive and, given the plethora of Dell options, offers quite a bit in the way of flexibility.

The XFR has peripheral and enhanced-functionality features behind sealed or covers. These covers have metal hinges and soft foam gaskets. The protective package is called PrimoSeal Ingress Technology. The spring-loaded latches securely compress the seal against the lips of the chassis.

Like I said, this product is all Dell, with a docking connector, multimedia DVD RW, SD, speaker/microphone connectors, USB 2.0, and a six-cell battery. There are various media in/out connectors behind these sturdy doors. The case appears quite modular, which is consistent with Dell’s track record of available custom laptop packages.

During the ingress test, I put the XFR directly under a sprinkler while it was running. This product reviewer parameters require that the unit does not sit in a pool of water accumulating under it. I agreed to this condition, even though the last time I tested a rugged laptop I literally dunked it while it was running.

I was a little concerned about the QuadCool Sealed Thermal Chamber, a system of keeping the unit within operating temperature range. It has two open ports on the top and a fan exhaust on the bottom of the unit.

The QuadCool Sealed Thermal Chamber was pretty effective on warm weather, provided one keeps those ports clear. Having had several MDCs shut down in warm weather (I worked in the Central Valley in California, which is almost a desert), I would create a better airflow by making the little rubber feet on the bottom taller. The fan ran only a few seconds at a time as it got warm. It did this more often as it got warmer.

After about 30 seconds under the sprinkler, the unit went into what I thought was a default protective mode when wet. I dried it off and attempted to fire it back up. Everything looked good until I found that water had made it to the battery box, which is in the rear of the unit. This particular area has two ports for accessing an RJ45 port and what looks like a 1x Display port.

I dried everything off, checked the seals, and simulated blowing rain again. It didn’t seem like the fan area was affected. However, there are several sliding ports in the back of the unit which did not create a seal.

I checked the seals and doused it again. Mind you, this is the “blowing rain ingress” test, not the “Lindsey wants to see what this really can do by dunking it” test. Although this unit appears to be resistant to an occasional spilled cup of French Roast, I would not take it to a pool party. Here’s the rule I came up with: Keep it mounted in the patrol car (and out of the rain), and you’ll be OK.

The XFR survived the thermal shock and vibration tests without incident.

While testing the XFR, I got a chance to try the new Havis Mount for it. Havis makes MDC docks to mount a laptop into a patrol car. Using the XFR on this Docking Unit allowed all cables and peripherals, including video input, to be attached to a rattle free mount, not the laptop. The docking unit has a power feed indicator and a rattle free 6 point locking mechanism, which uses steel mounting claws and a cylinder (pickproof) keyway. I recommend that the XFR and Havis Mount be purchased together to insure agency security and increase the usable life of the MDC.

This is a Dell. In my line of work, reputation says everything. I have used Dell laptops for work before and they are cost-effective, fast, and reliable. This one is all that, and good looking. Coupled with the Havis Mount mentioned here, it should give reliable years of service and platform stability.

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