Dell updates its business computers

Crosses the Sandy Bridge 24 times

Dell LogoDELL HAS REFRESHED 24 computers in it’s Latitude, Precision, and Optiplex lines, adding Sandy Bridge CPUs, a bunch of new features, a new look, and a lot of subtleties. The only real question remaining is when they will ship, but that isn’t really in Dell’s hands now.

As you know, Intel recently stopped shipment of it’s Cougar Point chipset because of a SATA bug, and shipments are not set to resume until late February. While Intel recently announced that they are going to resume shipping of the ‘bad’ parts if the PCs being made with them don’t use the affected ports, it is still going to limit availability. This means Dell won’t be shipping many, if any, of these new models until mid-March at the earliest.

Dell E6520

Lattitude E6520

The most important change is the new Latitude E family, and they have grown up by 10. The older 5510 becomes 5520, the 6610 is now the 6620 and….. well, you get the idea. The changes go beyond the new look, starting with a new magnesium frame. Dell claims it is 6.5% more rigid than the previous model, and that is something no one will complain about. Yay FEA tools.

Dell chassis

Lattitude chassis

From there, things move to more ‘hard-wearing materials’, in this case a ‘Tri-Metal’ outer shell. Nothing says ‘I am cool’ like pulling out a ratty laptop with wear spots all over it in a high level meeting. There is even a new semi-ruggedized machine, the E6420 ATG. This one has port covers, a detachable handle, and ‘bedliner paint’. It looks like Dell forgot the matching shotgun rack for the revamped servers, pity.

All of these laptops have USB3, something that is sorely needed in this class of product, and backlit keyboards, a first in business laptops according to Dell. Better yet, they all offer Ubuntu 10.10 as an option, so you can finally get a real laptop with a real OS. Well done Dell.

There is only one thing to complain about with these new laptops, and that is the screens. On the plus side, they all appear to be LED based, not LCD, and are all listed as ‘anti-glare’. Some models even offer touch screens or ‘outdoor viewing’ capable panels.

The one big problem is resolution. All of these models have 1366*768 screens as a base, and some like the ATG and the 13″ chassis, don’t even have any optional upgrades. How Dell can offer a high end Sandy Bridge based business laptop with a frankly unusable screen resolution is beyond me. This flaw should take several lines off your list for consideration, 768 lines vertically isn’t enough to view a web page on, especially with the enforced Windows 7 UI fluff. Given how good some of these new models look, that is a real pity.

Back to the good stuff, the accessories. Business products like this tend to be deployed in large numbers, and that means a support staff in house to one extent or another. To make their life easier, Dell has made the entire Latitude line use one keyboard, one dock, and one battery footprint. If you have a Latitude notebook, you can swap the battery with any other Latitude. Amazingly useful for the corporate set, and it will reduce cost of ownership for volume buyers.

Somewhat tangential to this, there is a new Latitude XT3 convertible tablet, basically a laptop with a screen that rotates and folds flat. There were also hints at a full Windows 7 tablet in their conference call, but that was only mentioned as ‘later this year’. If you read this as ‘when Oak Trail ships’, you are not far off. That would be May. If they don’t offer a non-Windows version, avoid, it isn’t going to be fast enough to avoid UFBAD (User Frustration Based Aerodynamic Testing).

Going on to desktops, we have three new ones, the Optiplex 390, 790 and 990. They use the Intel H61, Q65 and Q67 chipsets respectively, all Cougar Point with less functionality fused off as the numbers increase. None of the lines support dual CPUs or ECC, so they are definitely not stepping into workstation territory.

New dell look 

The new look of Dell

The x90 line significantly update the look of the current Dell desktops. Gone are the old silver plastic ‘thingy’ on the front of the case, and in it’s place we have a silver mesh grille. On three of the four form factors, the corner of the chassis is cut, giving it a very different look from everyone else out there. I won’t comment much on the aesthetics until I see one in person, but for me, it appears to be a real step up.

Last up we have three new Precision workstations, and they are not much to behold. The T1600 desktop is a Westmere or Sandy Bridge based Xeon box that does support up to 16GB of ECC DDR3/1333. The box itself is the older chassis with the silver plastic ‘thingy’ on the front. The only omission seems to be USB3, something that really should be on a box of this class. HP seriously outclasses Dell in the workstation department, and the T1600 won’t help change that balance of power.

Dell precision

2002 Compaq laptop reborn!

On the mobile front, there are two new Precisions, the M4600 and M6600. Neither is shipping any time soon, and specs were not available. The one thing that that Dell showed was a picture, and it was a bit short of scintillating.

While it is probably a very nice laptop, I can’t help but get flashbacks to my old P2/300 Compaq laptop collecting dust in the corner. To say that this machine’s looks are a step backwards from the last generation of mobile Precisions is an understatement. Lets hope that this is a mockup or something to throw the competition off the trail, because anything that gets shown the door by Clevo styling is not a winner at SemiAccurate HQ.

Overall, Dell looks to have put out a really solid line of business desktops. Other than the resolution, there is nothing really bad to say. The company has done a complete 180 on service and support over the past few years, handing the torch of “Oh God, I have to deal with them again?” to HP who is expanding on the concept.

Until pricing and exact lineups come out in a few weeks, there are still a few open questions. Dell tends to be very price competitive, so the concerns here are minimal. It looks like Dell did all the right things for the right reasons, and added a nice bit of style as a bonus. If I were in the market, the Latitudes would be on my short list.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate