s/HP/Dell

I have recent­ly upgraded my main com­pu­ter from an HP Eli­te­Book 6930p to a Dell Lati­tu­de E6430. After 7 years of using HP busi­ness lap­tops, the tran­si­ti­on to the Dell ran­ge is a wel­co­me chan­ge. Here’s why:

1. LED screen
Both machi­nes are 14.1″ lap­tops with a slight­ly hig­her screen reso­lu­ti­on than the usu­al (and rather hor­ri­ble) 1366x768px. While the HP is from 2009 and still came with a 1440x900px screen, this new Dell lap­top has 1600x900. A lot of pro­gramm­ers / web workers actual­ly pre­fer hig­her screen reso­lu­ti­ons, and I mean­while also, but in the begin­ning the tiny font was a pro­blem. Sin­ce I usual­ly only go for busi­ness lap­tops with docking sta­ti­ons, my main screen is an exter­nal 22″ moni­tor at 1680x1050 — so this screen issue is secon­da­ry to me.

What mat­ters though is the illu­mi­na­ti­on tech­no­lo­gy — which is based on cold-catho­de fluo­re­scent lamps (CCFL) on my old HP. As men­tio­ned in my 2009 review of the HP 6930p vs. the Dell E6400, even the E6400 alrea­dy had a nice LED screen, just as about half of all Leno­vo T400 lap­tops sold. Of the 6930p sold sin­ce 2008/2009, most models only came with the CCFL ver­si­on — and the few avail­ab­le LEDs only had a WXGA / 12800x800 reso­lu­ti­on. It is only recent­ly that someo­ne came up with a hack to install a WXGA+ (1440x900) LED screen from a Leno­vo T410 into an HP 6930p. I once thought about doing this hack and alrea­dy bought the cables, but such 14.1″ LED screens usual­ly sell for ~ 140 EUR alo­ne. The­se days, second hand 6930p lap­tops sell for around 200 EUR, so any such invest­ment would be rather stupid.

New lap­top, new screen, issue solved.

The bit­ter truth may be that I should have picked a 14.1″ lap­top with a WXGA+ LED screen in 2009 (e.g. the E6400 or the T400). The WXGA++ LED screen on the E6430 is an instant LIKE (even though the CCFL ver­si­on had bet­ter colours).

It seems the­re are no 14.1″ lap­tops with real­ly good screens. It’s eit­her 12.5″ (Leno­vo), 13.3″ (Apple) or 15.x”/17.x” if you’­re inte­res­ted in some­thing like IPS panels.

2. Back­lit keyboards
The HP has an “illu­mi­na­ted key­board” which is a litt­le light that pops up next to the web­cam and illu­mi­na­tes the key­board from abo­ve. Nice, but back­lit (!) key­boards are actual­ly much nicer. The­re is a list of lap­tops with back­lit key­boards, and while back­lit key­boards have beco­me very popu­lar with con­su­mer lap­tops, they are still not the norm with busi­ness laptops.

Dell Latitude E6430 vs. HP EliteBook 6930p

Dell Lati­tu­de E6430 vs. HP Eli­te­Book 6930p

For my new Dell, I’ve orde­red an extra back­lit key­board. Tha­t’s some­thing I would­n’t find with the cur­rent 14.1″ HP alter­na­ti­ves as back­lit key­boards are limi­ted to the 15″ and 17″ HP Eli­te­Books. So buy­ing ano­t­her HP this time around was­n’t an opti­on. “And the Leno­vo T430?”, you ask? Well.…

3. The Func­tion [Fn] key
Key­board lay­outs, damn it! Leno­vo, don’t mess with key­board lay­outs! The left cor­ner on the bot­tom row belongs to the Ctrl key, and not­hing else. As much as I love Think­Pads, the Fn-key posi­tio­ning is not ok with me. Dell does it like HP and does it right. So HP, Dell or Leno­vo? With HP lacking a back­lit key­board in the 14″ ran­ge, the selec­tion nar­rows down to a 14″ Dell.

Ctrl | Fn keys on both laptops

Ctrl | Fn keys on both laptops

4. Dis­cre­te graphics
The Dell E64300 comes with an “nVi­dia NVS 5200M Gra­phics with DDR5 1GB Dedi­ca­ted RAM (Opti­mus Tech­no­lo­gy) and an inter­nal Intel HD Gra­phics 4000”, so it has two swit­cha­ble gra­phic cards like most modern Mac­Books. My old HP only had an AMD ATI Rade­on HD 3470 with 128MB onboard RAM, which could­n’t be deac­ti­va­ted, so tog­e­ther with the nice but thirsty CCFL screen, this resul­ted in minus 1h bat­te­ry run­ti­me (com­pa­red to ano­t­her 6930p on an intel gfx card and with the LED screen back in the days). ONE HOUR when the bat­te­ry run­ti­me is just around 3h only. Clear­ly too much and one of the rea­sons for the upgrade. Late (I’ve wai­ted four years), but about time.

5. 3G modem
Back in 2009, I inves­ted more than 100 EUR to get a 3G Gobi modem card for my WWAN-capa­ble HP 6930p. This card cur­r­ent­ly sells for less than 20 EUR on eBay and it makes use of the WWAN anten­nas nex to the WLAN (Wifi) anten­nas on top of the dis­play (= com­pe­tes with tho­se anten­nas, so it’s best to deac­ti­va­te Wifi while using 3G). Howe­ver, I have sin­ce then rea­li­zed two important things: 1. it is easier and much quicker to use a sim card on an exter­nal USB 3G modem than to insert it in a spe­cial socket under­ne­ath the bat­te­ry. 2. the inte­gra­ted WWAN modem will only work when the bat­te­ry is inser­ted! This is so unbe­liev­a­ble, but — accord­ing to HP — it is to pre­vent the user from remo­ving the sim card while the modem is in use. WTH? I find this so odd that I deci­ded to just igno­re that modem and use an exter­nal one ins­tead. Also, I find the signal strength to be a bit bet­ter with an exter­nal solu­ti­on (plus: if you are tethe­ring your pho­ne to the pc, the­re is always an opti­on to place the pho­ne next to the win­dows once net­work coverage is poor. Tha­t’s some­thing you can’t do with an inter­nal solution.).

WWAN modem port on the Dell Latitude E6430

WWAN modem port on the Dell Lati­tu­de E6430

The Dell also has a socket for an inter­nal modem, but to be honest: I don’t care about that. Sad­ly, though, the Dell Lati­tu­de E6430 does not sup­port mSA­TA cards, so the socket will pro­bab­ly go unused.

This actual­ly isn’t a rea­son for the Dell and against the HP, but it should be men­tio­ned becau­se in my mind, inte­gra­ted WWAN modems are total­ly overrated.

6. Volu­me keys
Actu­al keys with hap­tic feed­back, some­thing that will respond with a “click” when you press it — the volu­me con­trol on the HP 6930p comes in form of a “sli­der panel” and is kin­da bug­gy and does not always respond in time (e.g. when you need to turn down the volu­me). This is unac­cep­ta­ble and also rela­ted to HP’s own soft­ware. The only opti­on is to remo­ve the soft­ware and to may­be also fix the impe­dance on the volu­me sli­der. The Dell E6430 has dedi­ca­ted but­tons for the volu­me con­trol — the way I like it.

HP EliteBook 6930p volume slider

HP Eli­te­Book 6930p volu­me slider

volume control on the Dell Latitude E6430 - simple, but  effective

volu­me con­trol on the Dell Lati­tu­de E6430 — simp­le, but effective

7. Illu­mi­na­ted Power Cable
Unless you are on an Apple Mac­Book and are bles­sed with a MagSafe adap­ter, most power sup­plies for lap­top com­pu­ters suck. They real­ly suck. Here in Ger­ma­ny they also come with a bul­ky power cord. In such cases whe­re the weight and size of the power sup­ply make up for about 1/5 of the lap­top and its weight, the best opti­on is to get a machi­ne with lots of bat­te­ry run­ti­me, and/or buy a slim­mer tra­vel char­ger. My 11,6″ Acer Aspi­re One 756 is such a bles­sing in this regard as it comes with a small, Net­book-ish power cable. Back to 14.1″ lap­tops, the only upsi­de are illu­mi­na­ted power cables that come with a small indi­ca­tor LED. It’s a small thing, but very hel­pful. Not avail­ab­le for my old HP, but the stan­dard with the DELL.

Illuminated power cable

Illu­mi­na­ted power cable

Also, the­re are slim­mer power sup­plies avail­ab­le for the Dells. My (new) slim­mer power sup­ply weighs 385gr. vs. the 490gr. on the con­ven­tio­nal power sup­ply — and comes with a much slim­mer cable. Nice!

8. Vent cleaning
I am this kind of guy who regu­lar­ly cleans lap­tops — my own and tho­se of my friends. Clea­ning the vent isn’t a pro­blem if the con­cious owner regu­lar­ly blows through the vent out­take (or pla­ces the vacu­um clea­ner on the inta­ke side), but often it’s just too late. Any lap­top that pro­vi­des an easier access to the vent is a good lap­top. The Dell Lati­tu­de E6430 is such a machi­ne. The HP Eli­te­Book 8470p (the direct com­pe­ti­tor) btw also offers this convenience.

Vent on the Dell Latitude E6430

Vent on the Dell Lati­tu­de E6430

9. BIOS
My 11.6″ BIOS comes with a hor­ri­ble UEFI Bios that does­n’t allow dual boot (Win + Linux). Tog­e­ther with a 987 Pen­ti­um CPU that only allows for VMli­te (no hard­ware sup­port for vir­tu­al machi­nes), I am stuck to Win8 on that baby. My HP 6930p pro­vi­des a few BIOS opti­ons, but not half as much as the ones avail­ab­le for the Dell E6430. I like to be in con­trol of my com­pu­ter and the Dell pro­vi­des for that.

10. Mate­ri­als
I am sure that most cur­rent HP Eli­te­Books still have the best build qua­li­ty avail­ab­le today. The­re is a nice grip to the metal body of the Eli­te­Books that instant­ly reminds me of Mac­Book Pros. I am still con­vin­ced that my Eli­te­Book is stron­ger than any uni­bo­dy Mac­Book­Pro from 2009/2010, also becau­se I’ve dis­as­sem­bled it qui­te a few times and know each screw by its name.

Dell Latitude E6430 - note the fingerprints on the rubberized palm rest

Dell Lati­tu­de E6430 — note the fin­ger­prints on the rub­be­ri­zed palm rest

The Dell E6430 pro­bab­ly comes with a nice selec­tion of both worlds: wha­te­ver is left of the clam­s­hell design on Think­Pads — which comes in form of a rub­ber lip around the dis­play and a rub­be­ri­zed palm rest — and the metal strength of the HPs. Mind you, the Dell E6400 alrea­dy had a (rather thin) metal bot­tom cover which the HP Eli­te­Books later on also adop­ted. I’d also say that Dell had alrea­dy picked up a trend with the D‑series back in the days which HP only aquir­red sin­ce the mer­ger of HP with Com­paq. I won­der if the­se lap­top designs are based on inter­nal drafts or pro­po­sed by Chi­ne­se manu­fac­tu­rers (e.g. Com­pal, Fox­con) becau­se they are all so simi­lar the­se days. HP, Dell, Leno­vo — the dif­fe­ren­ces are on the small details, it seems.

Obvious­ly, good build qua­li­ty also inclu­des hin­ges that will still work after three years. The­re are two indi­ca­tors (to me) that pro­bab­ly pro­ve this theo­ry: 1. you won’t find many hin­ges for sale (on eBay) for Eli­te­Books or E64xx Lati­tu­des (as oppo­sed to ear­lier designs, let’s just remem­ber the DEL­Li­cious sto­ry) and 2. by design, the­re isn’t any screw that needs to be fas­te­ned to adjust the hin­ge and its play. They will just work or be bro­ken, but not much in between.

As for the E6430, the rub­be­ri­zed palm rest is attrac­ti­ve, but you also see any fin­ger print on it and I belie­ve that the cool alu­mi­ni­um rest on the HP Eli­te­Books is actual­ly better.

A lot of users seem to hate the dis­play bezel on the E6420/E6430, but to me it’s not that bad — or let’s say: when you remo­ve it, you see whe­re this moti­on comes from. A 15.6″ dis­play would cer­tain­ly also fit into the dis­play cover. The enor­mous dis­play bezel could be a rea­son for the E6430S (an E6430 in the body of a E6330), but it lacks the dis­cre­te gfx opti­on. Other­wi­se, the E6430S or even E6430U could have been an alternative.

11. Less crapware
Unless you do a clean install of your favou­rite ope­ra­ting sys­tem, I find the Dell to come with less crap­ware i.e. the set of tools and add-ons most lap­tops usual­ly come ship­ped with. The out-of-the-box expe­ri­ence with this DELL is a bit bet­ter than with the HP. Also the indi­vi­du­al sup­port via the web­site seems to be a bit bet­ter with DELL, but this may be rela­ted to their mar­ke­ting strategy.

12. Per­for­mance
Com­ing from an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU on the HP that mana­ged to score up to 4300 points on the Geek­bench bench­mark, the Intel Core i5-3320M on the new machi­ne is a gre­at step for­ward. With the inter­nal 320gb WD Black Cavi­ar HDD and the stock Win7/64 OS the Dell came ship­ped with, Geek­bench alrea­dy resul­ted in a score of about 9300 points. With my 120gb Sam­sung SSD being con­nec­ted to an inter­face that even­tual­ly sup­ports its full speed, this upgrade from an other­wi­se working — four year old — lap­top to this refur­bis­hed Dell ex 2012 was a smart move. And sin­ce she will recei­ve my HP, this deal comes with a nice WAF.

Ver­dict
May­be one day I will only use a 12.x” lap­top (like the Leno­vo X230 with an IPS panel) as my main machi­ne, but until then I am bet­ter off with the com­bi­na­ti­on of a 14.1″ that resi­des on the docking sta­ti­on most of the time and a 11.6″ tha­t’s cheap and light enough to tra­vel along. Going by the incre­a­sed speed expe­ri­ence, the upgrade is a true blessing.

Hard­ware-wise, the HP loo­ks bet­ter and more solid. What sur­pri­ses me though is that the bot­tom pla­te (as intro­du­ced with the Dell E6400) tur­ned out to be a smart and working solu­ti­on and that it is much stur­dier than expec­ted. Back­door access (for vent clea­ning pur­po­ses) and smart ther­mal design (i.e. big heat pipes) are very important to me. Let me remind you that the ther­mal design on Apple Mac­Books isn’t that much better.

Panel-wise, the 14.1″ LED is an up- and down­gra­de. HWiNFO64 tells me that the screen on my Dell is a Phil­ipps LP140WD1 and that it was manu­fac­tu­red in “Week: 0, Year: 2010” (which I think is an error), but sin­ce this is a refur­bis­hed machi­ne any­ways, it may be a swap­ped screen. I have remo­ved the diplay bezel to inspect the screws and to see why the­re’s still so much space left around the screen (whe­re a 15.x” would pro­bab­ly also fit), but could­n’t find any abnor­ma­li­ties. Viewing angles are okay-ish, bright­ness is sur­perb, the colours howe­ver are a was­hed out hor­ror. You would­n’t want to do any Pho­to­shop­ping on this screen, real­ly. Oh well. Are the­re any GOOD 14.x” LED screens? Any IPS panels at the size? I don’t think so.…

The rest of the hap­tic impres­si­ons are gre­at — the ori­gi­nal (back­lit) key­board feels solid, the hin­ges are soft like but­ter but still come with the exact amount of ten­si­on (~ Apple fee­ling), the volu­me keys are a bles­sing and the dis­play lock — ooohhhh — the dis­play lock. One hook, and it just locks the screen they way it should be done. Even with a C‑Slide Web­cam cover in bet­ween. Awe­so­me. Remem­ber my pain with the dis­play lock on the 6930p?

I’ve spent about 800 EUR on the upgrade — which inclu­des a 2nd HDD cad­dy that goes into the mul­ti­bay, a docking sta­ti­on, ano­t­her power sup­ply and the back­lit key­board. Around 800 EUR on refur­bis­hed equip­ment is qui­te a lot, espe­cial­ly if the pure com­pu­ting power cos­ts much less for a desk­top ver­si­on and sin­ce this lap­top will sit on its docking sta­ti­on most of the time. Going by both Leno­vo or HP alter­na­ti­ves though, I think I’ve done the right thing atm. If you are free­lan­cing from your home office, the­re is no IT depart­ment you can call for help, and you also don’t get to see tho­se busi­ness lap­tops in the shops — unless you buy them. I would cer­tain­ly buy it again and can only recom­mend the­se Dell Lati­tu­des, even though they are a bit hea­vy (2.4kgs, like my HP) and could be smaller.

I guess my next lap­top — pro­bab­ly due in 2015 — will be some sort of Ultra­boo­kish 13,3″ with a docking port con­nec­tor and two gfx cards (if the­re is anything like that). Oh, and with an IPS panel :-).

Ano­t­her wish I’d have for the future: opti­mi­zed ope­ra­ting sys­tems. I’d still love to have an Arch Linux for my Dell that will come with the same dri­ver sta­bi­li­ty and over­all per­for­mance (read: power manage­ment) as the Win­dows ver­si­on. The matching per­for­mance and syn­chro­ni­zed inter­ac­tion bet­ween hard- and soft­ware would be the only rea­son for me to get a Mac­Book. Some­thing like that, but for PC lap­tops would be total­ly great.

p.s.: Don’t buy from NDC UK, as they are the worst Dell resel­ler of refur­bis­hed items ever. With such an incom­pe­tence (mis­sing hin­ge screws for the second time, deli­ve­r­ed items not as adver­ti­sed, etc.), I won­der what it takes to qua­li­fy as a Dell regis­tered part­ner. Obvious­ly not so much…

 

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