2012-12-06

Laptop comparison: Dell Latitude E6530 and E6520

Since writing this article, Notebookcheck has published a review of the Dell Latitude E6530.

Summary

Besides better performance, the Dell Latitude E6530 features several small improvements over its E6520 predecessor without changing what has already been good – with the exception of an inferior display.

Introduction

The Dell Latitude E6520 received much praise in two excellent Notebookcheck reviews:

My configuration of the E6520 is nearly identical to the above entry level configuration but equipped with the much better Full HD display. After using the E6520 for about 1.5 years, I think the Notebookcheck reviews are very accurate, yet they unsurprisingly lack what can only be known after using the machine for a long period of time.

As the E6530 is an incremental update rather than a complete redesign, much of what has been said about the E6520 holds true for the E6530. Therefore this comparison will focus on the differences of the E6530 towards what has been stated in the reviews of the E6520 and on my experiences with both.

Anything that can be concluded by reading the E6530 specs will not be covered. (Yes, it is faster.)

Comparison

The good

  • The pointing stick is much more sensitive. Independent of the settings, slow movements are slower while fast movements are faster. This gives much better accuracy and reduces finger strain. The pointing stick sticks out slightly more between the keys, making it easier to grasp. Though this could be attributed to the cap being new.
  • The buttons for the touch pad and for the pointing stick all have better defined clicking points without requiring more pressure.
  • The keystroke is firmer and the keys are less slippery. Though I am uncertain if that is only the case because the keyboard is still new.
  • The visible plastic linings inside the ports have been removed (except for audio out) leaving only the metal case behind.
  • There is a new option in the BIOS to specify when the battery should start and stop charging. Not fully charging the battery should lengthen its lifetime. The battery of my E6520 does not support this feature, only the one that came with the E6530.
  • My E6520 initially had an ugly gap between the bottom of the bezel and the display frame, whereas the bezel of the E6530 tightly fits the display frame.
  • The AC adapter is smaller and lighter.
  • The battery seems to be interchangeable with the one for the E6520 (except for the charging feature mentioned above).
  • The BIOS supports several new optional features:
    • Unobtrustive mode: Hit Fn + Shift + B to turn off all light including the display, sound emissions including fans and wireless radios.
    • Fastboot: Skip certain hardware and configuration initialization to reduce boot time.
    • USB PowerShare: Charge external devices through the USB PowerShare port while the notebook is turned off.
    • UEFI and Secure Boot (again, this is optional)

The neutral

  • The E6520 sqeaky keys problem has not been fully fixed. Even though some said their squeaky keys turned silent after some time, squeaky keys should not happen in the first place. The keyboard of the E6530 still has a slight tendency to squeak, but it is rather quiet and therefore by far less annoying. One should note that according to Dell squeaky keys are, even if you press them hundreds of times each day, only a “cosmetic issue” that does not warrant a replacement. Seems like premium service also has its flaws…
  • The sound output has more mids and highs, it sounds much lighter, but at the same time it is less prone to oversteer. The maximum volume seems to be slightly louder.
  • The multimedia keys (well, there are three of them) are stiffer.
  • Gone is the orange frame around the keyboard.

The same

  • WiFi reception is great.
  • The sturdiness is great.
  • The keyboard, pointing stick and touch pad layout has not been changed. I especially like that the arrow keys are easy to grasp without looking and page up/down are next to them. The keyboard, pointing stick and touch pad are still off-center to make place for the number block on the right. With the E6520, I expected this placement to bother me forever, but I quickly got used to it. As my most important windows are usually on the left and the languages I speak are left-to-right, it is not that unreasonable to have my hands on the left as well.
  • Dell usually publishes service manuals. Available for download is the service manual for the E6520. The one for the E6530 has not yet been published, though many of the E6520 instructions should be applicable. Once published, the E6530 service manual should be available at Manuals and Documents for Latitude E6530.

The slightly bad

  • The back cover of the E6530 has a slight gap over half the width between the plain area and the ribbed part near the opener. It is only visible when looking from above.
  • The case of the E6530 gives in slightly above the ExpressCard slot, but it does not creak when pressed against the wrist rest. The E6520 does not give in above the ExpressCard slot, but the case creaks a little when pressed against the right part of the wrist rest.

The bad

  • Noise emissions are a bit higher when idle as the fan sometimes keeps blowing out cool to luke-warm air. Once, I noticed the fan spinning while the CPU had body temperature (37 °C, no fever). To put this into perspective: The “critical” temperature for the i7 is 105 °C, the “high” mark is at 87 °C. Maybe the fan control is faulty and a future BIOS update might fix it. (I expected more noise because of the faster processor that I got in the E6530. Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90 GHz vs. Intel Core i5-2520M 2.50 GHz with minimum frequencies of 1200 MHz and 800 MHz respectively. But at least with the overzealous fan in the E6530, both CPUs seem to be running at similar temperatures.)

The ugly

  • The BIOS (A03 and A07) seems to be buggy. For example, it reset my custom boot order to the default order several times. In addition, it did not boot when an external USB hard disk was attached. Both issues disappeared when I turned off UEFI and SecureBoot. Well, the BIOS is only at version A07. The E6520 recently reached A14…
  • The Full HD display (CHIMEI INNOLUX N156HGE-L11 Rev. A9) is annoyingly terrible compared to the display in my E6520 (LG LP156WF1(TL)(B2)). The only thing both have in common is their Full HD resolution. The display of the E6530 features the following:
    • Lower brightness and lower contrast, a combination which makes outdoor use much less pleasant. (Measured with an X-Rite ColorMunki Display and Argyll CMS the LG panel of the E6520 has a maximum brightness of 430 cd/m², a contrast of 850:1 and 87 % sRGB coverage.)
    • Dead colors that take the live out of photos.
    • Colors that are way off compared to both the E6520 and several other displays. I understand that colors differ a lot between displays, but the screen of the E6530 is an extremely notable outlier. Color calibration might eliminate the green tint, but it will not revive its dead colors.
    • A heavy screen-door effect (see Wikipedia for an explanation). At first sight, I wondered how Dell managed to put a pattern in window title bars… There was no pattern, it was the screen-door effect.

The unknown

  • The surface of the wrist wrest has changed, hopefully it will not get ugly as quickly as the one of the E6520. (Update: After four months, the wrist wrest still looks like new.)
  • Only four screws are needed to open the back instead of eight for the E6520. To keep the back cover in place there are now several plastic hooks. Only time will tell how easily these hooks will break.

Verdict

Without the terrible display, the E6530 would be a worthy successor to the E6520 and, again, a great office laptop. With the terrible display, it is a no-go for anyone who values a good image but does not want to exchange the display.