The Toshiba Satelite M35X-161 laptop served me well over the last four years. But the Celeron 1.3 GHz CPU has not been keeping up with me lately. I needed more horse-power.
Enter the Dell Latitude E6500.
Aside from performance, my shopping was motivated by price, low price. This is my primary computer and gets hooked up to a 21 inch monitor. I don’t travel but once a year, so weight is not a factor.
I looked at the typical retailers; Best Buy, Circuit City, Costco, Sony Style, the local computer store, even Apple to get some perspective.
I looked online at ToshibaDirect.com, NewEgg.com, SlickDeals.net, BensBargains.net, CheapStingyBargains.com and others.
In both cases they had a few models from a few brands, take it or leave it. Many systems had 60% or even 75% of my ideal feature set, but none had 100%.
I found the Dell Outlet offered the widest range and greatest quantity of optional features and available laptops. I could quickly sort for the features that appealed to me. I could make the choices that I wanted.
Shopping for a refurbished computer meant that the prices were very low.
A special Dell Outlet 20% discount on Latitudes I learned of on Twitter ended my shopping days, thankfully. Follow @DellOutlet on Twitter.
My Twitter Personal Shoppers
I had a lot of help along the way, mostly through my Twitter buddies. A shout out to most of them follows, including;
@dellservergeek Many Tweet Q and A
@Bruceericatdell Hour long phone call after a few Tweets
@chrislackey Mulitple Phone calls and lots o IM. A good friend.
@lisawood Tweets and IM.
@OnSiteStudios Many, many Tweets
@zestor Many Tweets.
And many more Twitter buds than I can list here offered one or more replies to my hardware and configuration questions. Thanks to you all. I really appreciate your input.
I know that the folks at Dell will be happy to assist you as well. You will have to ask the other folks individually because they have jobs that are not at Dell. 😉
It just so happened that as my research was culminating I learned that there would be a 20% discount offered on Latitudes at the Dell Outlet in a few days.
I had scoped out the inventory pretty well and printed out my top five choices and made a little feature grid as a kind of crib note. I didn’t know if there would be a mad rush. I had read somewhere that Dell had sold over a million dollars of computers through Twitter.
On the day of the discount I checked the @DellOutlet account moments after posting the discount code and ordered my laptop. The code worked too. 😉
I ordered on Monday. It arrived Thursday afternoon. I chose the 5 to 7 day shipping option for $20. It arrived in 3 days. That’s cool. Well, they didn’t have to build it did they? Just ship it.
CPU – My first goal was a faster CPU. I wasn’t clear on the value / performance curve so I didn’t know if I should look for a 1.8, 2.0 or 2.4Ghz CPU. I got bits of advice here and there and decided to shoot high. My laptop has an Intel Dual Core Duo 2.53Ghz CPU. It has two cores, so it’s like a 5.6GHz CPU.
HD – 5400 RPM Hard Drives are pretty standard. I knew that 7200 is faster but needed to learn if heat or battery usage were relevant issues. I decided they are not. My laptop has a 7200 RPM SATA HD. Disk size was not a concern because the standard (160GB) is well beyond my requirements.
OS – I have a Dell desktop with Vista that my wife and kids use. I use XP day-to-day. I don’t really like Vista, partly because I don’t know it as well. Lots of people said skip Vista, get XP and that suited me just fine.
Shopping for XP is another story. Very few stores offer it. Online you have a better chance. However, at Dell Outlet, you can search for systems with XP Pro and Vista Business. I really liked that. Vista only was a deal breaker.
RAM – Don’t care. I looked for as little RAM as possible because I planned on buying 4GB from Crucial.
Video – The debate here is interesting. There is no question that embedded video is not superior to a separate video card. However, learning whether I could tell the difference or had a NEED for a separate video card was well nye impossible.
The shopping was very challenging for this component at the Dell Outlet Store. You can search for 0, 128, 256 or 512 MB of RAM for your video card. However, the E6500 offers an NVIDIA Quadro NVS 160M. Chris clued me into the fact that this is a separate card, which would be much better than the embedded Intel video that is also offered. Being 160MB, it does not show up in any of the searches except for when you search for All. I felt this video offering was very hidden. Thanks to Chris and @zestor for helping me see the difference.
Wireless – The network packages varied as well. The gang on Twitter got me sorted with the alphabet soup that is wireless networking. B A G N in order of acceptance. Well, N is not widely accepted just yet. I chose the card that offers A G N.
DVD/CD – This model offers both 8X and 24X speeds. You have to know that both are available to get the faster one.
Battery – Again two sizes are offered 6-cell and 9-cell. More cells are better. I got the 9-cell for more battery life. What I forgot to remember is that the larger battery is a feature. It sticks out the back of the laptop a good inch or so. Not an issue because the power and network cables are right there anyway. It just surprised me.
Power – Again two powers are offered, 65 watt and 90 watt. The 90 watt will charge faster. I got the 90W.
Display – There are a few offerings here. I chose the LED display (1440×900) for a better view than I have now.
L2 Cache – This is memory for the CPU to work with. More is better. The E6500 I chose has lots, 6MB.
FSB – The Front Side Bus, again faster is better. This one has a 1066MHz FSB.
Back-lit keyboard – That just sounded cool. However, I haven’t figured out how to turn it on yet. (Update: I figured it out)
I managed to get a configuration without a fingerprint reader, for which I am grateful. Above is not an exhaustive feature list, just the ones that I considered.
Here are the full specs right from Dell.
|(System Identifier: FXEYZ02Z)|
Genuine Windows XP Pro with Vista Business License
Hard Disk Drive
Network Interface Card
Arrival in three days was awesome. Glad I didn’t pay for expedited shipping. Providing an initial delivery date of three weeks. Not so awesome.
In the box is the laptop, a simple Setup and Quick Reference Guide and the following CDs.
- Dell drivers
- Dell Webcam
- Cyberlink DVD
- Roxio Creator 9.0 DE
- Windows Vista 32BIT SP1
- XP Pro SP2
Unpacking, I was impressed by the industrial sized power cord. It is very thick and powerful looking. The “brick” is flat which will make for easy travel. I don’t remember paying extra for the blond hair under the transformer strap though.
Power Up and Installation
First thing was to install XP Pro. That was short and easy having done it plenty of times. I enjoyed the Monks humming along, encouraging me. Thanks for the background music Microsoft.
First thing installed was Firefox. Now I have to go install a lot of software.
A bit early for those. But both of my kids commented on how ugly it is. What they don’t know is that it will be 10X faster than my current system. I don’t care that it is black and square. It is a business laptop and not many people will see mine.
It looks solid and reliable and it will be fast and serve my needs for years to come. Did I say it will be fast?
What features do you look for in a computer?
Where do you prefer to shop?
Audio Quality Improved dramatically – When adjusting the sound volume a blue indicator used to pop up, but it doesn’t anymore. I decided to poke around and see if I could recover that function.
I double clicked on the speaker icon in the system tray. The full volume control popped up with its five sliders, Volume, Wave, SW Synth, CD Player and PC Speaker.
At the bottom left is an Advanced button. I clicked on it.
The tone controls were not available, darkened, but below are the Other Controls.
My settings showed 2 SPDIF Interface selected. They have been that way since I opened the box.
I clicked on 1 PC Spk Mute. WOW, what an amazing full sound suddenly came through my external speakers. I have two shelf speaker and a sub-woofer. Before the sound was thin, tinny and flat. Now the same music is full of body, depth, much more base and even a bit more volume. I changed nothing, but this one audio selection. The sound through external speakers is wonderful on my Latitude E6500 now. And only now do I realize that the sound was horrible before.
NVidia Quadro NVS 160M does not keep up
Overall, I am very pleased with this laptop. I have only one major problem and that is the video. I thought that the model number represented the amount of Video memory. If you read my description above, you will see it in the text. I was wrong. It actually has 256MB of RAM.
If I run the AverMedia TV tuner, TweetDeck’s Adobe Air application or even Hulu while running a few other apps it doesn’t take long before the CPU hits 100% and cripples the computer. Powering off becomes the only solution.
Recently I reduced the total number of processes running after boot-up from around 100 to around 50 processes. The thinking was that reducing the processes would allow the machine to run more smoothly. This has helped, but I can still send the CPU to 100% at will using AverMedia, Adobe Air and a few other applications like QuickBooks and Firefox.
I also installed FlashBlock on Firefox. This seems to have helped reduce resource usage. Clicking on Flash to run it has not been a problem.
Through all of the research and testing I have done, I have come to really hate searchindexer.exe. Unfortunately I really need it for the many Outlook searches I do daily. It does not throttle well and if I am watching video when it is running the CPU will go to 100% nearly. Closing Outlook often tames the searchindexer.exe and I can once again use my computer.
It is for this reason and this reason only that I am starting to shop for another computer. If I could “fix the video” I would be quite happy to continue using this laptop, well except that I might prefer Windows 7 over Windows XP, but that is not the laptop.
I did try to update the video driver. My recollection is that this did not go well for some reason. There is a slight chance that revisiting the driver update might help. I seem to remember some difference between using a driver from Dell and one from NVidia in terms of the success of the update.
I did ask one Dell representative about the video. He thought it might be upgradable, but later confirmed that it is not. Otherwise the laptop suits me perfectly.
Second Audio Update
I just ran through the Dell Client System Update. This updated a range of hardware drivers, Dell application software, firmware updates and BIOS updates. Now the sound continues to be awesome and those settings have no effect whatsoever.