REVIEW: Dell E4300 Maintains Thin and Light Status Quo

Dell's newest entry into the thin and light category--the Dell E4300--doesn't surpass its rivals in any way. Taken as a whole, the Intel Core 2 Duo-based E4300 is a decent system for midrange users, but it doesn't set any new standards for its class.

Dell's thin-and-light Latitude E4300 is a passable workhorse system for road warriors with general-purpose computing needs.

The E4300's keyboard is squeezed into a 12.3-inch-by-8.6-inch case, making for a cramped typing experience. In addition, the laptop comes with just two USB ports, one of which doubles for an eSATA connection. Taken as a whole, the E4300 is a decent system for midrange users, but it doesn't set any new standards for its class.

The E4300 that I tested came from Dell with plenty of memory and notable--but not exceptional--hardware components. As tested, my system costs $2,519, including a three-year warranty. A basic E4300 can be purchased for $1,686."

The E4300 has a 13.3-inch display, and my Windows Vista-based test system came with an Intel Core 2 Duo SP9400 2.40GHz processor. The E4300 has an 8X DVD+/-RW, 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM and a 160GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. This model came with the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD, an integrated camera, 802.11b/g wireless connectivity and a six-cell battery rated at 60WHr.

At 1.1-inch thick and weighing just under 4 pounds (3 pounds, 15 ounces) with the six-cell 60WHr battery, the E4300 slips into the slim-and-light category. With no battery, the E4300 weighs 3 pounds, 3 ounces. (A three-cell battery is also available.)

For comparison in this weight and size category, the Lenovo T400s with the same Intel SP9400 processor has more ports, better speakers and a more usable keyboard arrangement than the E4300.

The E4300 scored an unremarkable 1,746 on the Futuremark PCMark Suite benchmark. I tested using the machine as configured from the factory, with one exception: I removed the trial Symantec Norton security software that was preinstalled on the system, which boosted performance by about 15 percent.

During regular use, the system performed well. For example, when running Microsoft Office, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets opened quickly, with no hesitation. In addition, closing applications and shutting down the system was a quick and painless process.

Even when using the system for hours at a time, the E4300 ran cool and whisper-quiet, due in large part to the system's low-power processor. During tests, the top and bottom of the unit remained at a tolerable temperature without excessive fan noise.

The laptop display was bright, with a good range of visibility. The ambient light sensor was quite active in changing display brightness. At times, the change in brightness was a distraction-even a momentary shadow would cause the display to darken and brighten in an annoying way.

The E4300's compressed keyboard will take some getting used to. With the arrow movement keys next to the Page Up and Page Down keys, it was all too easy to inadvertently navigate to the beginning or end of my work. In addition, the wide spacing between the left Ctrl and Alt keys-which are separated by the Fn and Windows keys-made the customary Ctrl-Alt-Delete key combination somewhat cumbersome to execute. Otherwise, the keys had good action and responded accurately during routine use.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected]