We have seen many interpretations of the Ultrabook. Some conform very closely to the original concept of a thin and light system that doesn't compromise on performance or battery life. Others have added discrete graphics and even optical drives back into the mix, but at the expense of a little more girth. With the Latitude 6430u, Dell keeps relatively closely to the original conception, but with the decidedly business-oriented skew we normally associate with the Latitude range.
Weighing in at 1.63kg, this is on the portly side for an Ultrabook. But there are good reasons for the extra mass, and not just the 14in screen. For a start, the 6430u is certified as rugged, with a chassis that has been tested to 14 MIL-STD-810G standards. There's also a removable six-cell 60Wh battery on board, which Dell claims will provide nine hours of operation away from the power socket, although there is also an £18 cheaper, lighter three-cell 36Wh option available with the Core i3 model of the 6430u.
Our review unit was supplied with the midrange 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-3437U option, however. This is an Ivy Bridge-generation dual-core processor with Turbo Boost 2.0, which allows both cores to operate at 2.4GHz and a single one at up to 2.9GHz. You can also specify the 6430u with a Core i3-3227U or a Core i7-3687U, if you need greater economy or more power respectively. Our unit also came with 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, although 4GB, 6GB and 16GB are also possible configurations. This is a healthy amount of memory, particularly as some will be taken by the integrated graphics, and the memory is not user-upgradeable, despite the battery being removable.
As with most Ultrabooks, the 6430u relies on the graphics within the Intel processor, and since this is an Ivy Bridge-generation processor the chipset is the decidedly decent Intel HD 4000 variety. This may not be a discrete graphics killer just yet (although the next Haswell-generation might be), but it's powerful enough for modest gaming and supports both Direct X11 and OpenGL 4 standards.
The capable graphics are pumped through a decidedly decent 14in anti-glare display. Colours are bright, and viewing angles wide. Although a panel with 1,366 x 768 pixels is also available, our sample came with the 1,600 x 900 alternative, which is only a £38.40 premium. This provides a good level of detail and is appropriate for this screen size, making the lower resolution option a bit of a false economy. Storage is pretty standard for an Ultrabook, however, with a 128GB SSD supplied in the shape of a LiteOn LMT-128M6M, although a 256GB model is also available for £150 extra.
The 6430u particularly signals its business focus with its choice of pointing device. As well as a robust-looking trackpad with discrete buttons, there's a joystick in the middle of the keyboard. This isn't the most popular of pointing devices, but we find it particularly effective in cramped train carriages or planes. The joystick has its own set of buttons, in this case three, whilst the trackpad has a mere two. Both pointing devices are effective and accurate, and the trackpad has been sensibly placed slightly to the left, to minimise accidental brushing with the heel of your hand.
The backlit chiclet-style keyboard is comfortable to type on. The action is a little soft, but there's a reassuring solidity about it, too. The keyboard is no larger than on a 13in laptop, but it gains a little space from the decision to move the cursor keys down slightly on the bottom right-hand side to make room for discrete page up and down keys. There is a trio of volume control and mute touch-sensitive buttons on the top edge of the keyboard surround near the screen, which light up reassuringly (and then fade) to signal they have been pressed.
The array of ports is quite professionally oriented, too. On the left are VGA and USB 3.0 ports, plus a combined headphone and microphone minijack. There's also a discrete switch for enabling or disabling airplane mode, which is particularly handy on a computer aimed at business travellers.
The right-hand side is home to an Ethernet port, another USB 3.0 connection, and the SD card slot subtly placed on the contoured underside of the chassis. There are also a couple of ports on the rear, and sensibly chosen ones, too. A full-sized HDMI port and a combined eSATA and USB 3.0 port sit either side of the rear vent. The usual selection of 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 is joined by HSPA+ mobile broadband from O2, although you can choose not to have this and save £81.60.
The 6430u actually performed slightly better than expected in some of our performance tests. The score of 2.7 in the rendering portion of Maxon Cinebench R11.5 is one of the quickest we have seen from an Ultrabook. Graphics abilities are more normal, however, with a 13.66 recorded in the OpenGL portion of Cinebench. The 3DMark11 score of 606 is also merely decent.
In truth, though, the battery life is meant to be the star of the performance show. The 6430u lasted a pretty decent 166 minutes in our gruelling 100 per cent graphics and CPU test. We have seen a few Ultrabooks push past 200 minutes in this test, in particular HP's Folio 13 (opens in new tab), but most fare worse. Dell's claim of a nine-hour battery life may be a little optimistic, but you will most likely get an entire working day of light usage, which fits the bill nicely for this class of portable.
The Dell Latitude 6430u is heavier than the average Ultrabook, and doesn't have the compelling desirability of the slimmest 13in options, such as the Samsung Series 9 900X3B (opens in new tab). But it has plenty of functionality to make up for this, with great general performance, an excellent screen, a robust chassis, decent battery life, a choice of pointing devices, and a healthy array of ports. This may not be a laptop that will make heads turn in jealousy, but as a flexible business travel companion it makes a lot of sense, and it's not outrageously priced, either.
Manufacturer and Model
Dell Latitude 6430u
1.9GHz Intel Core i5 3437U
8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
128GB LiteOn LMT-128M6M SSD
14in Anti-Glare LED backlit TFT with 1,600 x 900 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
2 x USB 3.0, combo eSATA and USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, combo headphone and microphone, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
338 x 230 x 22mm
3 years NBD