You can pay a lot for style, and sometimes this is too much at the expense of functionality. You might end up opting for a smaller screen, less expansion potential, and a slower processor - just for appearances sake - whilst still paying over the odds. If you're willing to settle for something that is more conventional in appearance, you can get a lot more for your money. The Dell Latitude E5530 illustrates this well, with prices starting at £538.80 (inc VAT), although our Advanced review sample would set you back around £155 more than that.
This is not to say that the E5530 Advanced is an unattractive notebook. The subtly angled corners to the lid and base, lid bevelling and silvered edges are stylish enough, although the plastic materials are somewhat unexciting. The screen is a 15.6in unit with either 1,366 x 768 or 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (our model had the latter) and an anti-glare surface that is a little more shiny than some, but also has richer colours. Viewing angles are good, particularly in the horizontal direction. Audio from the built-in speakers is also above average. There is plenty of volume available, and only a little distortion at the maximum setting, plus better bass response than many, making the E5530 a good choice for multimedia duties.
The keyboard is comfortable to use. The action feels a little springy, but typing for hours would be perfectly acceptable. The keys are close to the dimensions of a full-sized desktop keyboard, and there's a separate numerical keypad to the right. Separate audio level and mute buttons are located between the keyboard and screen on the left, although the playback buttons have been rather innocuously included as part of the numerical keypad on the right, where you might at first fail to notice they are there. The touchpad, however, feels quite small and cramped, with some erratic behaviour, although the buttons are large and responsive.
When it comes to the core specification, the E5530 Advanced is decidedly mid-range. There are E5530 options up to Intel Core i7 3520M, but our model was supplied with a Core i5 3320M. We saw the same processor in Toshiba's Portege R930-116 and Tecra R940-1CW. This is a 2.6GHz 35W CPU, but with Intel's usual Turbo Boost and HyperThreading enhancements. In this case, a single core can increase to 3.3GHz when required, whilst the dual physical cores are split into four virtual ones for improved multi-threaded performance.
The processor is partnered with 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR SDRAM, although 8GB can also be specified. The free DIMM slot is accessible beneath a large panel on the base of the E5530, so memory can be user-upgraded at a future date, too. You may want to do this at some point, as the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics takes some system memory for its own usage. Thanks to the latter, Dell hasn't included discrete graphics with the E5530. Whilst we have found HD 4000 a major improvement over HD 3000, and certainly up to the occasional game, if you're looking for a notebook to double as general family entertainment centre, the Intel graphics will still be a limit on your enjoyment.
Dell also hasn't chosen to supply a solid state disk for main storage, which is no surprise at this price, although these are available as options. Instead a conventional 500GB Western Digital Scorpio Black hard disk is included. This has a 7,200rpm rotational speed and 16MB of cache, so is relatively sprightly in its class. There's also an optical drive available, in the shape of a HL-DT-ST G50N from Hitachi-LG Data Storage. This is a 8x DVD rewriter with DVD RAM support. The E5530 also has a built-in SD card reader, although this doesn't appear to support MemoryStick.
Being a relatively large notebook, you would expect the E5530 to be brimming with ports. However, the liberal spacing of these ports around the chassis edge makes the complement look a little more meagre than it actually is. Somewhat unusually, the power connection is on the left rear corner, and the Ethernet port on the right rear corner, with a USB 2.0 port alongside at the back of the machine. On the left can be found full-sized HDMI, plus a USB 3.0/eSATA combo port, a second USB 3.0 port, a SD card reader, and an ExpressCard/54 slot for expansion.
A clever soul at Dell has turned the plastic spacer filling the ExpressCard slot into a small ruler, wire diameter measurement tool, and letter opener. This is maybe not an essential feature, given that the ruler is only 2in long, but it shows an amusing level of design imagination. It's also worth noting that the ExpressCard slot can be specified as a SmartCard reader instead if required.
The right-hand side is home to the aforementioned optical drive, another USB 2.0 port, and VGA connectivity. Strangely, there is just a headphone/microphone combo port, when there would easily have been space for separate audio connections. Wireless networking includes 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. There are also mobile broadband options for £115.20 extra (inc VAT). These include HSPA+ or Gobi 3000 and EVDO-HSPA, depending on your travelling needs. There's even a modem option, for just £12 extra.
With its midrange Core i5, the E5530's performance is unsurprisingly midrange as well. The result of 3.1 in Cinebench R11.5's rendering test is on par with what we would expect from this processor, as is the OpenGL result of 13.77 for Intel HD 4000 graphics. The 3DMark06 and 3DMark11 results of 4,382 and 620 respectively show that this notebook could throw its hand to the odd game-related task, but is no entertainment special - this is a Latitude after all, not a notebook from the Inspiron XPS range.
The battery lasted 113 minutes in our intensive rundown test, which stresses processor and graphics as much as possible until the power gives out. This is a mediocre result, placing the E5530 somewhere between pure desktop replacements like Toshiba's Satellite L855-118 and true road warriors like HP's Folio 13. You will be able to watch a movie or two on a journey, or do more than half a day's work, but not a full day on the road. However, this is with the standard 60Wh battery. There are also 87 and 97Wh options, which should extend endurance by as much as 50 per cent. The battery is easily replaced, so a second unit would also be an option.
Dells's Latitude E5530 Advanced is a solid multi-purpose portable. It offers a decent level of performance for a reasonable price, although if you do plan to work away from the power socket for extended periods, one of the larger units or a second battery would be a necessity. And if you need a mobile workstation or a portable for occasional family entertainment, a similarly sized notebook with discrete graphics would be a better choice.
Manufacturer and Product
Dell Latitude E5530 Advanced
2.6GHz Intel Core i5 3320M
4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
500GB Western Digital Scorpio Black hard disk
Hitachi-LG HL-DT-ST GT50N 8x DVD rewriter
15.6in Dell Wide View anti-glare TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
1 x USB 3.0 / eSATA, 1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, LAN, headphone / microphone combo, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
388 x 251 x 33.2mm
1 year collect and return