Pros: VT support, Firewire, ESATA, 15.4" screen, PC Card and Express Card slot, 7200RPM HDD
Cons: Cheap overall feel, lid flexes a lot, low resolution screen.
Dell's bread-and-butter Lattitudes have fallen in style, but functionality is all there. However, the utilitarian look doesn't come with the ruggedness you'd expect.
The Latitude E6500 doesn't look much different than the Lattitude E5400, with a thickness about an inch, and sporting a 15.4" widescreen (up from the E5400's 14.1"). The chassis still have a lot of flex (especially on the lid), and the rest of the body have a plastic hollow feel to it (bottom chassis), and it seems that Dell is looking for ways to cut corners.
It does include the necessities, however. There are a total of 4 USB 2.0 ports located on both sides of the laptop (one of the USB port doubles as an ESATA port), a wireless switch, SD card slot, speakers on both sides of the keyboard (making it feel larger because of this), volume and mute buttons near the power button, and, and a full size keyboard that have the Ins, Del, Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys in the correct cluster arrangement (many laptop makers sacrafice this, so kudos, Dell).
Dell was smart enough to still include a standard VGA port, along with a DisplayPort, and a 4-pin non-powered Firewire port. The size of the laptop allowed dell to sport both PC Card and Express Card slots (one of the left, one on the right).
The included DVD-RW drive reads and writes DVD and CD media and is removable for easy upgrade. As stated before, the keyboard is a joy to use because it's full-sized, and all the keys are in the right place, including the Home/End, PgUp/PgDn, etc cluster. Also, another nice touch is the ability for the keys to light up. This means if you work in the dark alot, this could be helpful.
Dell includes two methods of mouse control: the trackpoint (eraser head type) like what you see on IBM's old ThinkPads, and the more standard touchpad. Both are responsive, and both gets their own dedicated mouse buttons. The only thing I didn't like was the touchpad was much smaller than what I am used to. Either way, you get a choice of which to use.
Last but not least, Dell included a nice 90W power supply that is nearly flat! It makes packing the thing easier to swallow. Speaking of power, the standard 6-cell battery is flush with the laptop, and installed on the back. However, if you wish, you can order an optional 9-cell batter that sticks out another inch or so out the back.
Even with the standard battery, life with Windows XP lasts about 3 hours in a single charge, which is decent. This is with the screen at 3 ticks above the lowest brightness setting, with WiFi on, and surfing the internet. DVD playback at 50% screen brightness seem to diminish this to 1:45 hrs - enough for a move, but practically not much else.
The Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 runs at 2.4 GHz and supports VT (virtualization). The hard drive came as a Seagate 250GB 7200 RPM SATA drive. For those who rely on Symantec Ghost, be sure to note that the E6500 uses a Intel Gigabit PCIe network chipset. Intel's older doesn't work at all, so be sure to update them on your Ghost boot disk if you plan on using Ghost to image.
The integrated video comes with Intel's GMA 4500 series of chipsets. We decided to go for the upgraded nVidia Quadro NVS 160M. It's definately fast enough for business, and Vista and 7's Aero Glass interface. Unfortunately, we still have to stick with Windows XP SP3, which came preinstalled without any other shovelware. The amazing and speedy Intel ICH9M was naturally used for controlling SATA devices as well as the USB ports. Amazingly, it also comes with an Intel HD Audio HDMI, but since there is no HDMI ports on the Latitude E6500, it goes unused (though still listed in Device Manager).
Instead, sound came courtesy of IDT's HD Audio, which replaces Dell's old SoundMax in their previous laptops as well as desktops. The laptop does come with the standard headphone and mic jacks on the side, but the speakers that flank the left and right side of the keyboard make the laptop seem wider than it is. Sound is actually pretty good this way. Naturally, bass is lacking.
Wireless network came courtesy of Dell's own branded Dell Wireless 1397 B/G WLAN. The included Dell ControlPoint software causes us a lot of headaches, since many of the users are used to the built-in wireless app included in Windows XP. Not only that, but it seems to not connect to some access points for some reason. Again, not the fault of the card itself, since we connect fine when we switch over to the standard Windows applet. But we really wish we didn't even need to install ControlPoint to begin with. Other than that, wireless performance was very good with our NetGear access point.
The 15.4" wide screen is matted, and not glossy. This is actually preferred since the glare while on a plane or while being out and about is not a very attractive attribute. However, the relatively low 1200x800 resolution doesn't suit the 15.4" display. I think they should have given us at least 1440x900. The low resolution gives us a very claustraphobic feeling. The screen is LED-backlit, giving better battery life, and also better image quality overall.
We have also decided to equip the E6500 with a web cam, located just above the screen. There are no specs listed for it on Dell's site, but it is good enough for users of Office Communicator and Windows Live Messenger.
As always, Del gives us both Vista Business 32-bit and Windows XP SP3 installation discs, while Windows XP SP3 was preinstalled.
All in all, there's nothing exciting or special about the Latitude E6500 except for the fact that it can do both PC Cards and Express Cards. The technical bits are there, and everything works as should. Performance is also very good. However, not only does Dell not win style points, Dell actually LOSES them!
I hate to grind on about the build quality, but the brush-aluminium look of the top lid is really just plastic, and the entire lid (with screen) just flexes way too much for my liking.