The construction of the Dell Latitude E6420 ATG laptop is very sturdy, with what Dell calls a Tri-Metal casing that conforms to military standards. The lid - made of anodized aluminium - in particular is satisfyingly robust, offering the screen good protection from the back.
There's extra protection around the edges and corners. When you open the lid - which is mounted on impressively strong steel hinges - you'll see a relatively small screen set into a wide matt black bezel.
The 14in screen is decent. Even though it has a glossy finish, an anti-reflective coating, like that used on the MacBook Air, means that reflections are rarely a problem. Colours are bright and rich whilst text is sharp and clear. It performs well whether you are using it for work or entertainment purposes.
There is a touchscreen option available, resistive single-touch only. If you're looking to buy a laptop now with a view to switching to Windows 8 - an OS that may offer more for the fingers than Windows 7 - it might be worth considering. However resistive touchscreens feel decidely clunky if you’re used to the capacitive types on smartphones and tablets.
The keyboard is said to be spill-resistant, but doesn't come backlit as standard (an upgrade is available). It's very comfortable to use, with important keys such as Return, Backspace, right Shift and the Arrow keys all a good size and placed in predictable positions.
The touchpad is on the small side – 80 x 45mm – but performs well, and you've also got a trackpoint if you'd rather steer your cursor that way. Surrounding the keyboard you'll find a magnesium alloy frame, while the latch is made from a zinc alloy.
While there’s a generous provision of USB ports, none of them support the high-speed USB 3.0 standard. You can opt for USB 3.0 at extra cost. Around the laptop’s edges are rubber dust covers for most ports - on the right edge are two USB 2.0 plus an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port. On the left is another USB 2.0 and VGA video out, as well as a combined headphone/mic headset jack.
Along the back are ethernet and HDMI, again with rubber dust plugs. The bottom of the Latitude looks to be a weak point, resembling plastic, but it’s actually a lightweight and tough magnesium shell.
A DVD-RW drive sits in a modular drive bay, and can be completely removed from the chassis. You can also fit a handle to the body, to make an attaché case-style portable.
As well as being physically strong there are enterprise security measures included for locking down the Dell, in the shape of a fingerprint reader and smart card reader. You can also select full-disk encryption (FDE) for the internal hard disk. Our review sample had a 128GB SSD, which contributed to the very fast performance.
The Latitude’s tough construction was backed up by impressive performance in the lab. A 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2640M processor and 4GB of RAM have been used to good effect, as a WorldBench 6 score of 155 points proves. See also: Group test: what's the best high-end laptop?
Graphics performance for the Intel-only model is predictably lacklustre, although you can upgrade the integrated Intel graphics for an nVidia NVS 4200 chip with 512MB of dedicated memory for graphics-intensive apps.
We also saw over six hours of battery life from the 60Wh removable pack (MobileMark 2007: 384 mins), which is a decent lifespan when you consider the quad-core processor inside.