Dell entered the rugged laptop business in 2006 with a sturdier version of their popular consumer grade Latitude D620 and called it the ATG. Rugged reviews and comparisons of the original ATG D620 and XFR D630 showed that Dell had work ahead of them to be considered rugged. Panasonic Toughbooks continued to set the standard while Dell and other manufacturers kept trying to catch up. This was okay with the team at bobjohnson.com. We immersed ourselves in Toughbooks.
In order to offer refurbished Toughbooks, large lots of previously owned computers are shipped to us regularly. These lots are inventoried and assessed. Anything Toughbook is refurbished or parted out to be used for repairs or sold for do-it-yourselfers. If it isn’t useful, it’s recycled. Sometimes shipments contain items other than Toughbooks. Recently, there were a few interesting laptops, including a Dell 6420 XFR. Being curious people, the technicians pulled them apart and put them back together. Then they powered them up to see what they could do. They liked what they found, so we did a little research. We learned from updated reviews and data that as Dell kept improving upon their rugged line they also embraced military standard testing showing an understanding of what a fully rugged computer user wants and needs. Dell has also demonstrated success with sales and commitment to their rugged line, indicating new user trust.
As a result, fully-rugged Dell E6420 XFR laptops have arrived on bobjohnson.com. They are different, so I snagged one for my desk. It looks right at home alongside my stash of hands-on Toughbook and Getac computers. Since I started working here, I’ve watched my collection grow as I continue to learn more about rugged tech every day. Good thing I have a team with over a half century of combined experience showing me the way. If I can’t figure it out, they can provide answers for all true and respected techies out there. With that in mind, I’m approaching this Dell model with some very basic observations.
From the outside, this laptop looks like a rugged computer. RuggedPCReview.com says the XFR not only looks like a tank, it’s built like one. I drove a tank once, and I like the analogy. The only thing missing is the war paint. Weighing in at almost 10 lbs., the XFR has a fully-rugged magnesium alloy and ultra-polymer with better bumper protection than my car. Dell’s trademarked exterior protection has been independently tested for drops, bumps, dust, sand and water. The outer Ballistic Armor™ is designed to be tough but looks sleek enough to sit on my desk.
Along the sides and back are some unique looking covers for the ports and bays. Dell uses what they call “Primo-Seal™” gaskets. These die cut seals are designed to keep out all the things you don’t want getting in through the ports and connections. The barriers attach inside metal doors which are securely locked down with metal hinges, easy-to-see screws and hearty snap locks, all of which helps give this laptop its IP65 rating .
The XFR also sports a flexible rubber handle which sits somewhat awkwardly over the SD card slot. The handle might be a mild irritation if I had to regularly access the card, but I can move the handle enough to get to the card slot, so I’m not that bothered. The handle does make the weight of the laptop comfortable to carry. I appreciate that the handle comes standard. I wouldn’t want to have to carry this laptop without one.
The Driver's Seat
Lifting the lid, the first thing I notice is the 14-inch high definition wide view screen. The screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio with 1366 x 768 resolution and up to 750 nits brightness for readability in direct sunlight. The glass is impact resistant and Dell has an anti-glare treatment applied to the screen. These are all good features for working outside. When I pulled the spec sheet for the XFR I also found that some models also have a resistive touchscreen. The techs tell me that they will work with my finger, stylus or gloved hand just like some of the other models I’ve had on my desk.
The full-size keyboard on this XFR is a standard spill-resistant, backlit style. The keyboard is comfortable to use and the keys are well marked and responsive to my touch. The touchpad is also responsive and functions like I expect a touchpad to work. With a quick online search (okay, it’s on the spec sheet but I wanted to see a picture), I also found that Dell also offers a rubberized keyboard for this model.
Under the Hood
I’ve looked at the exterior, so it’s time to power up this machine and see what it can do for me. I want to know what kind of processor, how much storage and how much memory the XFR has because those are three of the top questions we’re asked. Opening the control panel, I see this laptop has an Intel Core i5 2.50 GHz processor, 128GB solid state drive and there is 8GB RAM on board. Referencing that handy spec sheet again, I find that the XFR 6420 is also available with an Intel Core i7 processor. When our techs refurbished the i5 model, they let me know that storage and memory are both upgradeable. For memory, there are two slots which support 1GB, 2GB and 4GB memory sticks. My spec sheet also shows that Dell offers this model with a 320GB SATA hard drive. Of course, if you buy it from us we can upgrade it to any size hard drive or SSD you want.
Additionally, this model comes with a variety of connections and ports plus an optical drive. If I keep it on my desk and use it, I’ll have lots of flexibility and expansion capabilities. Once I add a mobile data card and activate it, I can take it anywhere and use it with confidence in its performance. Overall, the features on this model compared to the spec sheet appear standard. I expect we’ll see different expansions, connectivity, security and input options as we expand our inventory of refurbished Dell laptops.
If you still aren’t sure that the Dell 6420 XFR is the right rugged laptop solution for you, there are more reviews, some of which I’ve already referenced. The pros and cons will be easy to find, but overall I think Dell has come up with a winner. Since this laptop was designed and tested for the rigors of military deployments, and intended to work anywhere there’s oil, dust, sand, water, bright sun, low light, humidity and extreme temperatures, it fits nicely in our fully-rugged category. Users who work in the field, auto shops, vehicles, manufacturing, emergency services and agriculture who are looking for an affordable rugged computing option would be well-served by this machine.