Why I think of replacing my Dell Latitude E6420, and what do I think of it
Over the previous weeks, I started thinking of replacing my one-year(-after-I-bought-it-used)-old Dell Latitude e6420. It was the first own big modern laptop of mine, and I thought I’m gonna stick to it for some years. With it’s i5–2520m processor, my SSD and, after RAM upgrade, 16GB of DDR3 RAM, I thought performance won’t ever be a problem. Maybe there was the screen, which feels like it’s backlit a bit unevenly, but that’s minor. After I switched to Fedora I even completely ditched my i7–3770k with 16GB RAM and a GTX 580 and put my e6420 docked in a PR02X dock in place. And to that point I was right. Everything worked well, I even bought an E-View Stand for it to have it aligned with my two Belinea 101920 19" 1280×1024 displays at the highest setting. It even turned out to be capable of running not just two, but three external monitors (and the internal display), though it was not stable enough. Everything worked well, except for some minor issues.
The first operating system I’ve been running on my e6420 for, like, 8 months was Arch Linux. Back then my e6420 served me just as a mobile laptop, besides a more powerful central desktop. I bought a PR02X dock for it, but I used it mainly for charging. It had it’s own place, and I would run it to make some updates or do something I didn’t want to more onto the desktop for some reason. I’ve sometimes tried connecting it to external displays. VGA would work pretty well, but it was because it is connected to the internal graphics. But what I wanted was to connect it to my two (back then, both were DVI-capable, now one of them is not) DVI monitors, and that was what, as I didn’t want to run everything on dedicated graphics as the default one all the time, required running Bumblebee (or later, Prime) and everything and enabling virtual displays, and there were some problems like a black square around the mouse pointer or some other unstability issues. I would sometimes try to work on such a setup for a few days but it was a rather unappealing experience. I was also encountering similar problems when I wanted to connect to a bigger screen with HDMI.
But the great weight, dimensions, slowly decreasing battery life (after purchase it was like 4h, back then it was like 2–3h, recently it’s been like 20min and I had to buy a replacement battery about three weeks ago), the fact that the e6420 didn’t even fit well in the backpack I had back then and the problems with entering S3 power state caused that, after being offered a 12" HP 2510p for a rather decent price by a friend, I decided to give it a go. The small subnotebook turned out to be a much better choice for taking notes at school and for small coding on top of my laps, despite a much less performant Core 2 Duo U7600, just 2GB of DDR2 RAM, and a ZIF IDE HDD instead of an SSD or some modern-day SATA HDD. Due to lack of time as I thought back then, I’ve put Fedora 25 with WindowMaker on it.
Pleased with the ease of configuring Fedora, I’ve decided to make the switch on my e6420 as well, not even caring whether it will make it keep the dedicated graphics powered, lowering it’s battery life, I just wanted it to seamlessly run Gnome 3 Wayland on all of my monitors with no suspending nor docking/undocking problems and with intelligent screen layout restoring. Although there still were problems with entering S3 and with docking/undocking, Gnome 3 running on Wayland handled all of my multimonitor setup really well and everything suddenly became easier to configure. It was when I decided to make it my desktop-when-docked. Oh, and I forgot, I still couldn’t manage to configure the mic and the webcam.
The case has always had it’s issues. The rubber frame around the screen didn’t touch the bottom base when the lid was closed, and the rubber feet (laptop bought used) were totally worn out and sticked with some hard glue. I even bought a new bottom cover with new rubber feet (and some other serial number). The whole lid actually appears to be a little bent, and I hear the hinges squeak loudly from my backpack all the time (there is also a PointStick mark on the screen). The screen now waves like ten degrees back and forth when there is a slightly stronger wind. And the SD card slot, the mock (or a real one) SD card keeps ejecting itself in transport, it also keeps being pressed by the E-View Stand all the time (pictured).
It’s relatively easy to disassemble or upgrade though, as it is a business-oriented laptop. You can easily swap SATA HDDs (you can connect one in the 1st HDD bay, one in a 2nd HDD bay instead of DVD, one to built-in eSATA port and one to the one in a PR02X dock), DVD (though I would rather like that one not to be so hot-swappable-without-a-screwdriver and if they have ditched the push-to-lock mechanizm as the 3rd parties can’t reproduce it easily to make good 2nd HDD bays and they make bad ones, sticking out badly), upgrade RAM and everything, even replacing the palm rest frame with one having a fingerprint reader is not that hard. Though I wouldn’t use that one. I even have never used the built-in smartcard reader as I don’t have any OpenPGP smartcard yet. OK, but back to the topic.
I’ve decided that I need a performant, durable, portable, ergonomic subnotebook. My first thought was a ThinkPad X220 with the same CPU. I like the superior quality TrackPoint and similarly located TrackPoint buttons, similarly oriented PageUp/Down buttons, similarly stepped CapsLock keycap with a LED indicator on it. It seemingly can handle two external monitors easily, and there is an eSATA port both built-in and on the dock. ThinkPads are also well known for their durability. It’s the last ThinkPad of the series that has a normal non-chiclet keyboard, and it has had it’s successors already so it won’t be that expensive. Another option is some late 2011 or 2012 MacBook Pro, which would allow me to create iOS applications and maybe give me a somewhat smoother experience (that could require me to replace my dying Belinea 101920 monitors with just one bigger though). I also look at Dell Latitude e6330, Fujitsu P772 and even HP 2570p, but I don’t really consider them that much.
I need a laptop that would allow me to do everything I do, even when I would be sitting in a bus, and which I wouldn’t be afraid to lift even with both hands (which is true for me and my e6420 — for real!). Providing me with mobility, efficiency and comfort of work. So I wouldn’t need to carry two laptops.
Hah, my style of writing is a bit weird. First post on Medium :)