capsule review

Dell Latitude X300

At a Glance
  • Dell Latitude X300 Notebook Computer (Dell-X300SB)

Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard
Take a 3-pound notebook and give it speed, a good keyboard, and lots of expansion choices, and you have Dell's Latitude X300, an ultraportable that's more tempting than most.
The X300 pushes thin-and-light performance to new heights with its 1.2-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M mobile processor. Equipped with 640MB of RAM, our review unit earned a PC WorldBench 4 score of 116, only 5 percent behind the average score of 122 earned by the 11 notebooks we've tested so far with Intel's top-performing 1.6-GHz and 1.7-GHz Pentium M processors and 512MB of RAM.
The X300's design is superior overall compared with other ultraportables. One unusual nicety is an LED gauge on the bottom that lets you easily check remaining battery life. And while the keyboard is narrower and shallower than a full-size notebook's, we found it steady and easy to use. We could touch-type as fast as we do on a larger Dell Inspiron, with no problem hitting the keys or feeling held back by the keyboard's dimensions. (The keys depress 2.4mm and are spaced 18mm apart, close to the standard notebook keyboard measurements of 3mm and 19mm, respectively.) A generously sized touchpad and partially rubberized mouse buttons round out the pleasing typing experience.

The X300 has some of the same limitations as other ultraportables: no internal modular bay, a small screen and keyboard, and a nonremovable hard drive. The standard three-cell battery, which forms the back of the unit, delivered a disappointing 2.1 hours in our tests.
And as with most ultraportables, memory expansion is somewhat limited. The X300 includes 128MB of RAM built onto the motherboard and just one user-accessible slot, rather than the standard two slots for expansion. You'll likely get better performance by ordering more for the slot, up to a total of 1152MB.

In addition to standard ultraportable connections--two USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, basic audio ports, one PC Card slot, a FireWire port, and side-by-side modem and network jacks--the X300 squeezes in a slot for SD memory cards, a small but nice extra for those with an SD-equipped digital camera or PDA.
Dell offers a full range of wireless options--our review unit included Dell's TrueMobile 1300 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card, but you can also opt for a TrueMobile 1400 802.11a/b/g/ card, Intel's Centrino 802.11b Pro 2100, or no Wi-Fi at all.
Apart from memory, the sky's the limit on expansion. To improve the X300's unimpressive battery life, you can order a slightly heavier, eight-cell, extended-life replacement power pack that should last three times as long--6 hours--according to Dell (we didn't test it). It will run you another $129.
There are a couple of different ways to add an optical drive and other devices. The cheapest way to go is to choose the D-Bay, a lightweight housing on a short cable that attaches to a powered USB port on the left side of the notebook. A D-Bay with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive costs $129. Your other option is Dell's full-fledged Media Base, or docking station, which includes not only a modular bay but also a full set of legacy ports and great sound. Our review unit included a Media Base with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive.
Should you decide to buy both for maximum flexibility--the D-Bay for travel and the Media Base for the desktop--they can share devices. The long lineup of such options includes a CD-ROM drive, a DVD-ROM drive, a combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, a DVD burner, a 5400-rpm 40GB hard drive, or a floppy drive. You could even attach both the D-Bay and the Media Base, plus a USB floppy drive, for a four-spindle setup.
The Media Base snaps onto the underside of the notebook easily--you just line up the connectors and press down. The fully equipped base replicates the notebook's monitor port and network jack and adds serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports, plus two more USB ports for a total of four. All the Media Base devices have their own spring-loaded release built into the side for one-handed swapping--no clumsy tipping of the notebook and base.
For top battery life, the bay in the Media Base can also accept a three-cell power pack; using it together with an extended life battery attached to the notebook, you should get over 10 hours of cord-free run time.
The other nice surprise is the Media Base's subwoofer, which augments the notebook's stereo speakers with bass emitted from a grille on the base's bottom. The resulting sound is impressively loud and rich for an ultraportable, plenty robust to enjoy a DVD movie on the X300's small but sharp 12.1-inch screen.
The Media Base's front-mounted volume buttons work slowly--you have to press and hold them for several seconds to completely lower or raise the volume (mute works instantaneously). But they're still more convenient than controlling volume using keystroke combinations.
Our only complaint is that removing the notebook from the base could be easier. We had to close down all our applications and press an Undock button on the front of the unit before pulling the release on the rear left of the base. The process is slow and sometimes freezes.
Carrying this notebook and base won't strain your back. With our review unit's combination drive inserted, the Media Base weighed only 1.9 pounds. The notebook and base together come to a little under 5 pounds; including the power adapter adds one more pound.
The X300's documentation is of mixed quality. The electronic manual provided on the hard drive is detailed and helpful but not easy to find--it's buried in the Dell Solution Center utility. The printed documentation consists only of brief setup guides that identify the parts but not much more.

The Latitude X300 offers great flexibility and portability in an easy-to-carry package. If you've got the money to spare, you should get both the D-Bay for travel and the Media Base for the desktop.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • Dell Latitude X300 Notebook Computer (Dell-X300SB)

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