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Dell Latitude 2100 Netbook -- Big Machine on Campus

Review: Dell's latest rubberized, ruggedized netbook is aimed at students.

Dell Latitude 2100

Dell today announced the first ruggedised netbook the company has designed specifically with students in mind: the Latitude 2100. It's a 10.1in model with an Intel Atom N270 CPU and it can be configured with Windows XP, Windows Vista Basic or Ubuntu Linux. Being a Dell notebook, the customisation options are vast: you can order the Dell Latitude 2100 with either a solid-state drive or a conventional 5400rpm hard drive; you can get it with up to 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM; and you can opt for a 6-cell battery instead of the standard 3-cell battery. Most importantly, you can opt to get a touch screen instead of a standard LCD screen.

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Dell Latitude 2100

The Dell Latitude 2100 is configured with an Intel Atom N270 CPU, which is Hyper-threaded and has a clock speed of 1.6GHz. Our review unit came with 1.5GB of DDR2 SDRAM (1GB is built in to the motherboard, and the 512MB is installed in the SO-DIMM slot), an 80GB, 5400rpm hard drive, and integrated Mobile Intel 945GSE Express graphics that use 8MB of RAM. It has enough power for running office applications and for performing some light photo editing and multimedia tasks (such as viewing videos, and listening to and editing music). You won't want to use it for taxing content creation tasks such as video editing or extensive photo manipulation.

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Dell Latitude 2100

In Blender it took 7min 11sec to render our test 3D image, while in our iTunes test it took 7min 51sec to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is a shade faster than the MSI Wind U120, for example. Its hard drive recorded a file transfer time of 19.38 megabytes per second, which is a similar result to the MSI Wind U120 but faster than the ASUS Eee PC 1000H (which also has an 80GB drive).

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Dell Latitude 2100

The Dell Latitude 2100 is 26.5cm wide, 20cm deep (when the 6-cell battery is installed) and 5.8cm high at its thickest point. It weighs 1.6kg with the 6-cell battery. The dimensions and its weight are more substantial than we expect for a typical netbook.

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Dell Latitude 2100

The reason the Latitude 2100 is thicker and heavier than a regular netbook is its ruggedized case. It is constructed from stiffened plastic (polycarbonate/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or PC ABS), and it feels very solid, especially when you type on it. It has a rubberized lid and base to prevent it from slipping out of students' hands. Despite the rubber-like coating (a material called elastomer), we still managed to drop it. It landed on its right-hand edge onto carpet after falling from about 1.5m, but it wasn't running at the time so it survived.

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Dell Latitude 2100

It can be a dangerous unit to use if you opt to install the 6-cell battery! When you hold the Latitude 2100 with the 6-call battery installed, the battery acts as a gripping point. If you are holding on to the battery and then try and open the lid, you'll crunch your fingers.

See related netbook coverage: Dell's Latest Latitude 2100: A Kid-Centric Netbook New Acer Netbook Challenges Laptops on User Happiness and Price How to Buy a Netbook Top 5 Netbooks in Photos Evolution of the Netbook

Dell Latitude 2100

This netbook has a sports car–like profile. You can see the raised rear end and the low profile of the forward section clearly in this photo. The left side has a D-Sub port, a USB port and microphone and headphone ports.

See related netbook coverage: Dell's Latest Latitude 2100: A Kid-Centric Netbook New Acer Netbook Challenges Laptops on User Happiness and Price How to Buy a Netbook Top 5 Netbooks in Photos Evolution of the Netbook

Dell Latitude 2100

The right side features two more USB 2.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as the power port (insert). The USB 2.0 ports are all powered, so you can run an external 2.5in hard drive using a single port (that is, you won't have to commandeer one USB port for the data connection and another one for power).

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Dell Latitude 2100

A light at the top of the lid is present to inform teachers when students are connected to the Internet. However, it only seems to indicate a wireless connection. If you use a wired connection to access the Internet and the wireless radio is off, the light does not illuminate. In the future, Dell says it will make this light flash when the Internet is being accessed, in order to better inform teachers when students are surfing instead of taking notes. The Latitude 2100 uses Dell's Wireless utility. The adapter is a Dell Wireless 1397, which only supports 802.11b/g. An adapter with 802.11a/g/n is available.

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Dell Latitude 2100

The front of the Latitude 2100 has an SD card slot and vent holes, as well as status lights (insert).

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Dell Latitude 2100

In a bid to minimise dust and lint intake, there aren't any vent holes on the bottom of the base. There are the two afore-mentioned vents at the front of the unit, and there is a big vent on the left side that's used to evacuate the heat generated by the CPU and chipset.

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Dell Latitude 2100

The Latitude 2100's keyboard is full-sized and feels good to the touch. Dell claims it is spill resistant. It has no drainage point, so if liquid is inadvertently spilled on it you will have to quickly turn the notebook upside down in order to get it out. You'll want to turn it towards the left, as there is a small hole on the right-hand side between the keyboard and the chassis that leads directly to the Gigabit Ethernet port.

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Dell Latitude 2100

Our unit came equipped the optional touch screen, and it was accurate during our tests. Dell doesn't supply a stylus, as that is just one more part that can easily go missing. To navigate the screen, students can use a rounded pen instead of their fingers, but using your nails is most accurate. The screen also has a built-in webcam (insert).

See related netbook coverage: Dell's Latest Latitude 2100: A Kid-Centric Netbook New Acer Netbook Challenges Laptops on User Happiness and Price How to Buy a Netbook Top 5 Netbooks in Photos Evolution of the Netbook

Dell Latitude 2100

The battery has a sliding plastic window that can be used to house information pertaining to each laptop, such as the name of the student or classroom number.

See related netbook coverage: Dell's Latest Latitude 2100: A Kid-Centric Netbook New Acer Netbook Challenges Laptops on User Happiness and Price How to Buy a Netbook Top 5 Netbooks in Photos Evolution of the Netbook

Dell Latitude 2100

The base price for the Dell Latitude 2100 is $369, but with options such as the touch screen, solid-state drive, more RAM and a 6-cell battery, the price will go up. The $369 model runs Ubuntu, includes a 3-cell battery, 1GB DDR2 SDRAM, an 80GB hard drive and the standard LCD screen (without webcam).

See related netbook coverage:

Dell's Latest Latitude 2100: A Kid-Centric Netbook

New Acer Netbook Challenges Laptops on User Happiness and Price

How to Buy a Netbook

Top 5 Netbooks in Photos

Evolution of the Netbook