Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: A highly customisable, almost indestructible laptop

It's important to have a well informed opinion about the technology you're buying.

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It’s far from the fastest system out there, but this ruggedised laptop is highly versatile and as tough as they come

Pros

  • Seriously durable
  • Highly customisable
  • Ports aplenty

Cons

  • Priced for a specialist market
  • Understandably bulky
  • Won’t win awards for performance

Do you need a laptop that can survive 6ft drops, pressurised water jets, dust storms, thermal shocks and explosive atmospheres? For the average consumer the answer is, obviously, no. But the Dell Rugged Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme isn’t designed for the average consumer.

Rather, according to Dell, it’s for those engaged in the “world’s toughest jobs” – primarily heavy industry, military personnel and others working in hazardous environments. People, in other words, who need a laptop that’s both rugged and capable. Let’s see how this one shapes up.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: What you need to know

Outwardly, the Rugged Extreme lives up to its name. It’s IP65-rated, and its list of military-grade MIL-STD-810G certifications is exhaustive. On top of the 6ft drop test, water resistance and dust-proofing I mentioned earlier, it boasts a thermal operating range of -29 to 63°C along with resistance to solar radiation.

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Inside its bulky, battle-ready exterior, however, the Rugged Extreme is much like any other laptop. The test model runs Windows 10 Pro and has a 14in, Full HD WVA touch display (which is astonishingly bright, ensuring you’ll have no problem using it outdoors). Inside, there’s a quad-core Intel Core i5-8350U processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD – enough to run whatever software you throw at it, from regular desktop applications to bespoke, industry-specific systems.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: Price and competition

The Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme, in the configuration I’m reviewing here, will cost you £3,973 to buy from Dell. That’s a very high price for a laptop powered by a 2017 Core i5 processor, although, of course, much of that is accounted for by the specialist features of the Rugged Extreme.

You can save a little money – or spend a lot more – by taking advantage of Dell’s extensive configuration options. There are four processor models to choose from, starting with a Core i3-7130U, with memory and storage options ranging up to 32GB and 4TB respectively (although you can easily replace the SSD yourself via a panel on the right-hand side).

It’s even possible to upgrade the ports and networking capabilities of the Rugged Extreme; the most expensive loadouts cost in excess of £6,000, and that’s before factoring in the numerous warranty options, software and accessories, asset tag and anti-theft features, cases, keyboards and more. All told, there are more than a hundred different configurations and packages you can put together.

When it comes to competition, there’s really nothing in the Expert Reviews canon to rival this heavy-duty laptop. However, Getac’s fully rugged Getac B300, starting at £3,350, is a solid rival to the Rugged Extreme: it’s equally customisable and has the same IP65 and MIL-STD-810G ratings. Another option is the rugged Panasonic Toughbook CF-31 – brand-new models start at around £2,800.

Alternatively, if you’re looking in that slightly cheaper price range, Dell’s Latitude 5420 Rugged series starts at £1,940 and shares many of the strengths of the 7424.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: Design

Dell isn’t joking when it describes this laptop as “Rugged”. Its innards are encased within a chunky armoured exterior – with the result that, although the display is only 14in, the main body measures a sizeable 354.5 x 255 x 51.3mm. It’s heavy too, at 3.45kg, but it does come with a built-in handle, which makes it easy to carry around like a briefcase. Depending on your outlook, the overall effect is either incredibly cool or incredibly dated; either way, its jet-black bulk is certainly eye-catching.

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The Rugged Extreme’s various ports and connectors are well protected, too. All of them sit beneath dustproof, foam-lined, spring-loaded hatches, each of which can be sealed shut by a sliding lock mechanism.

At the right-hand side, you’ll find a USB 3 Type-A slot and – believe it or not – a DVD writer, which can optionally be upgraded to a BD-RE drive. This is a rarity in modern laptops, but its inclusion makes sense for legacy scenarios. There’s also an optional smart card reader, something that, again, is rarely seen in the consumer laptop world, but is still used by large companies for two-factor authentication.

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The SSD slot is accessed via the right edge too, making data extraction or storage expansion a breeze. To the right of that you can install an optional second storage bay; my model has a dual SD and SIM slot instead.

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Move around to the rear panel and you’ll find three more hatches, which open to reveal two serial ports, two RJ45 Ethernet jacks, one full-sized HDMI 2.0 connector and a proprietary power socket. That’s a lot of connectivity – and there’s more on the left edge, namely a further two USB 3 Type-A sockets, a 3.5mm audio jack and a lone USB 3 Type-C port.

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The front edge of the laptop houses the Rugged Extreme’s single loudspeaker – this isn’t a laptop for audiophiles. Above the display, behind a sliding security shutter, there’s an RGB webcam (which can be optionally upgraded to an IR model).

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Look closely between the two port hatches on the right-hand side and you’ll also find a plastic stylus, tucked away in an unobtrusive slot. This works on both the touchscreen and the touchpad, and is much bigger than the average stylus – it’s about the size of a Biro, which makes it quite pleasant to write with. Cleverly, it’s attached via a stretchy cord, to ensure it won’t ever go missing.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: Keyboard and touchpad

A rugged laptop demands a sturdy keyboard, and this one fits the bill. The black-and-white keytops are ever so slightly concave, and produce a hefty, satisfying thump with each press. There’s a separate numeric keypad, too – something you won’t find on many 14in laptops. What’s more, we were pleased to find that the chunky carrying handle doesn’t get in the way when typing; in fact, it doubles as a comfortable wristrest.

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The whole keyboard is sealed to protect it from dust, sand and even jets of water, so you can use it outdoors in the harshest weather. There’s programmable RGB backlighting too: you can set four brightness levels (or no backlighting at all) and cycle through red, green, blue and white colour schemes by pressing Fn+C.

Below the keyboard, the touchpad sits slightly recessed into the palm-rest area. This uses resistive technology, which means it can be used while wearing gloves – an essential feature for many users working in an industrial setting.

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However, I find it a bit slower and less responsive than a regular capacitive touchpad: the need to apply gentle pressure makes it harder to move the cursor smoothly, and to register two-finger right-clicks. I quickly reverted to using the chunky left and right clickers beneath the touchpad.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: Display

The Rugged Extreme has a 14in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) touchscreen. Like the touchpad, this uses resistive technology, so again you can use it even when wearing gloves. As it’s intended for use in the field, the panel has an eye-blistering brightness level of 861cd/m2 – around twice as bright as a typical laptop display. The contrast ratio is high, too, at a poppy 1,497:1. You definitely won’t be squinting at this display, even in glaring sunlight.

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If there is a weakness, it’s colour reproduction. sRGB coverage isn’t the best at 85%, and an average Delta E of 2.87 indicates that accuracy isn’t perfect either. We doubt that’ll be a big problem for many people, though: this isn’t a laptop you’re likely to use for editing photos and videos to a professional standard.

There’s also an interesting feature that could help you save battery power, cover up confidential content or simply deflect attention from your laptop: press Fn+F7 and the screen instantly blacks out, along with all other lighting on the laptop. The Rugged Extreme remains functional during this tactical blackout, and applications will continue to run, but note that network connections are also suspended until you tap again to wake up the display.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: Performance and battery life

The Intel Core i5-8350U CPU inside our Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme is the second-most-powerful option Dell offers (the top one being the Core i7-8650U), and it’s supported by a decent 16GB of RAM. Even so, it’s not exactly fast by today’s standards, and the system scored a relatively low 77 in our 4K video-editing and multitasking benchmark. To put that into context, the chart below shows some laptops that achieved comparable scores. None of them cost anything near £3,973, but then of course none of them is as tough as the Rugged Extreme.

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If you shell out for the Core i7 version of the Rugged Extreme, you also get the option of a discrete AMD Radeon 540 or RX540 GPU, but the Core i5 model is stuck with the integrated Intel UHD 620 Graphics. Still, this didn’t do badly in the GFXBench graphics benchmark, slightly outpacing the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the HP Elitebook 840 G5 (see chart below). In the onscreen Manhattan test, it proved able to keep up with the display’s 60Hz refresh rate, and achieved an off-screen average of 67fps.

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The Rugged Extreme also managed a perfectly playable average of 36fps in the 720p DiRT: Showdown benchmark, although this fell to a juddery 26fps at 1080p. Obviously the Rugged Extreme isn’t intended as a gaming laptop, but even with integrated graphics it has a usable amount of 3D power for CAD tools and other visualisation applications.

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As I’ve mentioned, you can buy the Rugged Extreme with up to 4TB of storage (although this comes as a pair of M.2 2TB drives, and requires you to specify a second storage bay when purchasing). The model I tested came with a 512GB NVMe drive, for which the AS SSD benchmark reported a sequential read rate of 2,062MB/sec – not not far off the speeds of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon or Huawei MateBook X Pro. Unfortunately, write speeds aren’t in the same class: the AS SSD benchmark recorded a sequential file-write rate of only 375MB/sec.

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With a laptop designed for extreme environments, you might hope for extreme battery life. Disappointingly, Dell’s standard 51-watt-hour battery gave us just 4hrs 58mins of continuous video playback in our standardised rundown test. This might not be an issue in an office, where you’re never far from a power socket, but if you’re working in the field it’s a potential problem when your tough notebook may not make it through the day.

Thankfully, on the underside of the Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme you’ll find a second battery slot. By default it’s empty – on my test model it was covered up with a blanking plate – but you can buy an extra battery for just £37 and install both at once to more or less double your runtime. Batteries are hot-swappable, too, so you could even charge up a supply of batteries and swap them in as needed for extended use.

Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme review: Verdict

The Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme isn’t exactly a beautiful laptop. Nor is it a fantastic performer: CPU performance, battery life and SSD speeds are all behind the curve, and that doesn’t make the huge price tag any easier to swallow.

Ultimately, though, this laptop isn’t about looks or benchmark scores. It’s about durability, combined with customisation on a level we’ve not seen before. It’s a system you can spec up precisely as required, and be confident that it’ll get the job done, no matter what your working environment may throw at it. On those terms it’s a fantastic bit of kit – and for the highly demanding, highly specialised market it’s aimed at, the price won’t be a problem at all.

Source: expertreviews.co.uk