Laptop upgrade: Dell Latitude E7440 → E7270

I have been using my Dell Latitude E7440 laptop (i7-4600U / 16 GB RAM / 480 GB SSD) literally every single day for almost 6 years. I still say this is one of the best laptops ever built. I’ve been looking for a upgrade for quite a long time though. However, I could not wait any longer, because my current laptop would require some expensive investments, including new:

  • High-capacity battery – that would be the third one (original $100).
  • Keyboard – that would be also the third one (original $50).
  • LTE Cat 6 miniPCIe module – to replace the Cat 4 modem ($100).
  • Some case elements – e.g. bottom cover with rubber feet, but also palmrest w/ touchpad in the near future…

In fact, no wonder that I could not find anything suitable for a very long time, because my requirements for a new laptop were very detailed and specific. 

The requirements:

Requirement: Comments:
Model:
Business
Preferably Dell laptop, as I have lots of Dell power supplies around.
Chassis:
Metal
For best durability and also good RFI shielding.
Weight:
~1.5 kg
Below my current laptop weight (1.75 kg).
Display:
13/14″ bright IPS
≥ 300 cd/m² for comfortable outdoor usage. No PWM and no touchscreens please!
Resolution:
1920×1200/1080
4K screen is not an option due to an increased power consumption.
CPU:
Four cores
The i7-1065G7 Ice Lake (10 nm) would be the best choice.
GPU:
Intel Graphics
Integrated GPU is fully sufficient for me.
RAM: 32 GB DDR4
SSD: 1 TB NVMe
Such amount of memory should be sufficient for next several years.
BIOS:
Battery thresholds
I use charge thresholds for start (50%) and stop (90%). They greatly increase battery lifespan.
Power supply:
DC power jack
The rear side is the only reasonable side for this connector. NOT USB-C.
Keyboard:
US layout
With physical Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys.
USB 3.0:
≥ 3 ports
Including at least two standard size USB ports.
Ethernet:
Yes, full-size
I use it very often, so I need a regular port (not folding) at the rear side.
WWAN:
M.2 slot & antennas
For LTE/GNSS module.
Speakers:
High quality and loud
Audio EQ can enhance the sound greatly, at the cost of maximum audio volume.
SD card reader:
Full-size
MicroSD-only slots are unwelcome.
Headphones:
3.5 mm mini-jack
 
Battery:
≥ 50 Wh
 

First candidate: Dell XPS 13 7390 2-in-1

I’ve been waiting for a very long time, because the 10 nm CPUs were unavailable due to excessive Intel’s delays. Finally, the first Ice Lake laptop with Core i7-1065G7 from Dell has become available on the market. The first, and the only one… Generally speaking, the overall look seems to be good, but personally I don’t like many things:

  • This is convertible laptop with touchscreen. I don’t want it!
  • The memory is soldered down, both RAM and SSD. The Wi-Fi card is also soldered down. Awww…!
  • The power supply uses USB-C port and there is no socket on the rear side. Absolutely disgusting.
  • Keyboard: Home and End keys are shared with F11 and F12.
  • Only USB-C ports. Hey, wanna buy some adapters?
  • Ethernet… hey, what’s that? How about WWAN LTE? Sorry, not this time either.
  • Throw away your old cards or buy another adapter. MicroSD reader only.
  • The 32GB/1TB version is extremely overpriced and you cannot upgrade memory on your own.

Well… this is definitely not a laptop for me. Ice Lake is very hardly available, so let’s pretend that it doesn’t exist at all and move to some 14 nm laptops.

Second candidate: Dell Latitude 7400

Let’s take a look at the latest Latitude model, the Dell Latitude 7400.

  • There are no ports at the rear side of laptop.
  • There is no Ethernet port at all.
  • Keyboard: Home and End keys are also shared with FnF11 and F12.
  • Again, no SD reader, just microSD one.

Much better than XPS at a significantly lower price, but still not the best. The lithography is still at 14 nm, so no huge power saving improvements there. I hate laptops with power connectors on the left or right side. This is very uncomfortable, especially in a bed.

More candidates: Dell Latitude 7490 and 7480

Both laptops share the same chassis. The main difference is in the CPU. Dell Latitude 7480 utilizes Kaby Lake (2 cores / 4 threads), while Latitude 7490 features more recent Kaby Lake Refresh (in 4 cores / 8 threads configuration). What’s wrong? Similar problems like with Dell Latitude 7400.

  • There are no ports at the rear side of laptop.
  • The Ethernet port is present, but this is a folding one.
  • Keyboard: Home and End keys are shared with Fn + Left and Right Arrow.
  • Once again, no SD reader, just microSD one.

Very promising: Dell Latitude 5490 and 5491

At the first sight I was delighted with Dell Latitude 5490. It features a classic chassis with ports on the rear side, which I simply love. Furthermore, the Latitude 5491 model includes hexa-core CPU (but at cost of massive throttling). Unfortunately, there are two major disadvantages.

  • Very poor display, only 200 cd/m² brightness.
  • Plastic chassis.

The display can be possibly changed to a different model. I haven’t found any replacement with better quality and brightness though. I gave up due to the plastic chassis. I will never buy a laptop with plastic chassis. Never.

Fallback: Dell Latitude E7470 and E7270

This is a pretty old Latitude series from 2016. Actually, the E7270 (12.5″) has almost the same features as E7470 (14″), except a track-point with dedicated buttons. Both of them have the best chassis with rear ports that perfectly fits my needs and can support up to 32 GB DDR4 RAM. There is also a SATA/NVMe port for a high performance SSD drive. What about disadvantages?

  • Dual core CPU only (Skylake, 2 cores / 4 threads).
  • Keyboard: Home and End keys are shared with Fn + Left and Right Arrow.

The major drawback is the dual-core only Skylake CPU (14 nm). However, still, this is an upgrade from my Haswell (22 nm), mostly in terms of power consumption, but also in performance. The low-weight is an advantage for E7270 (1.35 kg vs 1.6 kg of E7470), but the keyboard is also somewhat smaller.

Initially I was thinking about 13″ or 14″ laptop. Usually, the larger chassis, the bigger room for the battery, but this is not the case of Dell E7270 and E7470. The maximum available capacity is 55 Wh in both models.

The winner: Dell Latitude E7270

Finally, I decided to buy Dell Latitude E7270 and I found a great deal in excellent condition (like new, except battery). I also bought memory at bargain prices on Black Friday, both RAM and SSD. The summary:

  • Dell Latitude E7270 i7-6600U/8GB RAM – $450 (used)
  • Crucial 32GB (16GB ×2) DDR4 RAM – $90 (new)
  • Samsung 970 Evo Plus 1TB NVMe SSD – $140 (new)
  • Sierra Wireless EM7455 LTE Cat 6 module – $20 (used)

Total: $700. I think it is a great price for value.
For comparison, the latest Dell XPS with Ice Lake CPU, 32 GB RAM and 1 TB SSD costs $3500 (regular price in Poland).

I am very happy with my new laptop…

  • It is much lighter, 1.35 vs 1.75 kg – that’s ¼ less!
  • The CPU and especially GPU performance is clearly better.
  • It runs much cooler than Haswell (22 nm).
  • The NVMe drive is extremely fast, but the sequential speeds are limited by PCIe 3.0 ×2 bus.
  • There’s a plenty of RAM memory, especially for virtual machines.
  • Finally, I can take advantage of LTE carrier aggregation with cheap M.2 Cat 6 modem.
  • Although there are no physical Home and End keys, I mapped PrtScr and Insert keys to them.

On the other hand…

  • The rubber-like surface (on both display lid and base unit) is very susceptible to greasy spots and fingerprints.
  • The used battery has only 70% of the original capacity. This is not a big deal though, as I can buy a new battery anytime. 
  • The hardware is not the latest, but the Linux drivers are still buggy (including i915, intel_pstate and iwlwifi).

I wish Dell would return to a chassis with rear ports in the Latitude 7xxx series someday, but that’s  just a wishful thinking…


Update:

After a longer period of usage I must admit that E7270 is a very good laptop, much better than E7440 (or E7240). I have upgraded Wi-Fi card to Intel AX200 and I bought a brand new battery. The nominal charging voltage of 8.8V (4.4V per cell) is very high, so I would recommend limiting the charge to 85% at most for a reasonable lifetime of the battery. 

I managed to determine a stable undervolt of -75 mV for CPU & cache and -65 mV for GPU. This configuration has been working for many months without any issues. Under my regular workloads, the fan is almost not spinning at all.

I also fine-tuned an audio equalizer dedicated to the integrated speakers. Although all mid-frequencies are attenuated by 30 dB, the overall volume is still sufficient for indoor personal usage. I think it sounds very good as for a subnotebook.

2 thoughts on “Laptop upgrade: Dell Latitude E7440 → E7270

  1. Hi! Nice article

    I’ve read though that machine supports no more than 16 Gb ram, but you are using 32gb?

    How’s that working out?

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