Dell Latitude D630 Review: 10 Years Later

As a college student, it's very helpful to have a laptop to take from class to class. Whether it's for notes or research, the convenience alone of keeping organized digitally is something I find very helpful. However, I didn't want to take my daily laptop, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, for a few reasons. It's a pretty pricey laptop with lots of breakable parts, like the touchscreen. Plus, it has no removable battery, so should the battery crap out, it becomes useless. It's also light and thin, which is great, but that also raises the question of durability. So what's the solution? You may be surprised that I carry around, and enjoy using a laptop originally certified for Windows Vista. It's the Dell Latitude D630, which could very well be 10 years old. I did not buy it new back then, I bought this from a seller on eBay who refurbished it a bit. They gave it a new keyboard, and cleaned it up. Or, this lived its entire life docked on a desk. I don't know what life it had, I just know it's damn clean, and surprisingly very usable. Oh, and it was $99.

First things first, if you're looking for a cheap throw-around laptop, the price you pay won't be $99 if you want to use it optimally. I got it in one piece for $99 with all the necessary accessories, including a power adapter, and not including an operating system. A lot of these machines on eBay ship without a battery, hard drive, or power adapter. This came with all of them, but I had to supply the operating system. So I currently have an unlicensed version of Windows 10 running, which only limits the personalization and puts a nice watermark on the wallpaper reminding you that you didn't register Windows. Other than that, it doesn't lock you out of Windows, so for now I'm fine with that. I'm sure there's workarounds for the watermark out there should it bother you.

Now, the first issue I ran into was the god-awful performance. This thing crawled, so the first thing I upgraded was the hard drive. The original 5400 RPM hard disk drive was absolutely ruining the experience, so I opted for a Silicon Power 60 GB SSD, only because it was the cheapest, highest rated SSD on Amazon. I don't need a ton of storage, I just need speed. And believe me, this thing is worlds faster now. The second thing I upgraded was a larger battery. It's not made by Dell, but it got good enough reviews for me. It brought the battery life from 2-3 hours on the standard battery, to 4-6 hours, depending on usage, power setting, and screen brightness. The third upgrade that has yet to arrive is a RAM upgrade. This came with 2 GB of RAM, which is simply not enough, so I'm in the process of upgrading to 8 GB of RAM, the maximum this can take. Some of the performance issues could be related to the Core 2 Duo processor, but I suspect more RAM could also help. You can tell Chrome, and other programs are working hard to deal with memory management, plus I also suspect that a RAM upgrade could improve battery life, so the computer doesn't have to spend so much time trying to free up memory. All in all, the $99 initial price goes up to around an extra $100 to get everything upgraded, but $200 for a fast machine is much better than you'd be able to do with a brand new budget laptop.

There are other advantages to choosing a used business class laptop like this Latitude, than a consumer budget laptop. Construction is one of them, as this thing is light enough to throw in a backpack, while also feeling like it can take a beating. I prefer the rugged feel of a ThinkPad, but this Latitude feels pretty tough. This thing is also really easy to upgrade, with the hard drive located in a bay that just has to be unscrewed. This thing can also use two batteries at once, if you can find a battery online to fit in the hot-swappable DVD Drive bay. The keyboard is fantastic, with nice feel and tactility, which is important when typing notes for a long class. Not all Latitude D630s came with a fingerprint scanner, in fact while looking them up, I couldn't find any to show up in videos or photos, or at least not many, but this one does. It's very convenient, as it makes logging in feel much more secure knowing that no one can look over your shoulder to see what password or PIN you're entering in. The downside to the scanner is the placement; Most laptop manufacturers have them off to the right of the trackpad, but Dell decided to put it in between the left and right click buttons, which is incredibly annoying when using the trackpad, so I recommend using a USB mouse, or even the trackpoint nub located in the keyboard. Speaking of the trackpad, drivers for said trackpad were hard to find, as Dell's support site claims the drivers are not compatible with Windows 10. Luckily I was able to find a website that supplied the version number that would work, because otherwise, the trackpad has no settings to change tap-to-click, or to set up scrolling. Also there's no two-finger scrolling on my model, only scrolling on the side, which is tough to get used to in 2017. Drivers are somewhat of an issue, but not a large enough problem as Windows Update seems to find enough of them to make Windows happy. Screen resolution is tiny by today's standards, maxing out at just above 720p, and the quality isn't very vibrant, kind of bland, which is great for documents I guess. The speakers are "meh," but this laptop was intended for businessfolk, so understand why they suck. It's also nice to have indicator lights for power, battery status, hard drive activity, WiFi, and Bluetooth, which this machine seemingly doesn't have. This also has a dedicated switch for WiFi, which is far more satisfying when you need to reconnect than pressing buttons inside Windows.

Using a 10 year old laptop in any application is a hassle, but if you're up for the task, you can save a considerable amount of money. Especially when the machine runs almost as fast as a brand new middle-range laptop today. This endeavor isn't for everyone, and most people in my classes must think I'm crazy bringing in this dinosaur to take notes. Personally, tinkering is fun for me, just to see how far this old laptop can go. Plus, I don't have to worry about throwing it around.

UPDATE: (09/30/17) With the 8 GB RAM installation, which was annoying because you have to uncork the keyboard, it's noticeably faster, but I can tell I've reached the speed limit. The solid state drive did its work fetching files easier, and the extra RAM gives the system more room to work with, but the processor just has its limit. It's not slow, but in YouTube, clicking the notification icon and loading comments take some time. YouTube also takes some time on my Intel i7 machines, so that might just be YouTube being YouTube. The computer still starts up from complete shut down in about 10 seconds, so I can't complain.

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