Table of Contents (in short):
- In the box
- Build quality, Case and design and looks
- Keyboard and Trackpad
- Sound and Speakers
- General subjective performance experience
- Gaming Performance
- Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling
- Screen / Screen quality
- Competiting gaming laptops / alternatives
++ Main reason to consider:
value for price: Radeon 8850M + 1080p display + I5-4200U for around $700 is possible.
– Main reason to avoid:
Considering a new machine, you can add a little more and get a lot more gaming performance and also value in the form of HDD and RAM.
+ Good gaming performance for the price with the Radeon 8850M (~GT 75M GDDR5)
+ Good enough 1080p display for movies and gaming
+ Case does not get hot almost at all.
+ Satisfying speakers
+ Solid design
+ Comfortable keys
|GPU||Radeon 8850M, core@575MHZ, GDDR5@1000MHZ|
|RAM||Samsung 1x4GB DDR3@1600MHZ, 1.35v|
|HDD||Seagate ST500LT012-9WS142 5400RPM|
|LCD Panel||AU Optronics B156HW02|
|Weight / Dimensions||2.3kg / 5.07lbs, 31.3mm (h) x 376 (w) x 259 (d)|
|Connection Ports||right side: USB 2.0|
left side: 2xUSB 3.0, 1xUSB 2.0, mic and headphones connection ports, 1x VGA, Power connection
rear: kensington lock
|WiFi||WiFi: Atheros Communications AR9565|
Ethernet: RealTek Semiconductor RTL8168/8111
|Battery||6 cell, 62Wh|
The Dell Latitude 3540 / 15 3000 is Dell’s midrange low budget gaming laptop, in practice, though its roots are in the ‘business’ line. Priced at around $650-$730 w/ coupons ( with refurbished sometimes offered for as low as $470), the 3540 fills the $600-$800 price range which is somewhat lacks good performers currenty. It’s Radeon 8850M + I5 combination delivers a relatively good gaming performance for the buck. On top of that, you’ll also get a nice 1080p display and a solid case.
However, the 3540 faces some competition from below and from above. We’ll find out in that review what are the strong points and downsides of the 3540.
I’ve purchased it refurbished throufh eBay (also available through Dell outlet) with 1 year warranty. It came with the recovery discs and PSU.
The Dell Latitude 3540 shell is mostly quite firm and not easily gets bent. Some parts at the bottom are more flexible, like the service panel and the DVD cover, however, I’ve found no major flaws. The display outer lid could / should have have been sturdier, though it is not less sturdy than many other laptops I’ve used, including pricey one.
Keyboard area is firm too and you’ll probably won’t notice any alarming flex – though some think it yields too much, I don’t feel the same. The screen hinges feel firm too. The palm rest is comfortable and doesn’t feel weak.
The bottom line is that the case build quality is ok and even above average for such a hardware and price.
The looks are solid but trying to be elegant. The 3540 is styled with silver and black colors. The outer lid has the a brushed alumium finish which is nice. I feel like the style is a bit bulky and uninspired, but it’s not a big deal. If you like the solid non-fuss style, you’ll probably find the 3540 pleasant to the eye.
Should have been a better connections variety. Only VGA video out is available – no HDMI / DP will you find. I also think that more than the two USB 3.0 ports should have been available.
There is one service panel at the bottom which brings you to the HDD and DDR3. Other than that, you’ll have to take the laptop apart to the bones to see anything.
There is no extra HDD / mSata slot and only two DDR3 banks.
Keyboard feels firm and keys quite responsive and comfortable. The keys are well spaced and feedback is good too. It is not perfect, but generally it felt nice to type with the Dell 3540 keyboard and I would consider that as one of the 3540 pluses. However, the keyboard is not backlit and it also lacks the standard menu key you’ll usually see besides the space key.
The keyboard keys movement could have been more smooth and the surface more pleasant to touch.
The trackpad is a standard trackpad with two separated buttons. Nothing to say really – it doesn’t yield under pressure and it works. I wish it would have been bigger though.
The Dell Latitude 3540 comes with a 2.0 speaker system. The speakers produce an acceptable sound with bass being in existence, which is good. The sound generally sounds rather rich and deep. However, the speakers, which are located at the front bottom still suffer from the same artifact of many others – it sounds like the sound comes from inside a box, which is not surprising.
There is also some “hiss” sound from the speakers if volume is raised above some level (which is lower than 100%). I also think that the speakers produce a somewhat “washed” sound – but it was barely noticeable if at all (not sure if it’s just me)
I’d say that the sound quality is good enough, though. I was able to enjoy music right from the start – quality is ok, bass is there, so all in all, you should be mostly satisfied.
The IO based operations really felt a bit slow, including booting. I don’t know if it’s the HDD alone (which is not a fast one) or some combination with the software loaded on the Dell. I removed many of the bloatware and indeed things got a lot better. Even the Acer V5-552g with basically the same HDD felt faster. Replacing the HDD would result in a significant difference.
However, the real problem was the whole software-hardware coordination. It seems that the Dell AMD drivers are a bit problematic and installing the new AMD 14.1 beta drivers resulted in higher performance, but also some software related errors, with the ability to shut down malfunctioning (software conflict) and some AMD drivers problems.
Moreover, the I5 and Radeon 8850M are underclocked/undervolted as soon as they’re loaded simultaneously (like in other laptops like the Acer V7). It is very annoying since the temperatures are quite low anyway and performance is clearly suffering from this behavior. CPU is set on 1.6GHZ (base clock) and GPU core on 575MHZ (base clock too). The Radeon 8850M is a 725MHZ chip which means around 20% higher performance in potential and another 30-50% from the CPU side.
The test includes some synthetic benchmarks and a small amount of games and the point is to give a reference benchmarks compared to other machines. For more numbers are available over the web in sites like Notebookcheck.com.
See above problems with AMD 14.1 beta drivers.
Using AMD 14.1 beta drivers, Windows 8.1 fully updated as I write these lines. HWInfo was used to measure temperatures. The settings I used in each game differ from one to another and the reason is that I tried to find the highest settings which still let you play smoothly. All games are tested with 1080p resolution. There are enough standard benchmarks over the web to compare performance of different GPUs. For each game, I also wrote how I felt playing, if it was smooth or not.
It is important to mention that the performance is reduced as a result of automatic throttling taking place, though no heat issues are apparent (see thermals section below).
The gaming performance shown here is averagely the gaming performance of the GT 750M GDDR5 GPU or close to that and above the GT 750M DDR3, though I believe that if a better bios will fix the automatic throttling, the performance will be much better and equal or surpass the 750M performance by a bit.
Highest settings, 1080p with four players and a lot of units, you’ll get around 35 FPS at least.
Highest settings, FXAA on, 1080p resolution, you’ll get an minimum of 20-22FPS, depends on the scene. I don’t know why, but lowering the settings didn’t result in a significant enough performance boost: medium settings resulted in 27-30FPS.
highest settings, 1080p resolution, a lot of units fighting and 5-6 players at a scene – not lower than 40-50 FPS. Smooth and responsive.
TD = Texture Details, PP = Post Processing
|Highest, AAx2||10-11||Not smooth|
Crysis 3 is too heavy for this system, but it’s also the result of the automatic underclocking from Dell. I guess that with a modded bios you could get a considerable boost.
|Very high, AO=low, PP=normal||32-35||Smooth|
Bioshock can run well on very high settings given that you lower considerably thre Ambient Occlusion settings and and the PP too.
Built in benchmark too results (ultra):
|Average FPS||Min FPS||Max FPS||Scene Name|
|16.94||10.84||17.97||Scene Change: Disregard Performance In This Section|
|22.58||21.54||22.89||Benchmark Finished: Disregard Performance In This Section|
|Highest, 8xAA, AFx16||22-23||not smooth|
|Highest, 4xAA, AFx16||26-27||rather ok|
|Highest, 2xAA, AFx16||27-31||rather smooth|
|Highest, 2xAA, Texture Details = high||32-40||very smooth|
Skyrim will run well on the 3540 on some very high settings
|Highest, no Phsyx||28||jumpy|
|Highest, FXAA off||31||Rather smooth|
|Highest, FXAA off, AO off||39||Very smooth|
The Phsyx is not available for AMD GPUs. Performance is quite good if you set off FXAA and Ambient Occlusion (which take a considerable amount of the graphics quality)
Battlefield 4 is a bit heavy on the Dell 3540, but you’d be able to play is on medium settings or low-medium settings.
Everything on, TF2 will run smoothly on highest settings
I used the Tomb Raider built in benchmark,
|Ultra||18-27, AVG: 22||Not smooth|
|Ultra, PP off||20-33, AVG: 26||not smooth|
|High||24-35, AVG: 30||ok|
|High, PP off||29-42, AVG: 35||quite smooth|
Tomb Raider is not a very 3D demanding game compared to current standards. You’ll be able to run it quite well on high settings with PP off with around 35FPS in average. You can remove another setting here and there to make it even better.
Highest settings, 1080p resolution.
Smooth. You could run Dota 2 on highset settings easily.
1. Prime95: Torture test, In-Place large FFTs
2. Prime95 + FurMark 1280×720 burn-in test
3. No cooling pad, but ventilation hole unblocked.
4. Windows power mode on “high performance”
Dell Latitude 3540 CPU and GPU temperatures:
You can see that thermals are good. Even under the heaviest load it doesn’t get too hot. The case itself does not get hot either.
Noise. The Dell 3540 is actually quite quiet, even under full load while the fan speeds up to 4800RPM.
Here’s the problem. The Dell 3540 algorithm automatically sets clocks down to base clocks under some circumstances which are usually considerable CPU or GPU load. If both are loaded (like in 3D heavy games), base clocks are applied. This means around roughly 60-70% of CPU core clocks for the I5-4200U and around 80% for the GPU clocks.
TrottleStop, Intel XTU and MSI Afterburner didn’t change this behavior under heavy load.
These numbers mean that if the CPU/GPU are fully clocked, you could get up to 25% higher gaming performance, given there are no other performance issues (software related, for example) and this is a significant advantage.
I’m waiting to see if a modded bios will fix things, but currently I have not solution and found none over the web.
Model LG LP156WF1-TLF3 Resolution 1080p Touch no Matte Yes Color coverage 89% sRGB (tested)
Generally, this is a nice display with ok viewing angles, especially for such a price and value. I had no problem reading with the 1080p screen, though I do feel a higher contrast would be great.
My measures show sRGB coverage to be ok at 80%, though certainly not great.
The deltaE is rather low which means color accuracy is good. Though, given the fact that many colors are not even reproduced, the accuracy lose a bit of its value.
Subjectively, colors look good to me, though not as rich as some IPS displays I’ve used.
Viewing angles. Well, they are ok. Horizontally they are good with low color distortion. Vertically they are not that good, especially when looking from above, but for the most part the color and brightness distortion are not big and using it for example to watch movies is not a problem from different viewing angles.
Bottom line This is a somewhat above the average 1080p TN panel, according to current standard. It is great for gaming and rather good for movies too. Reading won’t be a problem. It is not a high class IPS display, but for such a price and value it is a very good offering.
The battery suffices for around 5 hours under light use, using “power saver” power mode with 50% screen brightness and surfing with WiFi on .
The Dell Latitude 3540 is a $700 gaming laptop if you watch carefully for coupons. You can also get it for around $500 refurbished from time to time on Dell outlet or eBay.
The 3540 competitors are those laptops with midrange gaming performance (GT 750M / 850M, for example) which are priced around $700-$750. Currently, its main competitors as a gaming laptop are mainly the Eurocom Shark 2.0 ($770, GTX 765M, 1080p screen) which is faster but also costs more if you include an OS for a new machine. Other machines are the Lenovo Y410p and Lenovo Z710, but the first has a lower quality display and same gaming performance and the latter has a lower performance.
The Lenovo Y510p for around $900 is stirring from above with its GT 755M SLI which will be much faster for gaming (around almost twice the performance).
However, as a refurbished, you’ll find no competitors, since there is no laptop currently for $500-$550 with such a gaming performance and 1080p display altogether. Actually, there isn’t even a laptop with such a performance and 720p display.
The Dell Latitude 3540 is a formidable gaming laptop. Put aside the software problems with the AMD drivers and you’ll get a very cost effective gaming laptop for $650 – $700 w/ coupons and even as low as $500 if you’ll go refurbished. A good keyboard, quiet operation and nice 1080p display. Moreover, thermals are good and the case does not get hot.
The 3540 is not perfect, though. Most variants will ship with only 4GB DDR3 and a basic 500GB HDD, maintenance s not easy, the keyboard is not backlit and there is no new video out port (HDMI/DP). On top of that, you might face some software problems with the Dell video drivers or the AMD ones (maybe the new ones will fix it)
My recommendation is to wait for some refurbished deal or some really good new deal ($650-$700 tops) and replace the HDD with some better one, preferably SSHD or SSD and down the road, add 4GB of 1.35v DDR3. If the whole package costs you around $700 w/ tax and shipping, then it is a good deal.