Dell Latitude 3540 Review (Radeon 8850M): solid midrange gaming option (if you catch a coupon)

Dell Latitude 3540 Review. The Dell Latitude 3540 fills in the $600-$800 price range. In this review we’ll test if this machine holds its liqueur and really delivers good gaming performance in this price range and is worth its price.

Dell Latitude 3540 Review featured image

++ 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.

Availability

NewRefurbished (would be my recommendation)

Pro:

+ 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

Con:

– Not as fast as others for $100-$200 more (Y510p SLI, Eurocom Shark 2.0)
– Considerable auto throttling of CPU and GPU
– Keyboard is not backlit
– Possible software issues with video drivers

 

Introduction

ComponentDescription
PriceNew: $700-$800
Refurbished: $4580-$600
CPUI5-4200U
GPURadeon 8850M, core@575MHZ, GDDR5@1000MHZ
RAMSamsung 1x4GB DDR3@1600MHZ, 1.35v
HDDSeagate ST500LT012-9WS142 5400RPM
LCD PanelAU Optronics B156HW02
Weight / Dimensions2.3kg / 5.07lbs, 31.3mm (h) x 376 (w) x 259 (d)
Keyboardstandard (non-backlit)
Connection Portsright side: USB 2.0
left side: 2xUSB 3.0, 1xUSB 2.0, mic and headphones connection ports, 1x VGA, Power connection
rear: kensington lock
Camera1280x720; 30fps
WiFiWiFi: Atheros Communications AR9565
Ethernet: RealTek Semiconductor RTL8168/8111
Speakers2.0
Battery6 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.

In the box

I’ve purchased it refurbished throufh eBay (also available through Dell outlet) with 1 year warranty. It came with the recovery discs and PSU.

Build quality, Case, design and looks

 

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.

Connection ports.

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.

Maintenance. 

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 and trackpad

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.

 

 

Sound & Speakers

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.

 

General subjective performance experience

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.

 

Gaming Performance

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.

 

Test Methods & 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.

 

Synthetic 3D benchmarks

Dell 3540 Review: 3DMark

 

Summarized gaming performance

Dell 3540 (8850M) Review: gaming performance

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.

Starcraft II

Highest settings, 1080p with four players and a lot of units, you’ll get around 35 FPS at least.

World of Tanks (WoT)

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.

LoL (League of Legends)

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.

Crysis 3

TD = Texture Details, PP = Post Processing

Crysis 3, 1080p
SettingsFPS (Min)Feel
Highest, AAx210-11Not smooth
Medium21-24Not smooth
Low24-32rather 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.

 

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite, 1080p
SettingsMin FPSFeel
Highest21jumpy
Very high26-27jumpy
Very high, AO=low, PP=normal32-35Smooth

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 FPSMin FPSMax FPSScene Name
17.639.4130.58Welcome Center
16.9410.8417.97Scene Change: Disregard Performance In This Section
16.279.6718.94Town Center
15.8613.3622.16Raffle
20.9515.0722.71Monument Island
22.5821.5422.89Benchmark Finished: Disregard Performance In This Section
17.599.4130.58Overall

 

Skyrim

Skyrim, 1080p
SettingsFPS (Min)Feel
Highest, 8xAA, AFx1622-23not smooth
Highest, 4xAA, AFx1626-27rather ok
Highest, 2xAA, AFx1627-31rather smooth
Highest, 2xAA, Texture Details = high32-40very smooth

Skyrim will run well on the 3540 on some very high settings

 

Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2, 1080p
SettingsFPS (Min)Feel
Highest, no Phsyx28jumpy
Highest, FXAA off31Rather smooth
Highest, FXAA off, AO off39Very 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

Battlefield 4, 1080p
SettingsFPS (Min)Feel
Highest10-14Not smooth
Very high20-22blaa
High26-27jumpy
Medium27-32ok

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.

 

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2, 1080p
SettingsFPS (Min)Feel
Highest42-45Not smooth

Everything on, TF2 will run smoothly on highest settings

 

Tomb Raider

I used the Tomb Raider built in benchmark,

Tomb Raider, 1080p
SettingsFPSFeel
Ultra18-27, AVG: 22Not smooth
Ultra, PP off20-33, AVG: 26not smooth
High24-35, AVG: 30ok
High, PP off29-42, AVG: 35quite 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.

 

Dota 2

Highest settings, 1080p resolution.

Dota 2, 1080p
SettingsFPS (Min)Feel
Highest45-50Very smooth

Smooth. You could run Dota 2 on highset settings easily.

 

Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling

Tests settings:

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:

Dell 3540 Review: thermals

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.

Throttling.

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.

Dell 3540 Review: GPU / CPU clocks
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.

Screen & Screen quality

ModelLG LP156WF1-TLF3
Resolution1080p
Touchno
MatteYes
Color coverage89% 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.

 

Battery Performance

The battery suffices for around 5 hours under light use, using “power saver” power mode with 50% screen brightness and surfing with WiFi on .

 

Competing gaming laptops / Alternatives

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

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60 Comments on "Dell Latitude 3540 Review (Radeon 8850M): solid midrange gaming option (if you catch a coupon)"

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th5h
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what about arma 3

Kris
Guest

Hi Junky, long time no talk! I noticed today that AMD released new drivers for 8.1 for the 8850M in these laptops, have you updated them or know anyone that’s tried it? http://support.amd.com/en-us/download/mobile?os=Windows%208.1%20-%2064 I want to try it, but am worried I’ll have to start all over again if it doesn’t work.

Guest
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I have this memorys new at home they would fit with this laptop? reading the specs says that is 1.5V mems but dont know. im interested in know if they work because i want to install it. Also want to know if you know the ports hdd and dvd drive are sata 2 or sata 3?

Alvaro
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I have this memorys new at home http://www.amazon.com/Kingston-Modules-Notebook-KHX1600C9S3P1K2-8G/dp/B004Y4XAAK/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1404564289&sr=8-10&keywords=ddr3+1600mhz+sodimm they would fit with this laptop? reading the specs says that is 1.5V mems but dont know. im interested in know if they work because i want to install it. Also want to know if you know the ports hdd and dvd drive are sata 2 or sata 3?

BRICK
Guest

there is a solution for the throttling issue, either you install windows 7 or ubuntu with the latest catalyst and intel hd drivers, both work at full capacity not having any kind of issue with any game