Decking out my favorite 10-year old laptop & why repairability matters | Dell Latitude e6320

Dom Corriveau

Dom Corriveau

A Dell Latitude E6320 open on a park picnic table at a park with stucco pillars on either side.

I've been using a Dell Latitude e6320 enterprise laptop as my daily driver for over a month. It is disheartening to see the constant upgrade pressure on people when old hardware, even something 10 years old like this laptop, is still competent for modern workloads. Rather than looking for budget laptops, tech enthusiasts should be persuading friends, family, and strangers on the internet to purchase recycled hardware. It is both better for their pocketbook and for the environment.

Besides producing videos and playing Minecraft, I've used this laptop for everything I need to get done daily. This includes creating and managing social media content for multiple clients, writing long-form posts, podcast editing, video conferencing, and SSH'ing into my servers for general maintenance. The only reason I haven't been using it to play Minecraft is that my gaming partner, who is also my 5-year-old daughter, insists we record our gameplay so she can watch it later. Asking this device to both play and record would be too much.

The hardware

I acquired this laptop from a trash pile scheduled to go to the recycler the next day. It is one of the many I have rescued over the years, fixed up, and gave away to anyone without a PC. I don't run Windows, so all of them, including this e6320, runs Linux.

I don't have much to add to the many reviews for this laptop when it first came out a decade ago. So rather than a performance review, I want to discuss some of its features and why I chose to invest a small amount of money in it.

If you would like to read some original reviews from back in 2011, here are two great ones.

1) Dell Latitude E6320 Review | Dell Latitude & Laptop Reviews | Business Notebooks | Laptop Mag
2) Dell Latitude E6320 Laptop Review - Reviews

Of course, the original release of this laptop included a spinning, 5400 RPM hard drive. The most straightforward upgrade that has the most significant impact on performance is always switching to an SSD when possible. I happened to have a 120GB Kingston SSD laying around that I purchased on a Black Friday deal last year, which I quickly swapped and loaded Pop_OS!. I'm a massive fan of Pop, my distro of choice on almost all my machines. I didn't run into any hardware issues; everything just worked out of the box.

Along with the slow, spinning hard drive was 4 GB of DDR3 RAM. The motherboard for the e6320 supports up to 8 GB, so for $30 on eBay, I purchased a 2x4 GB kit and upgraded it right away. I also attempted to use a WWAN card for mobile data, but the Linux support for the Gobi 2000 WWAN cards is near zero. I didn't have a reason for mobile data, but I did want to try to get it working.

Working with older hardware has reminded me just how accessible repairs and upgrades used to be. On this e6320, the entire bottom plate is easily removable, with the RAM and networking components front and center. The HDD has its own tray, which can slide in and out without removing the bottom panel. Nothing soldered. Not one piece held down by glue. Even the battery is externally accessible with two switches to remove. Yes, the laptop is old and carries quite the heft. But modern ultrabooks are designed for planned obsolescence.

This is a significant problem for people on tight budgets who strain to justify the cost of a new PC. But then, when a component breaks or needs an upgrade, it is nearly impossible. The solution from the manufacturer is simply, "buy a new one." even though easy fixes like RAM upgrades, new HDDs, and battery replacements are repairs anyone can do.

In my opinion, this is why we have seen such rapid growth of Chromebooks. With the lure of such a low-cost device, plus realizing that most of the jobs to be done are in the browser, it is easier to spend $300 instead of $1,000. Of course, I understand there are devices at different price points for different types of users. Yet upgrading older hardware just because you can't de-solder RAM is a gigantic waste.

The most intriguing aspects of the Latitude e6320 are:
1) E-Dock
A proprietary connector on the bottom of all Latitude enterprise laptops allows you to dock the machine and expand all the ports, plus multi-monitor support. The E-dock is still inferior to USB-C plus Thunderbolt but is still extremely welcome.

2) E-Module Bay
I love it. The e6320 comes with a DVD-RW drive that can be removed with a push-button lever. I actually still have a use for a DVD drive since I still buy physical media. However, this slot isn't only for the DVD drive. It is an "e-module bay" that allows other modules to be inserted. This includes adding more USB ports, an HDD caddy, or even another battery. I chose to get a caddy, so I can add a second hard drive. Because it is easily removable, I can swap the HDD in the tray whenever I want, and it is even hot-swappable. I purchased the caddy for $11 and had a 1 TB WD Black 2.5" HDD laying around.

3) Slice battery
Through the e-dock connector on the laptop's bottom, you can add yet another battery called a "slice" battery. This is a 97 wh external battery that will change the primary battery. It can be recharged separately or attached to the laptop, just not while also connected to the e-dock. Theoretically, this means you could have 3 batteries connected to the e6320 simultaneously for true all-day screen time. This was the most expensive upgrade I did ($60), but it felt so geeky I couldn't pass it up.

In addition to the RAM upgrade, SSD primary drive, plus a second HDD in the e-module bay, I also purchased an ExpressCard to add to USB ports. This adds one USB 2.0 and one 3.0. It is awkwardly big and one of the original "dongles" for laptops. But, again, another geeky upgrade that only cost $14.

In total, everything I purchased as an upgrade, plus if I had to buy the laptop, would cost under $400. This is how it breaks down:

  • Battery = $22
  • HDD caddy = $11
  • ExpressCard = $14
  • RAM upgrade = $33
  • Slice battery = $60
  • E-dock = $20
  • Laptop = $130
  • Primary OS SSD (120GB) = $25
  • Data HDD (1 TB spinning) = $50

Final thoughts

I love working with older hardware. There are lots of people who do this, too. Some of them like to do it for nostalgia's sake, repairing old devices and running them as they did when they were new. One of my favorite YouTube channels does just this!

For me, I love working with older hardware because I want to see how long I can make it last under current workflows. How long can I keep this PC or phone working? How much life can I breathe into it through minor upgrades and software tweaks?

It turns out, a lot.

This Dell Latitude e6320 still has a lot of life left in it, and I'm going to continue using it until I have finally reached a workflow that is no longer possible with this hardware. In fact, I've been using it since 2018 when I wrote this article about installing Elementary OS on it back in 2018. My oldest daughter used it as her primary laptop between then and now through two years of high school. So now it is back to me and still running daily.

We are now multiple generations into laptops that have gone out of their way to make is they cannot be repaired, which will make fixing old tech for modern uses will become much more difficult. As those devices make their way to eBay and trash piles, fewer and fewer of them will be able to be repaired and given another life. It is also said that many people who do not have the means to constantly purchase new hardware will be left in the lurch. Instead of spending $35 on an easy repair, they will struggle to find a way to spend hundreds of dollars on a new device. This is bad for both consumers and for the environment.

It is incredibly irresponsible of manufacturers we are in this state of planned obsolescence capitalism. We need to do better, and it starts with expecting manufacturers to include repairability in the engineering for the device from the beginning. And if they won't, then we will force them through legislation.

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