- Attractive design
- Solid build quality
- Plenty of ports and slots
- Mobile broadband support
- Matte screen
- Modular bay options include a pico projector
- Fourth-generation (Haswell) CPUs not available yet
- Integrated GPU only
- Second battery may be needed for all-day mains-free operation
Fujitsu's new E-Line range of Lifebooks sits between its business-focused ultrabooks and existing Lifebook models, offering a new slimline design in 13.3-inch, 14-inch and 15.6-inch form factors. The E-Line range ticks the usual 'corporate' boxes with a common BIOS, chipset and docking/modular bay accessories, but offers one or two options that allow it to stand out from the business laptop crowd. The E-Line currently runs on third-generation Intel processors, but an upgrade to fourth-generation Haswell silicon is expected in the coming months.
We looked at the 14in. Lifebook E743, which starts at £863 (ex. VAT), rising to £1,294 (ex. VAT).
The E-Line notebooks have a new look, and it's a cut above your average corporate workhorse, featuring a solid magnesium lid with a silvered Fujitsu logo, a brushed-aluminium wrist-rest and sporty red accents. Starting at 1.7kg, the 14in. E743 is no road warrior's notebook, but it's pleasingly slim and could be carried on your travels at a pinch. For the record, the dimensions are 33.8cm wide by 20cm deep by 2.0-2.7cm thick.
The 14-inch LED-backlit screen has a matte anti-glare finish, and a resolution of 1,600 by 900 pixels. Brightness (250cd/m2) and contrast (300:1) are good, while image quality and viewing angles are perfectly adequate for this notebook's primary role — running mainstream business software. The lid's hinges feel sturdy and hold the screen firmly at the desired angle (you can push it right back to horizontal if you wish).
The keyboard is a typical island-style unit with 85 keys, including a row of half-height function keys above the number row (with Home, End, Insert and Delete at the right-hand end), plus single-function cursor keys in the bottom left corner (with PgUp and PgDn filling in the 'inverted-T'). If you like a very responsive keyboard with a lot of key travel, you may find this one a little passive, but we found it easy enough to type on at speed. Keyboard backlighting is optional and was present on our review unit; it's toggled on and off via a Fn key combination, has two brightness levels, and is quite subtle — in fact, it was hard to discern whether the feature was present at all under normal office lighting.
Beneath the red metal strip that separates the keyboard from the wrist-rest area, there's a large multitouch touchpad with a pair of integrated mouse buttons. Our review sample had a fingerprint reader, an optional feature, on the right-hand side of the wrist-rest area. There are three buttons between the keyboard and the screen, including Fujitsu's characteristic 'eco' button that puts the system into a strict power-saving mode — disabling the optical drive (if present), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet, dimming the screen and reining back CPU performance. The other two buttons are for power on/off and wireless on/off.
The Lifebook E743 is well supplied with ports and slots. On the left-hand side, from the back, you have Ethernet (RJ-45), VGA, DisplayPort and USB 3.0 ports, plus an SD card and an (optional) SmartCard slot. The right-hand side is mostly taken up with the modular bay (of which more later), but also finds room for audio in and out jacks and another two USB 3.0 ports (one with Anytime USB Charge functionality). There's a further USB (2.0) port at the back, on the right-hand side, which is otherwise occupied by the system's 6-cell 72Wh Li-ion battery.
Our review unit was powered by a 2.6GHz (3.2GHz with Turbo Boost) Intel Core i5-3230M processor plus the (vPro-supporting, with suitable CPUs) QM77 chipset and 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM. With two DIMM slots, the RAM complement can go up to 16GB. A number of other processor options are also available, culminating in a 2.2GHz/3.2GHz Core i7-3620QM. Graphics are handled by the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. As mentioned earlier, a fourth-generation Haswell CPU upgrade is in the pipeline for the Lifebook E743 and its E-Line brethren. Our review unit ran Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, but Windows 8 Pro is also available.
Storage in our review sample was a relatively sedate 5,400rpm 500GB Seagate hard drive, but faster options are available in the shape of 500GB hybrid drive with 8GB of SSD cache and SSD drives from 128GB up to 512GB in capacity. You can also specify a 256GB Full Disk Encryption (FDE) drive if you want maximum security for your laptop-bound data.
We had a full complement of wireless connectivity on our review unit, namely Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth(4.0) and mobile broadband (either Sierra Wireless MC7710 LTE or Sierra Wireless Gobi 3000 HSPA). The SIM card slot for the latter is in its customary location in the battery compartment.
The modular bay on the right-hand side can be fitted with a range of slimline peripherals, including a multi-format DVD drive (supplied on our review sample), a Blu-ray writer, a second (6-cell, 28Wh) battery and a weight saver. However, the most interesting modular bay option, also supplied with our review unit, is the Bay Projector. This £280 (ex. VAT) option is a 40-lumen pico projector that provides a convenient way to throw an image up to 30 inches across the diagonal from a distance of 2 metres — in a suitably darkened room, onto a suitable surface.
The 150g projector's optics and control unit slide out from the modular bay on the release of a catch. The lens/LED bulb unit is hinged, giving you some control over image placement, along with a +/- 18-degree keystone correction control button. The other two buttons are for brightness and power on/off. There's also a sliding focus control to the side of the lens.
If you're presenting to a large audience, you'll still need a separate high-brightness projector, and two or three people may be better off clustering around the built-in screen. But if you're a mobile professional who regularly presents to small groups, the Bay Projector is a convenient lightweight, quiet (38dBA) cable-free option. Just don't expect too much from this moderate-brightness, SVGA (800-by-480-pixel) projector.
Performance & battery life
It's no surprise to find that the Lifebook E743's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is limited by its integrated graphics, the lowest (WEI-defining) component score being 5.0 (out of 7.9) for Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero). The next bottlenecks are Memory (RAM) and Primary hard disk, both of which score 5.9, while Gaming graphics and Processor lead the way with 6.3 and 7.1 respectively:
These numbers suggest a system perfectly capable of handling mainstream business workloads, but you won't want to run anything that's too demanding of the graphics or disk subsystems.
To emphasise this point, compare the Lifebook E743's performance with that of the fastest Windows 7 system we've tested — the Haswell-powered, discrete-GPU Cinebench 11.5 benchmark (it also costs around twice as much as the E743):. This delivers a WEI of 7.7 and is in a different league when it comes to the demanding
To get a handle on battery life, we measured the system's power consumption with the battery out, under a variety of workload/screen brightness regimes, and divided the resulting average wattage into the battery's rated 72Wh capacity, giving battery life estimates in hours (Wh/W = h):
Although Fujitsu claims that you can get 'up to' 13 hours from the main battery, our estimates fall between just under 2 hours when running a heavy workload (Cinebench 11.5's OpenGL test) continuously with 100 percent screen brightness and 8 hours when idling at the Windows 7 desktop with 25 percent screen brightness. With a mixture of idle and load periods through the day, somewhere between four and six hours seems more likely. If you need to guarantee a full 8-hour day's work on battery life, you may need to consider investing in the second (modular bay) battery option.
Fujitsu's new Lifebook E-Line offers an attractive design and solid build quality, with plenty of configuration options and (common) accessories. Our 14-inch Core i5-powered E743 review sample delivered acceptable performance and is just about slim and light enough to take on a business trip if necessary. The optional modular Bay Projector is an interesting feature, but you'll need to weigh its utility against the £280 price tag.