Fujitsu Siemens has a wide — some might say bewildering — range of notebooks in its professional portfolio. In the LifeBook series there are E, S, P and T Series notebooks. Then there's the newer Esprimo range, which includes V, U, M, D and X Series notebooks. Within each letter-coded series there are often several models, which can make it a challenge to find the best fit for your needs.
Here we are looking at the latest entrant to the sub-2kg LifeBook S series, which is designed for mobile professionals who need a decent helping of performance. Our review S6420 unit is a mid-range model: an entry-level spec costs £1,010 (ex. VAT), while the top-end model comes in at £1,192 (ex. VAT).
The LifeBook S6420 has a nice matte black lid, except for a bar of more reflective material on its top edge. This does gather fingerprints, but is small enough not to be too noticeable. Inside, the screen's frame is also black, while the keyboard section is a very light silver with white keys.
The S6420 came to us in a zipped sleeve that provides some protection for the casing. However, it won't safeguard the system from serious knocks or drops, so you'll still need a travel bag. The lid section has a little more give than we'd like, but at least Fujitsu Siemens provides a solid clasp that keeps the lid and keyboard sections firmly together during transit.
The system isn't exactly diminutive, measuring 31.4cm wide by 23.4cm deep by 2.24-3.35cm high but it weighs an eminently portable 1.7kg.
The S6420's relatively bulky dimensions are down to its 13.3in. LED-backlit display. The screen's reflective coating makes it hard to work with outdoors or in an office with a bright light behind you, but it's bright and clear in unchallenging lighting conditions. The native resolution is on the low side at 1,280 by 800 pixels, although the graphics subsystem supports 1,920 by 1,200 on an external monitor.
The keyboard is large, spill proof (says Fujitsu Siemens), with a full-height number row topped by a smaller function key row. There's plenty of return on the keys and touch typing should present no problems — unless you have a heavy hand, in which case you may find the keyboard a little more flexible than you'd like.
Beneath the keyboard is a two-button touchpad that, unusually these days, lacks embedded scrolling capability. A fingerprint sensor nestles between the two mouse buttons.
There's a row of keys above the keyboard, plus the main on/off switch. These keys give access to notebook locking, ECO mode (which switches off elements of the notebook selectively to save power) and application shortcuts.
Our review sample of the LifeBook S6420 has a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 at its heart. Other processors are available — T9600, P8600 and P8400 — all with a 1,066MHz frontside bus. The supplied 2GB of RAM is adequate for the installed Windows Vista Business; a downgrade to Windows XP is available if needed.
Graphics are handled by Intel's GMA 4500MHD, which is integrated in the GN45 Express chipset. Unfortunately, this was not installed properly on our review sample, which defaulted to a standard VGA setup. This was responsible for the system's poor Windows Experience Index (WEI) result (see below).
Our review sample was also missing its Atheros Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) module, so we had to connect to the internet via Gigabit Ethernet, courtesy of a Marvell Yukon chipset. LifeBook S6420 also features integrated 3G/HSDPA with download speeds up to 7.2Mbps; the SIM slot is located beneath the battery. A standard V.92 modem is present too.
Various hard drive options are available. A 64GB solid-state drive (SSD) is available (at a price), or you can stick with mechanical hard disks at 120GB, 160GB, and 320GB.
The optical drive, a multi-format DVD rewriter, is located on the right edge of the system in a modular bay that can accommodate a second battery or a weight saver if need be.
A webcam sits above the screen. Its small lens is in a fixed position, which makes it less convenient to use than swivel-mounted units.
There are plenty of ports and connectors. The front edge has microphone and headphone jacks, an S-Video port, a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port and a mechanical switch for the Wi-Fi radio. On the right edge are two vertically stacked USB 2.0 ports; these are rather close together, and you may have trouble using them both at once with some peripherals. Behind them is the modem (RJ-11) port and much further back, behind the optical drive, is a third USB 2.0 connector. The left side houses a Type II PC Card slot, a flash memory card slot with support for SD- and Memory Stick-compatible media, and — most unusually these days — an infrared port. At the back of the left side is the Ethernet (RJ-45) port, the power input and, behind a well-fitted plastic cover, a VGA-out port.
Because our review sample's integrated GMA 4500WHD graphics module was not set up correctly (and resisted our attempts to fix it), the LifeBook S6420 deliver a poor overall Windows Experience Index (WEI) of just 1.0 (out of 5.9) — the overall WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) and Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance).
The remaining component scores were impressive: Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 5.3; Processor (calculations per second), 5.4; RAM (Memory operations per second), 5.8.
Fujitsu Siemens rates the LifeBook S6420's 6-cell, 5,800mAh Li-ion battery at five hours (a MobileMark 2005 score). We chose the system's Balanced power plan and set it to play a music CD with visualisations in Windows Media Player, which it did for 2.5 hours.
More anecdotally, we were able to work for half-day stretches including a fair bit of internet access over Wi-Fi, but required access to mains power before the day was out.
The optional 6-cell, 2,500mAh second battery, which fits into the modular bay in place of the optical drive, is rated by Fujitsu Siemens to extend battery life from 5 to 8.5 hours. We didn't have this unit for testing, but clearly if you need a full day's work on battery power, you'll need to buy the second battery.
The LifeBook S6420's combination of portability, 3G support and integrated webcam make it a good choice for the mobile professional. The specification is flexible, and we particularly like the capability to add a second battery.
On the minus side, the build quality isn't as robust as it could be, screen resolution is on the low side, and the keyboard has a bit more flex than we'd like.