- Very good performance
- plenty of built-in ports and connectors
- good security and manageability options
- very good support package
- Uninspiring design
- poor battery life (from pre-production review unit)
Fujitsu Siemens is steadily building a reputation as a producer of high-quality notebooks, and it's no surprise that the company has been quick off the mark with a Sonoma-based notebook, the LifeBook E8020. This is a well-specified desktop replacement system that weighs in on the right side of 3kg, performs very well and only really disappointed on battery life -- something that should be fixed in final production systems.
This is not a system for the business user who wants to travel light. Instead, it's much more of a desktop replacement model that can occasionally be stowed in a car boot or a suitcase. The dimensions make this clear: the LifeBook E8020 measures 33.3cm wide by 28.5cm deep by 3.5-3.7cm high and weighs 2.9kg. Although a port replicator is available, deskbound users are unlikely to require it, as the LifeBook E8020 has plenty of built-in connectivity. On the right-hand side there are two slots that look like PC Card slots. In fact, only one will accommodate PC Cards: the other is designed for one of several security systems, of which more later. On the left-hand side there's a modular bay that in our review system was fitted with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. This bay could equally be configured to carry a DVD writer, a second battery, a second hard drive or simply a weight saver. Further towards the back on this side there are S-Video, IEEE 1394 (FireWire) and USB 2.0 ports, as well as an SD/MMC card slot and the mains power input. On the back are RJ-11 (modem), RJ-45 (Ethernet) and PS/2 connectors, three further USB 2.0 ports, plus serial, VGA and parallel connectors. The front of the system houses SPDIF/headphone and microphone connectors plus an on/off switch for the integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless module. Bluetooth was not present in our review system, but it will be available on some models. For the most part, the connectors are ergonomically arranged. However, the three rear-mounted USB slots could be problematic. It was just possible to have a USB mouse and a standard sized USB-key flash drive in adjacent slots, but we couldn't fit two USB keys -- each up to 10mm wide – next to one another. The hardware design is not especially elegant. Perhaps it's the light grey keys against a dark grey background, but we find the look less than pleasing on the eye. Nonetheless, the keys themselves are responsive. For navigation there's both a touchpad with its left/right buttons bisected by a scroll button, and a keyboard-embedded pointing stick. Unusually, there's no duplicate set of mouse buttons for the stick, so it's a stretch to reach the touchpad keys when you're using it.
The LifeBook E8020 will ship with either the Intel Pentium M 740 (1.73GHz) or the Pentium M 760 (2.0GHz) processor, both with a 533MHz frontside bus (FSB). Between 256MB and 2GB of 533MHz DDR2 RAM can be accommodated. Our review system, which was a pre-production machine, actually had a 1.86GHz Pentium M 750 and 512MB of RAM. Fixed storage was catered for by a 60GB Serial ATA hard drive with a rotational speed of 5,400rpm -- 40GB and 80GB options are also available. Graphics in our review system were handled by ATI's Mobility Radeon X600 chipset with 64MB of dedicated video memory. Fujitsu Siemens also expects to offer a version with Intel's 915GM chipset, which includes the Media Accelerator 900 module, at a later date (this is expected in May 2005). The chipset in our review system was the 915PM, which is designed for a discrete graphics solution. Business users who like to play the occasional game may want to stick with the ATI graphics option, but otherwise Intel's improved integrated chipset should do a more than adequate job. The displays on offer are linked to the graphics solution: LifeBook E8020s with ATI chipset will come with a 15.1in. SXGA+ screen, while those with Intel's integrated graphics will have a 15.1in. XGA screen. Again, our pre-production review unit was slightly out of step, as it had the ATI graphics but an XGA-resolution display. We had no complaints about the quality of the screen on our review model, although some desktop replacement customers may want to look elsewhere for a system with a 17in. widescreen display. Above the keyboard there are four shortcut buttons that are mapped to applications. By default these are the Windows Notepad, Calculator, Internet Explorer and email, but they can be changed easily using the LifeBook Application Panel software accessible via the Control Panel. We are not generally excited by such quick-access buttons, but in this case they have another role: they are part of a security system that can be set up to require a numerical password before the computer can be used. Entry is via this button row. The four numbered buttons can be pressed individually or in combination to produce a five-event passcode. Further security is available in the shape of a smartcard-based system that uses the PC Card style slot noted earlier. This identifies a user to the machine and allows access to its contents; a built-in Trusted Platform Module (TPM) can also authenticate the notebook itself to join a network. Neither of these additional security systems are included in the base configuration: the TPM is available on a project basis, while the smartcard-based authentication is a £40 (ex. VAT) option.
Performance & battery life
When we benchmarked the LifeBook E8020 using the application-based MobileMark 2002 test, we got distinctly mixed results. Performance from the 1.86GHz/512MB preproduction system was very good indeed: in fact, its Productivity score of 214 was only just short of the fastest desktop replacement systems we've tested. So complaints there. Battery life was another matter, as the system's 4,800mAh Li-ion unit only managed a disappointing 2 hours and 4 minutes. This was so far off Fujitsu Siemens' estimate of 4.5 hours that we raised the matter with the company, who duly informed us that shipping systems would include updated BIOS/chipset drivers that were not available for our preproduction review unit. Although battery life may not be foremost among the features sought by desktop replacement customers, we hope to verify that this issue has been solved at a later date.
Service & support
The LifeBook E8020 comes with a three-year collect and return warranty, which is as it should be for a business-orientated product. Telephone support is available within the warranty period at national rate between 9am and 5.30pm Monday to Friday; outside the warranty period, the cost rises to 60p a minute. Fujitsu Siemens' Web site offers plenty of backup, with a knowledgebase and FAQs, driver and documentation downloads, and user forums.