Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fujitsu Lifebook AH530 Review (01-16-2011 Update)



So I bought the Fujitsu Lifebook AH530 for $549 with a $50 rebate last week, again not for me though, it’s for my uncle this time. It’s not a too shabby deal from a Japanese maker, although Fujitsu somehow wasn’t very well known for consumer market... This one has been on sale a few times in the past two months, but somehow I missed all those. But it also means that not too many people are interested it (can hardly find any reviews online), or the manufacturer is planning to discontinue such model/configuration…

Since I’ve got a Toshiba L505-S5990 for my mom earlier this year. These two are in the same 16” class with some entry to medium level of Intel dual core processors. Of course, the T6500 used in Toshiba is a generation older than this Fujitsu which uses an i3-350M, so the comparison isn’t that fair. My main focus will be on the build quality and general features from these two brands around the same price range (when they were still on the market).

So here is its spec:

Operating System: Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium (64bit)

Processor: Intel® Core™ i3-350M Processor (2.26GHz, 3MB L3 cache, 1066MHz FSB)

Memory: 4 GB (2 GB x 2): DDR3 1066MHz SDRAM dual-channel memory

Display: 15.6" Crystal View WXGA HD Display

Graphics: Intel® HD graphics

Hard Drive: 500 GB Serial ATA 5400 rpm hard drive

Optical Drive: Dual-Layer, Multi-Format DVD Writer

Audio: Realtek® codec ALC269 with 2-channel High-Definition (HD) audio

Communications: Gigabit Ethernet LAN, Atheros XSPAN® BGN (802.11BGN) wireless, Bluetooth (V2.1)

Ports: One 15-pin D-SUB connector for VGA external monitor, One HDMI jack, Three USB 2.0 (Universal Serial Bus) connectors for input/output devices, One LAN (RJ-45) connector; One stereo headphone/line-out jack, One stereo microphone/line-in jack

Card Slots: ExpressCard® slot (34mm / 54mm), One Memory Stick®/SD Card slot

Webcam: 1.3 megapixel with digital microphone

Battery: Lithium ion battery, rechargeable, 6-cell, (10.8V, 4400 mAh) Battery life up to 4 hrs., 10 mins.


Microsoft® Office Starter 2010, Adobe Acrobat Reader®, CyberLink YouCam, Norton Internet Security™ 20102 (60-day free trial) Roxio Media Creator, CyberLink MakeDisc, CyberLink PowerDirector, CyberLink PowerDVD


One-year Warranty


The feature my uncle specifically requests are an i3 CPU with enough memory, a 15.6in screen with built-in camera and mic, a full size keyboard with numpad. Possibly output to a second monitor for future use, which includes both a VGA and an HDMI here. It looks pretty ideal just based on the above spec.

First off, the Fujitsu is very light in this class, Toshiba weighs a good 6lb at least, but this Fujitsu weighs a bit more than 5lb. The difference is quite huge when you hold them. Then this one features upgraded intel HD graphics chip, from the win7 experience index, it’s rated around 4.3, much higher than the 4500MHD used in Toshiba, even better than the crappy Nvidia 8400GS desktop card I got for free. And I found no problem using it with PowerDVD 10 and TMT3 playing Blu-ray on it. Intel certainly has come a long way to make the integrated video chips more usable, both on hardware and software. Yeah, the graphics control panel is completed redesigned, which gives it more modern feeling, including some neat feature that’s only available to Nvidia and ATI. The notebook also has an HDMI output, which is one of reasons I bought this. HDMI significantly simplifies the connections between PC monitors and HDTV sets, so it’s a must by today’s standards. (Actually many HDTV sets that have an VGA input, but this VGA input mostly DO NOT support full 1920x1020 resolution! If you have the need to connect your notebook to a TV and watch videos on big screen, HDMI is almost a must!) Unfortunately at this price range HDMI output isn’t too common. Also I’m VERY certain that this HDMI does NOT output audio, so no advanced bitstream features as seen on their desktop products (i3 5xx+H55 chip gives you graphics AND audio bitstreaming). Then the screen, it’s a 15.6” glossy screen, no LED, there’s anti-glare coating. The anti-glare coating works pretty good, which blocks almost all the light reflecting from the screen which causes the screen looks like a mirror. I think this anti-glare coating only works when the screen is in use, otherwise the glossy screen still acts like a mirror when I turn the notebook off.

Also there seems to be a screen-door effect problem which might be caused by this coating. When you look really close to the screen or at an angle, you’ll see vertical lines, it’s almost as if each pixel is exemplified, and you start to see these grids divided by the vertical lines. I don’t notice this problem on Toshiba which is a glossy screen without anti-glare coating. I think the problem is tolerable as long as you stay in front of the notebook, or watch a video on it at some distance. It’s NOT a deal breaker I think. (Note this screen door effect was due to the pixel size of the screen, more than 1366*768 on a 15.6in is probably preferred.)  Also I see severe aliasing when watching a 720p video in MPC-HC, I’m not sure if it’s related to this coating. I didn’t notice any aliasing with it in PowerDVD or TMT3 though, so I might screwed up when I installed the filters… (The aliasing was caused by using the default video output mode, when using the system default output mode in win7, you’ll get lots of aliasing, you’ll need to switch to EVR or VMR mode!)

The notebook also comes with an integrated webcam, which is also a must in this purchase. The video quality isn’t very good at dark room, but it serves the purpose of online chatting. I think the one on Toshiba is slightly better than this here. The notebook seems suffering internal hardware interfering when it comes to its mic. The mic maybe too sensitive to cause a constant humming/buzzing if the mic is not set to mute itself (by doing this, you could still chat with other, it’s just that you won’t be able to hear yourself). Speaking of interfering, the speak and the earphone port also have noise, which I have yet to hear a notebook that doesn’t have this problem… It seems it’s VERY hard to seal the audio chips from other parts, or the manufacturers just never bothered to make an effort in doing this. Or probably these integrated Realtek chips are just completely crap to begin with! But anyways, it’s no better or no worse than the others… And another weakness about this notebook is the speakers are complete crap, PLUS they don’t get loud enough! Speaker performance is the one I dislike the most for this notebook. That’s pretty much about all the main strength and weakness.

The rest are just some minor stuff but I have to mention them here anyways. First the keyboard feels all right when typing, some button positions are different from the others. It’s a full size with numpad, which is standards nowadays for 15.6in classes. The good thing about the keyboard is that it’s sealed which Fujitsu claims it’s spill proof. But how much water can it tolerate before they went inside the machine, I dare to test that out. But this feature is definitely a PLUS. Oh, there’s NO media keys. The touchpad works ok, no comments on it. The hard drive is a Western Digital 500GB 5400rpm one, it’s working fine. Then the DVD writer, it’s the same Matshita drive that’s used in the Toshiba, which means that it’s NOT capable of bitsetting the DVD+Rs into DVD-ROMs. The notebook comes with 3 USB 2.0 ports, no USB/eSATA combo port like the Toshiba. But it comes with a expresscard 34/54 slot to redeem the lacking of it. There’s a SD/MS card reader built-in, one more format than the Toshiba which accepts SD only. One surprising bonus is the inclusion of Bluetooth adapter, internally built-in, ver. 2.1. While BT is the default equipment on MACs, you don’t see them a lot on PC, especially at this price point. I’ve tried to hook up a BT mouse, which it works without any trouble. Win7 has direct support for BT, so no third party software to install, which means the resource usage wasn’t affected. This notebook also comes with Ethernet GB connection, which is definitely a PLUS, much better than the 10/100M on the Toshiba. It also equips an Atheros Wireless N card. Like the Toshiba, there’s NO hard switches on the machine. Instead, you have to use combo keys FN+Fx keys for volume, video, wireless on/off controls. I assume software is needed to control these keys. They work fine, but I wish Fujitsu could give a separate button to control the wirelss and BT since now you can only turn these two together on or off. Usually BT is the one not likely to be used often (unless you want to save a dongle and use BT mouse), so it could help to save battery a little. Speaking of battery life, I think it’s less than 3 hours for typical use (a bit video/music and some general web browsing), what can you expect from a 6 cell 4400mA battery anyways… The power brick is definitely huge compared to the Toshiba one, but it doesn’t generate much heat.

Software, it comes with OEM win7 home premium 64bit to fully utilize all 4GB memory. Upon start up, the system gives the option to partition the drive, which by default there’s only one C drive. Also the hidden recovery drive doesn’t seems like taking that much space. I partitioned the drive into a small C drive, and the rest to D drive. The setup is smooth, but took quite some time, longer than Toshiba. The system comes with 2 languages English and French. By default, you shouldn’t be able to install other language GUIs (called MUI – Multilingual user interface) on home premium, it’s only a feature available to ultimate version. But there is a software called vistalizator that can help you to install any MUI. Plus since the system comes with both English and French, I think maybe this OEM version actually DO allow MUI on home premium version? Anyways, I have successfully changed the interface to Simplified Chinese. Before this, after immediately loading up the system, I proceed to backup the system, which is always the first thing I do when getting a new laptop. The backup takes 4 D5s, of which one is all drivers and software, one is boot up, and two are actual recovery image (from the recovery partition). The backup software seems to be a proprietary one. The backup took a while, but it does have the verification procedure. More software, it comes with an office 2010 starter version, but to upgrade, you’ll have to pay. But I think the starter version actually covers all necessary functions for word and excel, no powerpoint and outlook are included. The camera comes with Cyberlink Youcam, which allows you to do some effects in realtime when chatting with other people, supports msn messenger. The DVD software is Cyberlink PowerDVD 8.0, no Blu-ray playback as expected, and 2 channel only. Antivirus comes with Noron 30 day trial. The burning software is Sonic’s Roxio Creator. The default And there maybe a couple other essential software. To summarize, the software bundle is decent, and mostly functional without paying, it’s not bloated as other manufacturers such as HP. Real performance of the machine is decent enough, it runs most software smoothly. Although the 64bit OS seems lacking support from most other software companies… I was able to play high bitrate mkvs, Blu-ray isos (via GB Ethernet), and running two EVGA inDtube tuners under WMC, all without problem.

So to summarize, I think this notebook is a keeper, I generally like this machine, although I wish I could test it more. The weakest part is the audio, there’s seems to be a bit problem for both the mic (interfering, problem solved by muting it) and the speaker (low volume). Otherwise it seems a decent package at this price.

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