by John Montgomery, Oregon USA
Overview and Introduction:
The Fujitsu Lifebook N3530 is marketed as a mainstream 15.4" widescreen desktop replacement and is one of the first in the Fujitsu line to carry Intel's Core Duo processor. Fujitsu is well known for its fantastic CrystalView displays and solid design. Today we'll find out if the Lifebook N3530 lives up to this reputation.
Fujitsu LifeBook N3530 (view large image)
Specifications for the Lifebook N3530:
Reasons for Buying:
I purchased this notebook based on three things. One was size and quality of the display. The second was that I needed a semi-portable computing solution as I am on the road only about two to three months out of the year, so extreme portability was not really a factor. However, this may be an issue for some considering that this is quite possibly the heaviest notebook in its class and is intended to be more of a desktop replacement. Therefore it would not perhaps be ideal for carrying around campus all day should you have the need to do so. The third and last was passable dedicated graphics, a qualification which the Radeon X1400 certainly fills.
Some other notebooks I considered when making my purchase decision:
All seemed to have just about what I was looking for. But based on the strength of Fujitsu's outstanding display and being one of the first to the party, along with Acer and HP, to have both the Intel Core Duo processor and dedicated graphics it was the one I ultimately chose. Some may ask why I did not consider the Asus V6J, and that is a fair question as I consider it a very comparable notebook. The simple fact is that I made my purchase decision just before it became available and the final price of the Fujitsu was about $350 less than the V6J. Had the situation been reversed, I could just as easily have purchased the V6J instead.
Where and How Purchased:
This notebook was purchased from Portable One, a long time Fujitsu dealer and service center which sadly discontinued service and sales of Fujitsu notebooks shortly after my purchase. The final cost was $1,549 after a $100 rebate. I personally consider this to be a fair price for a very well built mainstream notebook for what it included, but everyone's budget varies. Even though they no longer sell Fujitsu products, I would still highly recommend Portable One for a notebook purchase as their courtesy and support throughout the transaction was nothing short of commendable. The notebook ordered was shipped direct from Osaka, Japan and arrived double boxed and packaged very securely.
Build & Design:
Fujitsu N3530 collapsed open view (view large image)
The N3530 notebook shares the same design as the previous Lifebook N3520 and the N3510. It is constructed of very solid ABS plastic and magnesium alloy around the LCD. On that count I believe the somewhat excessive weight of the N3530 is partially justified as it is built like a tank.
The lid is very sturdy and I can detect only the slightest give when more than average pressure is placed upon it at any point. At that the screen displays no distortion or ripples whatsoever. There is however a fair amount of give on the inside of the bezel on each side, inward toward the screen.
The screen hinges are very solid, almost to the point that they may be considered a little too stiff when opening and closing the notebook. After using it for a couple of weeks though it has seemed to loosen up just a bit. On this particular notebook the screen latches very securely when closed without too much effort. Once closed all bumpers along the top edge of the screen appear to make contact with the forward edge of the notebook and there is minimal gap all the way around. Once open the screen exhibits only the tiniest hint of wobble, even when shaking it roughly.
There are virtually no weak or empty spots to speak of and very minimal flex on the chassis, if any. I have picked up the notebook with one hand on occasion and never felt any real alarm at the possibility of the stress damaging it.
Having said all that, it is a very attractive tank indeed. The design is pretty much in keeping with the previous N3000 series, and it is my opinion that the silver and black design is very stylish but still allows it be somewhat business-like. The majority of the notebook is a very uniform black, while the inside and the hinge area are a dark silver, almost pewter color. This makes the lid somewhat prone to fingerprints, but not horribly so and is easily cleaned. Some say that the semi-translucent keyboard looks out of place, but I find that it adds yet another dash of style to this already handsome notebook.
Along the top edge of the notebook you will find a rocker switch in the upper right corner that controls the volume and gives onscreen feedback as to the volume level, which I love. The power button is placed squarely in the middle and illuminated by a blue LED. There is a wireless on/off button just to the left of the power LED which does what it says, and truthfully I would like to have seen it placed above the touchpad. There is also a strip of green and red LEDs which indicate battery level and status, hard drive activity, email notification, number lock, caps lock and scroll lock. This, I was pleased to note, is unlike some other Fujitsu notebooks I have seen which have an LCD indicator panel with no backlighting, making it very hard to read. There is also a row of buttons along the right side next to the keyboard known as the Application Panel, which I will delve further into when I cover the Software portion of the review.
This is one area which Fujitsu is famous for, and I am happy to report that I can confidently praise it to the heavens and back. It sports a WXGA screen with a native resolution of 1200x800 (perfect for older eyes like mine), and is absolutely brilliant. I am almost ashamed to admit that I found it beautifully flawless before I even powered it up for the first time. After booting for the first time and each time since, it has not disappointed me. I really have nothing but good things to say about it. Contrary to reports of some light leakage found on its sibling the N6410, the N3530's display exhibits none. There are no dead or stuck pixels, no uneven backlighting, and the colors and contrast absolutely pop.
Brightness of the screen is such that I had to turn it down to the middle setting for the sake of my eyes, and even at the lowest setting when on Max Battery it is still quite viewable. Viewing angles are a joy and only a minor degree of darkening is seen when viewing the screen from extreme vertical angles, while text and pictures are still quite readable. At a horizontal viewing angle the range is narrower before the darkening becomes apparent, but still more than acceptable. This makes watching DVD and video on this notebook a great pleasure. And as tired as this statement is, I just have to repeat it. Pictures do not do it justice.
Ah, the speakers. As has been stated many times before, like most notebook speakers, they do what they were intended but not much more. I do find the placement of the speakers on this notebook both good and bad. Good in the sense that they have been placed at the forward edge of the notebook and bad for the same reason. Being at the front makes them well placed for watching DVD and video. It also makes it frustrating when attempting to listen to music while typing as my wrists muffle the sound considerably. Others who own notebooks with a similar configuration have complained about this in the past and I tend to agree.
As far as the quality of the speakers go I do find them better than average regarding sound quality. Volume, though, may be a big issue for some. At the highest volume they do appear to be a bit on the quiet side although I do not find this a problem personally as I usually watch video and listen to music in a relatively quiet environment. When I am in public chances are I will be using my Sony ear buds anyway which, while I am not nearly as picky as some about such things, give pretty good sound quality. On the bright side, highs and mids seem to have no distortion to my ears at the highest volume, but do give a barely audible hiss, for lack of a better term. As is to be expected in the absence of a subwoofer there is very little bottom end, and heavy bass can be heard to have some distortion.
Processor and Performance:
As previously mentioned, the Lifebook N3530 has an Intel Core Duo T2300 processor running at 1.66GHz. Boot times are acceptable, averaging about 36 seconds from the time I press the power button until I reach the log in screen. Performance seems very snappy even with a single 1GB DIMM, which is how I deliberately ordered it to facilitate future expansion, so I'm obviously not running in dual channel mode.
The only lag I have noticed is when I initially launch an application after I first log in, though not significant (this is likely attributed to background processes loading right after login). Subsequent launches of that and other applications thereafter are almost immediate. The beauty of this dual core processor is most evident when running multiple applications. I frequently surf the net and encode video for my Sony PSP at the same time and suffer no appreciable hangs or slowdowns.
The Radeon X1400 graphics card more than suffices for the types of tasks I perform on this notebook, which are typically multimedia and office tasks for work. I leave games strictly to my desktop on the odd occasion I actually play them. I have not and don't intend to install any games on my notebook, but for those of you interested in benchmarks I have run 3DMark05, with the results shown below. The hard drive installed is an 80GB 5400rpm Fujitsu SATA drive, which to my surprise actually turned in a little better benchmark in HDTune than its big brother the N6410. Not sure what to attribute this to, but I am pleased with the result.
Following are results gained from running the program Super Pi to test processor speed (a program that times the processor in calculating the number Pi to a chosen number of digits in accuracy), 3DMark05 to test graphics performance and HDTune to display the included hard drives performance.
Super Pi Results
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Fujitsu LifeBook 3530 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 27s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|HP dv8000z (1.8 GHz Turion-64 ML-32)||2m 12s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.83 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 42s|
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Fujitsu n3530 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||1653 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, ATI X600 128MB)||1659 3DMarks|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727 3DMarks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2530 3D Marks|
|Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb)||2,486 3DMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2536 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4157 3DMarks|
HDTune Results Screenshot:
Heat and Noise:
I'm not sure where to place the performance of this notebook based on the heat produced as this is the first PC notebook which I have owned. I have also not had the opportunity to do much comparison with others who own Core Duo notebooks, so I will simply give you the facts as reported by HDTune and Notebook Hardware Control.
Idle temperatures for the processor typically range from 49C-51C when idle. During tasks such as encoding video I have yet to see it break 60C. The hard drive idles at around 42C-44C and I have seen it approach as high as 50C when being accessed heavily. Neither the palm rests, touchpad nor the keyboard area heat up appreciably and leave the notebook quite comfortable to use even after several hours.
I find this somewhat remarkable as the hard drive resides almost immediately beneath the touchpad area. The underside, however, is a different story. As with most Fujitsu notebooks, turning it over and looking at it makes the hot spot immediately apparent. The area which generates the most heat is covered with felt as is Fujitsu's practice with nearly all of their notebooks. This area does get very warm, but not burning hot. Probably enough to make your hand begin to sweat mildly in about 20 seconds if you were to hold it against it.
I would not recommend using this notebook on a bare lap, but it was not intended for such use in the first place and could be quite uncomfortable due to its size and weight alone, heat issues aside. For those still interested in doing so anyway, I will tell you that I have used it with a Super Lapinator for a few hours at a time and have not experienced any significant discomfort while doing so. Your mileage may vary dependent upon your stature and tolerance.
Questions regarding heat invariably lead to the next topic, which is noise. The N3530 does seem to do a sufficient job of dispelling heat and keeping the temperature pretty even. When on AC and Dynamic Switching mode, the fan appears to run constantly at its lowest noise level, which is almost inaudible unless you are in an absolutely quiet room. I would guess on average the fan kicks into a higher mode somewhere between 53C-55C. Even then the noise produced I would equate to the sound of someone using a hair dryer on high in the next room. When on battery power and in Max Battery mode, I rarely hear the fan until I begin to put the processor under a heavier load. Although I do encode video on a semi-regular basis, I do not put this notebook under the same amount of stress that gamers might.
Having noted that the N3530 does a fair job of controlling heat, I do think there is something which could prove to be a weak point in its design. For exhausting heat there are only two vents, both on the outer edges of the notebook. One for the processor located on the back side, and one for the graphics card located on the left side. Not having a background in engineering and lacking the knowledge of precisely where the processor and graphics card are located, I cannot say whether or not this would be detrimental when placing the notebook under an extreme amount of stress. I can only surmise from observing the design of other notebooks that lacking any active cooling on the underside could possibly be a bad thing. Unfortunately I will have to leave that for someone else to determine, because for my uses it has not nor do I anticipate it becoming an issue. As to other sources of noise, I have yet to hear this notebook accessing the hard drive. I have not yet burned any disks with the optical drive but when accessing DVDs and CDs the only noise I have heard is a moderately loud "whooshing" sound, no grinding or squealing.
Keyboard and Touchpad:
Here begins one of my few complaints regarding this notebook. The sturdiness of build quality certainly extends to the keyboard as I can find no flex whatsoever. On the other hand, the key travel seems very positive to me. At least that is my perception having recently come from an iBook. Key presses require firm pressure and give a lot of tactile feedback without being too noisy. So much so that I have found myself inadvertently not registering key strikes when I actually thought I had. This has lessened a bit over the first week or so as I become accustomed to it but I still find it a tad annoying at times.
Keyboard and touchpad view of the N3530 (view large image)
The Alps touchpad is offset just to the left and has a subtly grainy texture to it which I also find odd, but pleasing, after the iBook. The buttons are of adequate size, very, very slightly recessed, and register clicks with the just the right amount of force in my estimation with an audible click which I find neither too loud nor too soft -- just right. The two gripes I have regarding the touchpad are first, that I believe the touchpad area is just a little too small in proportion to the screen area. If the cursor were, for example, in the lower left corner of the screen I would most certainly have to drag it from corner to corner on the surface area of the touchpad twice fully in order to reach the upper right corner of the screen. I'm sure this could be resolved with some setting or other in the mouse controls, but I have not yet experimented with it. Second, there is neither a vertical nor horizontal scroll area on the touchpad itself. This is something I had hoped for as it is one thing that I did not have on the iBook and Apple has only implemented it recently. Instead it has been replaced by a vertical scroll button which resides between the touchpad's other two buttons. It does the job, but takes a little getting used to. I don't find it nearly as convenient as a scroll area on the touchpad itself, and when using it to scroll it seems quite choppy and a little too fast for my taste. There appears to be no setting to adjust this in the mouse controls, either. I often find myself reverting to the old Mac habit of using the up and down arrow keys to scroll vertically, which appears to be much smoother.
Input and Output Ports:
Front side view of N3530 (view large image)
Back side view of N3530 ports (view large image)
Left side view of N3530 ports (view large image)
Right side view of N3530 ports (view large image)
This is another one of the N3530 strong points, in my opinion. It offers a fairly generous amount of ports, with the notable exception of a DVI out port which I don't need anyway. It comes with four USB 2.0 ports, with three along the back next to the VGA out port, and one on the left side. This is perfect placement for me as I prefer to have all my peripherals plugged into the back, out of the way, while still being able to access one on the side for my thumb drive. I do not use an external mouse, but I suppose those who do may prefer just the opposite. Also along the left side is a Firewire port, headphone jack, microphone jack, MultiMedia Card reader which supports Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital and xD Picture cards. The real kicker is that the N3530 also has both a Type I/II PCMCIA slot and a 34mm/54mm ExpressCard slot so your older cards won't get left in the trash bin. I have not done any extensive research, but it has been my casual observation that this is a unique feature as most new notebooks come with only the ExpressCard slot, making your PCMCIA cards obsolete. The right side is bare save for the optical drive, which I also appreciate as there are no cards or peripherals to get in the way.
The N3530 is equipped with the latest in Intel's wireless offerings, the 3945ABG. So far I have not had a single issue with it and acquire a signal quality of "Excellent" at a steady 54Mbps from my Netgear router in every room of the house.
I haven't taken a fully accurate measurement or timed the battery life on this notebook. Fujitsu claims about 3:15 and quite honestly I don't think that is too far off. In my estimation I seem to get about 3 hours on average using the Max Battery setting with screen brightness turned down to next to lowest setting. This is while doing normal things, i.e. surfing the web while listening to iTunes and running Google Talk in the background. As I sit on my bed writing this I have been using it on battery power for 1:20 and the battery meter still shows 2:11 left, for what that is worth considering it's debatable accuracy. I'm quite satisfied with the performance considering this notebook's size, the fact that I typically don't spend more than 3 hours on my computer at one sitting and when I do use it I am usually plugged in.
AC Adapter size comparison to an iPod (view large image)
Operating System and Software:
The operating system supplied is Windows Media Center Edition 2005, but has the option of being ordered with XP Pro or Home as well. Having always used either Home or Pro in the past, I was willing to give their media centric cousin a shot. I also liked the idea of buying a compatible TV tuner and remote somewhere down the road for when the family or myself travel. Fujitsu also offers the option of configuring the N3530 with a built in TV Tuner at an additional cost of $300, which I found a little steep since I could always purchase an external one later from someone like AVerMedia for half the price. So far it has performed similarly to previous installs of XP Pro which I have used, the only difference being the Media extensions as near as I can tell. As previously pointed out in a recent review of the Lifebook N6410, Fujitsu tries to keep the bloatware to a minimum. Preinstalled software included Adobe Reader, Quicken 2006, Roxio DigitalMedia SE, Microsoft Works, and a trial of Microsoft Office 2003. The only preinstalled software which I found objectionable was Norton Internet Security, which I promptly removed. There are two pieces of Fujitsu software installed. One is the Fujitsu Driver Update utility which does what its name implies, checks for availability of updated drivers for your Fujitsu notebook. It functions and can be configured in a very similar manner to Windows Update. I find this feature very convenient and worth having. The other is the Lifebook Application Panel which I have mixed feelings about. It is accessed from the panel of four buttons on the right side of the notebook. It has two modes, "app" and "player" and you switch between the two using the "Mode" button located just above the panel. In "app" mode it is highly configurable and can be used to launch email, web browser and two applications of your choice. This I find very handy. In "player" mode its usefulness is quite limited. The only "player" it appears to control with its stop/eject, play/pause, skip forward, and skip backward buttons is a CD player application designed specifically for it. This I could live without. I think it goes without saying that the majority of users would enjoy the option of being able to configure it to control a player of their own choosing. The physical media the N3530 ships are a Recovery Utility Disc, Drivers and Applications Restore DVD, Microsoft Works 8 CD, and a CD with Roxio DigitalMedia SE as well as Cyberlink PowerProducer, PowerDirector, and MakeDVD.
I have not had the occasion to use customer support as of yet. Judging from comments made by others in the Fujitsu section of NotebookReview.com forums I don't see that as a serious concern should the need arise. I opted to upgrade to a 3 year limited international warranty. It cost an additional $100 and seemed to be a good deal comparing it to the cost of upgrading other manufacturers warranties. The warranty coverage is typical to most others in that it covers defects in workmanship and hardware, but does not extend to software. This includes both the operating system and software preinstalled by Fujitsu. Something else of particular note regarding warranties is to always implement a good back up program. Notebook manufacturers, with rare exception, guarantee to safeguard the integrity of the data stored on your hard drive at the time it is sent in for service. Back up software and media cost a little extra, but in the long run better safe than sorry. So now you not only have a review, but some free, friendly, and unsolicited advice.
I enjoy owning the Fujitsu Lifebook N3530 very much. It serves the purposes of multimedia and office tasks for which I intended it very well. I could easily recommend this notebook to anyone who is looking for a solidly built mainstream desktop replacement with a fantastic display, good processor and capable dedicated graphics. But if you are a more than light to moderate gamer or actively mobile user, I suggest you look elsewhere. If given the opportunity, would I purchase this notebook again? My answer is an unreserved "yes".
Pricing and Availability: The Fujitsu N3530 is available from Fujitsu.com and other retailers on the web:
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