by Minnaar Pieters, South Africa
About 4 weeks ago I purchased the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 1536 notebook. I basically purchased it as a replacement for my desktop machine, seeing as I'm starting to become a bit more mobile and need my PC with me. While I was normally not very impressed with Fujitsu-Siemens machines due to build quality issues, I am actually very happy with this notebook. When I was looking at notebooks, I really wanted to get a dual core processor but the costs were still too high, and it was only found on the latest and greatest models (like the Apple MacBook Pro and ThinkPad T60). I also wanted a dedicated graphics card because I could not really put faith in the Intel GMA 950 graphics chipset -- after all, I want to run Windows Vista with the Aero interface when it comes out in 2007.
Specs for Amilo Pi 1536 as Purchased:
So basically this machine has the latest chipset in terms of graphics, motherboard and processor and expandability in the form of Express Card. There is no option for Bluetooth or Infrared which is not that great. I'm not all for infrared, but Bluetooth is pretty much a necessity these days.
This falls into a "mainstream notebook" category -- definitely not a desktop replacement, but not a globetrotting laptop either. When used for walking distance in a backpack, this machine is easy to carry around.
I looked at the Acer 4202 with the core duo processor, but it did not have the discrete graphics card, so I grabbed the chance of getting this machine (with a ATI X1400) for only a little more cash.
Design and Build
The body of the machine is built from hard plastic, but not cheap feeling. This is my primary concern in the past with Fujitsu Siemens machines -- while I obviously can't afford the build quality of a ThinkPad, I do expect the machine to well built at this spec level. Luckily I am quite happy with it -- no creaking or loose feeling parts. The lid and inside is decked out in silver whereas the rest is black. I don't like silver, I'm more of a Henry Ford man myself, but not because of the colour -- in many cases these silver bodies are merely some cheap coating. But I'm very happy with this notebook, my watch almost constantly bangs against the silver plastic when typing, and I can't see any signs of wear and tear. All the ports are well fitted and there no loose parts on the outside.
The hinges of the screen feel well built with just the right amount of stiffness when closing and opening. The DVD RW drive has some slight gaps underneath it, but it does not flex when pushed around. There is nice dedicated wireless switch on the front which is nice to have.
Talking about the wireless button -- one thing I like about this model is that there is no irritating blue LED's on the notebook which distract the user (like on some HP's and Toshibas). Everything is just nice green lights. All the status lights are in a neat row below the hinge of the monitor -- and they are all nice looking icons with the light shining through them. Also, application specific buttons are a nice matte silver, none of that tacky looking chrome buttons found on some machines.
Overall I am quite impressed by the looks and build of this notebook -- while it doesn't have that "I can take anything you throw at me" look, it is quite well built and pretty sharp looking when on your desk.
Rear view of Amilo (view large image)
Front side view of Amilo (view large image)
Right side view of Amilo (view large image)
Left side view of Amilo (view large image)
Well, the number one reason I bought this notebook is for its Core Duo processor. It is wonderful having multithreaded performance in a laptop, and there is really a significant improvement in everyday tasks. Windows Home does support multithreading (only in dual core form, not dual processor), and everything is just that little bit more snappy. For about the same price one can purchase a similarly specced notebook with a 2GHz single-core Centrino processor. But I am glad I stuck with my choice.
I wanted at least a gigabyte of memory and I am very happy with the performance -- although I am not happy that the notebook comes with 533MHz DDR2 memory when it does support 667MHz chips. But I guess that would have significantly raised the cost. Multitasking is great on this machine, even with resource hungry apps like virtualization (VMWare) and having multiple apps open. Never once did I get "freeze" while doing all these tasks.
The installed hard drive also gives it a significant speed boost because of SATA and native command queuing. It is a 100Gig 5400rpm 8meg cache model made by Fujitsu. It is also very silent. I would like to eventually upgrade it to a 7200rpm model though, just to keep up with the processor.
I upgraded from a desktop Athlon XP 2600+ system also with a Gig RAM and a fast 200Gig 8meg cache hard disk, and I must admit this notebook is much more responsive, possibly due to the dual core processor.
Lastly, graphics performance is satisfactory. I am by no means a gamer, but I have tested a few games (like Call of Duty 2 and Half Life 2) just to see how it handles, and I am very impressed. More important to me is the fact that I constantly run a dual monitor setup, and the DVI output is great for my bigger LCD monitor. It takes a while to get the settings right with the ATI catalyst software, but now it works just great. It sure is great to have two monitors running at once. Once you do it, you'll feel cramped on a single screen.
One cool feature I really like about this model is its "whisper" mode. It's a button with a fan icon on it, and when activated, it slows down the CPU and the graphics card. This is great for just normal office work, and even better when you're running on battery power.
I ran all benchmarks multiple times to ensure consistency.
So let's see how this baby goes! First up we have the SuperPi application, set to calculate Pi to the 2 millionth digit. This is purely about processing power.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Fujitsu Amilo Pi 1536 (1.66 GHz Core Duo)||1m 22s|
|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|
Seems about on par for a 1.66GHz Core Duo.
3DMark05 is used to measure 3D graphics performance of the notebook, here's how the Fujitsu stacks up to other notebooks with its ATI X1400 card:
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Fujitsu Amilo Pi 1536 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||1699 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|
Here with the 3DMark05 score I am disappointed. This does not quite make sense and I blame ATI. For some reason they still don't have drivers supporting the ATI Mobility Radeon X1400. What is going on? It will probably improve when the drivers do come out -- once again I pay for wanting the latest graphics card range.
PC Mark 04 score: 5,065
Now for the Hard drive benchmarks. This is a SATA model with NCQ, so maybe it shows in the benchmarks. HD Tune:
Seems quite good to me compared to other notebook hard drives. This test is not very consistent. These scores are just one the times I ran it.
This is one area where Fujitsu normally shines -- and well it does here as well. This monitor is super bright. Watching movies are great and the colours really "pop" out. Whites are bright and dark areas remain black. It is 15.4 inch "crystal brute" type screen which is glossy. I don't normally like this type because of reflections -- but I have started to like it more. Games and movies benefit most, especially in dark scenes. It is 1280 x 800 screen so its resolution is good enough. If you go for a higher resolution the type might just be too small. No dead pixels -- I'm very glad about that! But also, I have never seen a Fujitsu with a dead or lazy pixel.
Crystal View screen, notice the reflection (view large image)
Light uniformity is good at brightest level, but the lower right corner of the screen does get a bit too dark if it is set on the lowest setting. However, with these glossy type screens you will not want to run your screen at the lowest brightness, the reflections just become too distracting.
The Amilo Pi's battery life is pretty much average for this type of notebook. There is only one type of battery available and it is definitely not a long life model. It is a standard 4400 MAh Li Ion model made by Panasonic. When using the notebook at medium screen brightness without WiFi, it goes for 2h02 mins -- this is with just normal Office use. When using the "silent" feature button and no WiFi, it hits 3h 02mins. Playing a DVD, it lasts 2h24mins at medium brightness. I am quite happy with this, seeing as I am not really someone who uses my notebook "on the go". Also it is perhaps a bit large to use on a airplane.
One part I don't like too much is the power brick -- it is firstly a bit too big (especially after seeing the tiny little ones that ship with some HP models) and it gets VERY warm during use. At first I was worried that it was perhaps a faulty unit, but it has never given me problems. Maybe this type of notebook requires a little more juice?
Power brick (view large image)
The biggest drainage on battery life comes from the screen and WiFi. Once again I really appreciate the "silent" feature which further underclocks the processor, while still remaining quick enough to do most tasks.
Heat and Noise:
The notebook gets quite warm under intensive use -- the processor temperature remains in the 54 degrees Celsius area when plugged in, and around 49 degrees Celsius when running on battery power. The fan is very efficient and only comes on periodically, about once every ten minute for about 5 seconds when the notebook is being used for intensive tasks like 3D games. The wrist pads get a little warm when plugged in, but nothing to worry about. It can be used on your lap, but this machine is not exactly a X series ThinkPad. It is not uncomfortable, as long as the fan underneath can get some air.
The notebook is really quiet. The only noise coming from it is the hard drive and an occasional whoosh from the fan underneath which comes into action when necessary. Coming from a desktop machine with 4 fans and 3 hard disks, this is a revelation to me. I sleep with it every night quite close to my head so I am very happy. The only way of knowing whether it is on or not is to check the lights (which can be seen when it is closed or open). The optical drive is also reasonably silent -- nothing obnoxious.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is actually pleasant to use. I hate laptop keyboards seeing as I type a lot, but I am happy with this one. The keys are a good size, with only the top row being slightly smaller. The Fn key is on the bottom left -- I would prefer it if the Ctrl key was there -- but it just takes some getting used to. The keys have a nice tactile feedback and there is no real "flex" across the board. There are four keys at the top of the keyboard which activates your media player, internet, email and silence function.
There is volume control and screen brightness keys within the function keys at the top of the keyboard -- just use the Fn key. I also like the "sleep" key -- F1 -- all laptops should have a dedicated key for sleeping.
The track pad is nice and big -- something which is a plus. I wish it had a Track point type button, but this will do. Anyone who has used a small track pad (like found on some Packard Bell sub notebooks) would know that a track pad has to be the right size to be usable. The track pad has a nice dedicated scrolling area, and the buttons have a nice feeling to them. I hate buttons on track pads that make a lot of noise. It also has a dedicated button which switches off the track pad completely off -- it glows green when activated. This is nice for when you have a mouse plugged in at your desk and you have a lot of typing to do.
I'm going to say it straight. This machine has terrible speakers. Very tinny, and not very loud. I also use my Logitech Z2300 speakers instead. There is even a small little subwoofer installed on the bottom, but I don't think it has any effect. Must say I am disappointed with this part of the notebook. Luckily I use decent desktop speakers at home. On the go, you will have to use headphones I guess.
One nice feature is the volume wheel control. I wish more notebook manufacturers will stick with this feature. Most people prefer to turn a knob than to press Fn+F6 quickly silence a notebook.
The earphone jack is also a SPDIF optical out (you can actually see a little red light glowing from it). I don't have a digital amplifier, but it is nice to have because the notebook is equipped with Intel 7.1 High Def audio. With my 2.1 Logitech Z2300 speakers the sound is as good as ever.
The machine is shipped with Microsoft Windows XP Home. With this widescreen I would have liked the option of Media Center, but I was not that lucky. The included bundle of software includes:
There is more software included, but the user has the option of which packages he wants to install. One part I did appreciate was that there was no "crapware" installed like some other brands. Right from the start the user is given a good clean choice of software without skins and other irritating things (like included in Dell and Packard Bell machines).
Software is shipped on included CD's as well, which I like. Some brands these days do not ship with CDs at all -- how cheap can you get? For example, Acer notebooks constantly remind the user to burn a software CD.
All my software runs without any problems. Most of my apps focus on web development, graphics editing, benchmarking and of course the standard office type applications.
Reception on this machine is fine. I have not had any problems using the wireless features. There is support for 802.11 a, b and g formats, so it is versatile in that sense. In many cases where my friends' Acer would not have reception, I would be happy enough to have reception and at a decent speed too. I have no idea where the antenna is situated.
I really wish there is more wireless options out for the Expresscard slot though. Cellular providers do not have 3G Expresscards out yet, so I will have to wait. Guess that's the price you pay for having the latest tech.
Warranty and support:
The machine ships with a standard one year warranty -- nothing special. You can purchase an optional 3yr pickup and return warranty, but I did not opt for it. There is dedicated customer care number on the box, and none of that free 90 day nonsense. It works for the length of the warranty.
Overall I am very happy with this notebook. I had the option of returning the notebook should I wish (I normally do if I am not one hundred percent happy) but this notebook just perfectly fits my needs. While it is not perfect (I hate the plastic silver look) its performance is great. If I could make improvements it would be better speakers and a black cover. However, the machine is well built and portable enough for daily use.
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