Fujitsu Amilo 3438 Review and MXM Graphics Card Upgrade Guide

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by Kris Verbeeck

The Fujitsu Amilo 3438 is a 17″ desktop replacement notebook from the pre-multicore processor era.  The 3438 is certainly no top of the line notebook, but it is functional.  This review takes a look at the MXM graphics card upgradeability features of the 3438 and the MXM graphics card technology in general.

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 MXM Graphics Upgradeable notebook

The Amilo 3438 specs as purchased and before any upgrades are:

  • CPU: Pentium M 1,73GHz
  • RAM: 512MB DDR2-400 (Infinion)
  • HD: 60GB SATA 5400rpm/8MB SATA I(Samsung)
  • GPU: Geforce 6800Go 256MB MXM Type III
  • Screen: 17″ 1440 x 900
  • OS: Win XP Home (SP2)
  • Battery: 8 cell 4400 mAh
  • Weight: 4.1kg
  • Dimensions: 408mm x 289mm x 38,1mm
  • Wireless: 802.11 b/g Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG
  • Ports:1x IEEE1394, 4x USB 2.0 ports, 1x S-Video, 1x DVI-I, 1x modem, 1x LAN, 1x WLAN, 4 in 1 card reader SD/MS/MMC/MSPRO, 1x ExpressCard slot (36/54mm), 1x line in, 1x headphone out combined with1x SPDIF, 1 x microphone in, 1 x CIR
  • 120W AC Adapter

Reasons for Buying

Early in 2006 I started MXM-Upgrade.com, a site dedicated to making MXM information and cards available to the wide public. A few months later page views are steadily rising and MXM cards are available through our shop. Cards are being sold, cards are being sent out for evaluation, but one thing was missing. I still didn’t have a notebook myself!  Not an MXM upgradeable notebook and not another.  So, it was about time I make the big step myself.

Obviously, I was looking for a notebook with an MXM slot.  To be able to test the entire range of cards, I needed a MXM Type III slot. What I did not need was the latest, fastest and sleekest notebook.  So I really didn’t mind my notebook to be a part of the previous ‘wave’ of notebook releases.  No Core Duo for me, no ATI x1xx or nVidia Go7xxx. I pretty much bought the cheapest MXM Type III notebook I could find.  Before anyone starts to look down on this Fujitsu 3438 notebook I’ll back it up by saying it is basically a Uniwill P71EN0 and is also the same machine as the Alienware m5700.

Where, How Purchased and What You Get

I bought this at Carrefour, a large hypermarket chain with branches all over Europe. It carried a 1000 Euros ($1,250 USD) price tag.  I picked up the box, paid and walked away with it.  It has a 2 year guarantee, but it’s hard to tell just what that means in a store that’s more about selling six-packs of beer and chips than providing service for their electronics.

The unit comes with manuals, a DVI-VGA adapter piece and restore CD’s. The remote control is stored in the Expresscard slot.


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Does it look kind of cheap? Is the plastic casing so light you fear the wind might take it away?  Sure, but it’s infinitely better looking than nothing at all!

There’s also a bag included in the package.  Again, this is obviously not a luxury carry bag, it isn’t padded all that much, but it’s functional — which seems to be the major focus point of this notebook. A pleasant side effect is that the bag really isn’t much thicker than the notebook itself.


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Last but not least is the power adapter it comes with.  The adapter is bulky, clumsy and heavy, it packs a massive 120W, enough for current use and upgrade projects.

Build and design

When looking at this notebook, there’s one word that comes to mind:  functional.  It’s designed to do the job, period.  The silver plastic looks a bit cheapish, but does the trick. It isn’t small, it isn’t light but I guess there’s little point in expecting this from a 17″ notebook.

Even though it may sound superficial, I like blue LEDs, and I like how they look on my notebook.  They are small and glow discretely in the background and lack the in-your-face search light attitude found on some other notebooks.

I’m sure there are screens out there that are sturdier or bend less than the 3438 screen, but the design once again seems to be functional because regardless of the small bends, the picture remains perfect and unchanged. The hinges aren’t exactly made of reinforced steel but they seem heavy enough to keep the screen in check.

What was somewhat of a surprise was that this notebook isn’t as thick as I expected for a 17″.  I suppose I expected it to be brick sized after I heard an Asus representative complain about height challenges due to MXM cards.


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Screen

This notebook is available in a WXGA+ and WUXGA version, 3438 and 4838 respectively. I opted for the WXGA+ version.  I can read my screen perfectly and I have never seen the point in a WUXGA 17″ screen.  I figure I’d end up decreasing resolution on a UXGA because I wouldn’t be able to read miniature sized letters.  This is actually the first glossy screen I’ve ever owned and it will probably take me a few more months or years to get used to it.  Then again, I’m typing this on a very sunny day outside in the shade and the screen is just perfect. The viewing angle is perfect from all sides and there’s no hint of color inversion even though the colors change a bit under angle, as they do with most TFT’s these days.  I haven’t spotted a single dead, stuck or otherwise handicapped pixel.

What I d d spot was the horrible light distribution. When the screen is black, it is really obvious the screen has an edgelit backlight at the bottom. This was a minor disappointment. It really doesn’t show in everyday use, but I hate it regardless.


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Not a good picture by any means, it still shows the unholy glow near the bottom of the screen. Please note that the white line is a byproduct of MS paint, nothing else.

Speakers

There are two built in speakers and a ‘subwoofer’. Subwoofer? Seriously, this is a marketing term. Sure, it adds some depth and the sound isn’t as bad as one without the ‘subwoofer’. This may be meaningful for avid gamers, but it is still pointless for any audiophile. Don’t be lured into thinking a ‘subwoofer’ turns your machine into a high fidelity audio enjoyment center, it doesn’t.

Processor and performance

Well, I’m sure the Pentium M doesn’t require an introduction anymore. It’s more than fast enough for my needs.  I plan to do some light gaming in the future, but right now I’m just benchmarking. As I’ll be comparing GPU’s against each other, the absolute performance of the CPU is not relevant. The fact that it has only 512MB DDR isn’t relevant either as all GPU’s in this notebook will be equally handicapped. I’ll probably upgrade it in the future, but I’m fine for now.

Benchmarks

SuperPi

Notebook

Time

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 (1.73GHz Pentium M)

1m 52s

Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)

1m 33s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 16s

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)

1m 29s

Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 41s

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 53s

IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 45s

 

PCMark05

Notebook PCMark05 Score

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 (1.73GHz Pentium M)

2,925 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300) 2,879 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz) 1,877 PCMarks


3DMark05 (with standard driver 78.10)

Notebook

3D Mark 05 Results

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 (1.73GHz Pentium M, nVidia 6800 Go 256MB)

3,666 3D Marks

Asus W3J (1.83Ghz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)

3,925 3D Marks

Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)

1,791 3D Marks

Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)

4,236 3DMarks

Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)

7,078 3D Marks

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)

2,092 3D Marks

Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB)

2,530 3D Marks

Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)

2,273 3DMarks

HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)

2,536 3D Marks

Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)

2,090 3D Marks

note: By installing better drivers from lv2go, up to 200 3DMarks can be gained, but the site was down during my benchmarking.

3DMark06 Comparison Results:

Notebook  3DMark 06 Results

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 (1.73GHz Pentium M, nVidia 6800 Go 256MB)

2,127 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,528 3DMarks

Dell Precison M90 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia Quadro FX 1500M)

3,926 3DMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX) 4,085 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB) 4,744 3DMarks

Heat and Noise

The 3438 has one single fan for both the CPU and GPU. The fan sucks it’s air from the bottom and blows it over a copper radiator in the back. The CPU and GPU are coupled to the radiator through heatpipes. The CPU features a full copper block and the heatsink of the GPU is made of aluminium except the part where the GPU core goes.

When in battery optimized mode, the fan hardly ever turns on as the CPU temperature never rises above 50 C. When performing CPU intensive tasks, the fan kicks in. At this point, you can hardly hear it. Per 10 C temperature increase, the fan speeds up a bit. When the temperature hits 70 C, it becomes quite audible but it only reached that temperature during a hot summer day running benchmarks.

When the notebook is plugged in and in full performance mode, temperature orbits 50 C, meaning the fan revs up every now and then, but again: you will hardly notice it. Please note that I’ve called this machine a ‘notebook’ and not a laptop. As it takes it’s air from the bottom, placing it on your lap will cause it to overheat pretty fast.

The palmrest of your right hand is right above the MXM GPU card and can become quite hot when running GPU intensive tasks. Not uncomfortably warm, but still a bit warmer than a decent design should allow. When opening her up, I noticed both the bottom of the card as the top of the PCB below the MXM are covered in a foil. Perhaps I’ll remove it one day to see the difference.

One important thing to notice though: if you would place the screen horizontally and the base vertically, you can see the temperature rise like the temperature in Chernobyl’s reactor. This is a common feature of heatpipes: they don’t enjoy a downhill battle. Heat wants to go up, and so does the boiling fluid in the heatpipes. It can handle horizontal heat transfer, but it will have about a 0% efficiency when transporting heat down.

Keyboard and Touchpad

I won’t be breaking speed records on any keyboard, but I did enjoy typing on this one. Still big enough to type on, I found the step from a desktop keyboard to this one quite manageable. The right hand side of the keyboard tends to be a bit noisy but that doesn’t get in the way of typing accuracy.

The keypad is accurate and sensitive and does exactly what it should. To the right there’s a scrollpad and that worked better than I imagined. It makes scrolling up and down quite intuitive. Right above the keypad, there’s an on/off button for the keypad. I can see why, as from time to time when I travel too much to the left side of the keyboard with my right hand I tend to falsely trigger the keypad, which is sometimes funny and sometimes not. I looked around for a sensitivity setting but couldn’t find one.  It’s quite possible I didn’t look far enough, but even then I would imagine that such an important setting would be easier to find and access.

Input and Output Ports

On the left side, there’s the power connector, the Dual Layer DVD writer tray, one USB 2.0 port and audio control and IO. The headphone jack doubles as a 7.1 SPDIF connection.


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The right side features another 3 USB connectors, the Exprescard slot, Firewire, Ethernet and a universal card reader slot.


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The back has a DVI-I exit and a S-Video connector. This notebook basically has everything one might expect from a contemporary notebook.


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Also note the radiator exhaust. Better keep it dust free!

Wireless

A part I definitely liked! I have my home PC linked to the wireless network through a USB dongle but it has trouble finding the network or maintaining a stable connection. Even when it does, the speed is down to a single digit number.

The 3438 connected without a problem when sitting next to my PC and maintained a good connection throughout. When comparing to my dad’s PCMCIA enabled notebook, there was no competition. The Amilo scored a lot better, getting better throughput and range. Definitely a pleasant surprise.

I suppose you could see the lack of Bluetooth as a downside, but as I have no devices to connect I’m sure I’ll survive.

Battery

I’ve never heard of an 8 cell before, but it would seem I have one. At 14.4V and 4400mAh it weighs in at 63Wh. It probably comes as no surprise that a 17″ screen coupled to a high end GPU doesn’t exactly own the autonomy tables. I can get anywhere between 2 and 3 hours on a normal battery doing normal things. I haven’t tried it while gaming. Scared, I guess…

Operating System and Software

Windows XP Home came pre-installed on this machine.  I was provided with the Recovery CD’s, Driver & Utilities CD, Microsoft Works and Nero Express. It also has Cyberlink PowerDVD and the Odyssey wireless configurator. While not exactly a treasury chest, it is what can be expected. More importantly, I wouldn’t consider any of the installed programs bloatware and I enjoy my clean notebooks.

I’m perfectly capable of installing junk myself.

Tech Support

I wouldn’t know. My notebooks works perfectly and I really hope I’ll never encounter anything I can’t fix myself.

A Quick Blurb on nVidia’s MXM

As early as 2004, NVIDIA introduced a standard for mobile modular graphics cards. MXM, which stands for Mobile PCI EXpress Module, aims to allow notebook manufacturers to bring their product faster to market and to design a single platform which suits a manifold of graphics modules. On top of that, the standard is open, which means that an ATI MXM card is possible, allowing manufacturers an even greater flexibility. Based on 16 lanes of PCI-Express (the same as its desktop brethren), MXM is here to stay for the long run. Now that most new laptops are based on new chipsets, which feature PCI-Express technology, more and more MXM powered laptops are arriving on the market. MXM’s future looks bright indeed!

The MXM Upgrade

A little while ago, Harakiri (what’s in a name) from the German Amilo forums (http://www.amilo-forum.de) destroyed the 6800 card in his Fujitsu 3438. He arrived at the only place MXM cards are sold, my store. He asked me what his options were. I told him I could set him up with a replacement 6800 or an x1800.

At this point, I had never bothered to take stock of the x1800 as it is just way too expensive for 425 Euros ($538 USD). However, from Harakiri’s perspective, it was just 125 Euros ($158 USD) because he had to shell out the other 300 Euros ($379 USD) anyway.  I’m not sure if I would have done the same in his shoes, but he ordered the card. As all this coincided with the purchase of this notebook (the same as his), we decided I would keep the card for a while, verify everything and send it to him after the evaluation. That evaluation is concluded, benchmarks have run and an upgrade kit is on it’s way to him.

Tools required: A Dremmel, a screwdriver, a soldering iron and a twincer.

You just have to remove a single backpanel. Before you do that, remove the battery as a precaution. A simple, small Philips does the trick. After that, you can lift the panel with your nail. Notice that there’s one screw that is longer. Make absolutely sure you place it back in the correct hole when closing your notebook again. It’s the hole labeled K/B. Failure to do so will yield the same result as Mr. Harakiri got.


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Not that I mind…Also: at this point you have just voided your guarantee.

When the panel is removed, you’ll have to remove all screws indicated with the yellow circles. Make sure not too touch parts of the motherboard, as ESD c n kill your notebook. Make sure to discharge yourself every now and then on a well grounded item (water pipes).  This will allow you to carefully remove the heatsink assembly.  Make sure to disconnect the fan plug first. Once again, your nail is the primary tool for this job. I took the time and opportunity to apply AS5 on the CPU, but that is obviously optional .Please notice that some of the heatpads are not the original ones. I currently have no more replacements available, so be careful with yours.


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After having removed the heatsink, two more screws keep the MXM on the motherboard. Remove them.


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After clicking in the x1800, I noticed I couldn’t screw the sink completely back. The heatsink has a small cutout for a coil near the top of the card. As that coil has shifted a bit for the x1800, the heatsink no longer fits. I can’t show you pictures of the x1800 mounted in my machine as it is currently speeding towards Germany to revive Mr. Harakiri’s notebook, but here’s an ‘archive’ picture…

Enter the Dremmel.

No skills are required (as evidenced by the picture of the heatsink) but some courage is not optional before you put the cutting blade in a part of your brand new 1000 notebook. It takes about 15 minutes. Make sure to remove the heatpads from the heatsink before starting to cut into the metal as the small metal parts get stuck to the heatpads and can form a kind of conductive metal film on it with a high potential for disaster.


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After this the heatsink can be easily mounted. At this point, I closed the notebook and commenced my benchmarks, but you will have to leave it open just a little longer.

When running my first benchmarks, I had a few thermal shutdowns while the CPU wasn’t hot at all and the fan wasn’t revving up. After some investigation, I noticed that the GPU temperature was unknown to the system. It is my assumption that the fan is controlled by either the GPU or CPU, depending on who needs it the most. Because no GPU temp was available, the system was happily unaware of the GPU nearing his shutdown temperature. I tried flashing the Bios with the latest available, accidentally an Alienware Bios, but to no avail. It only brought me a nice AW splash screen.


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As I wasn’t able to find a software solution to this problem, I turned my attention to a hardware solution. As the problem was mainly that the fan wasn’t running fast enough, I designed a simple amplifier. The fans would still be off when they were off initially but it would be possible to have them run linearly faster once they were on. Consisting of only two resistors and a variable resistor, the circuit is easy enough and requires only some basic soldering skills. And some balls. But if you ever enjoyed ‘cutting the red wire’ in a McGuyver episode, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this.

I would like to thank Mr. Harakiri for his MS Paint skills!

You have to cut both the red and black wire. Make sure you don’t cut too close to the edge, as you’ll need some room for stripping and soldering the wire, make some bends and… make mistakes! Leave the yellow wire as it is. Once the wire is cut, strip both edges and tin them.


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Connect the part of the black wire that is connected to the connector to pin 3 of the transistor. Connect the part of the black wire that is still connected to the fan to pin 2 of the transistor.


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I will have connected pin 1 to both resistors as in series. Connect the loose end of the resistor to the red wire of the connector. I had to solder a wire to the remaining red wire at this point, but I will have done that for you already.


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At this point, you can put the heatsink back in. I provided a piece of strong double sided tape to secure the transistor. Make sure none of the metallic parts can touch other metal parts. You’ll note that I’ve taped a few components and surfaces in order to prevent the circuit from making short circuits.


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Last but not least, you’ll have to connect the red wire of the fan to a 5V source. I took 5V of the USB PCB. It requires you unscrew both speakers and the right hand connector PCB.


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You will have to solder the wire to the green dot, not the red one. Make sure the wire doesn’t touch anything but the green dot pad. I made an error at some point and the notebook didn’t boot anymore. Removing the short remedied this, but I’m not taking bets whether you’ll be as lucky as I was. But I’m sure you’ll do better given the high quality professional picture I’ve provided (ahem…)


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Your masterpiece is finished! You can now regulate your fans speed over a fairly wide range by adjusting the blue pot. You can try to find all the screws again, close your notebook and enjoy a hefty performance premium. How hefty is the improvement?


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Here is how the 3DMark05 numbers improved for the Amilo 3438 with the X1800 card:

Notebook

3D Mark 05 Results

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 (1.73GHz Pentium M, nVidia 6800 Go)

3,666 3D Marks

Fujitsu Amilo 3438 (1.73GHz Pentium M, ATI X1800)

5,161 3D Marks

Conclusion

This notebook isn’t going to drop any jaws in the enthusiast community, but it is very complete for its price. While not equipped with the latest processors or GPU’s and while not leading the pack for build quality, it does a very nice overall job. And it holds the promise of equipping your game toy with a more powerful GPU down the line. I wouldn’t recommend that at it’s current price, but it will certainly become an interesting option in the future.

Pros

  • Not too thick.
  • MXM Type III slot.
  • Good screen
  • Complete
  • Decent quality
  • MXM Slot!

Cons

  • A little keyboard rattling
  • Non-uniform screen backlighting
  • Mediocre battery life


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