Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 Review

by David Rasnake Reads (42,738)

Historically, Fujitsu has made some of the nicest, most well-constructed portable business notebooks around. The company’s more consumer-oriented laptops are more of a mixed bag, however, offering features sets that clearly target home users but lacking the strong styling cues of some of its competitors.

In a specs sheet comparison, our 17-inch Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 review unit seems competitive enough. Of more concern is the fact that the N6470, while a solid performer in most respects, may not do enough – in terms of styling or build quality – to justify its slightly high price and entice buyers.

Full specs for the specific N6470 configuration used for this review are as follows:

  • Screen: 17-inch WXGA+ (1440×900)
  • Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 (800 MHz FSB, 3MB L2 cache)
  • Hard Drive: 250GB, 4200 RPM SATA x 2 (500GB total capacity)
  • Memory: 3GB DDR2 667 MHz SDRAM (2GB + 1GB)
  • Optical Drive: Dual-Layer Multi-Format DVD-R
  • Ports and Slots: Five USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, multi-format (SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/xD) card reader, HDMI, VGA, S-Video, 10/100 Ethernet, modem, PC Card, ExpressCard, microphone in, headphone out
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n)
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 (256MB shared and 256MB dedicated memory)
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Dimensions: 15.8 x 11.5 x 2.0 inches (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 10.2 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,799 as configured

Styling and Design

There’s not a lot to say here, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. For a comparatively expensive, high-spec notebook, this LifeBook doesn’t do a lot to assert itself visually. The gray plastic (yes, it’s all plastic) top vies for the most boring and empty piece of 17-inch real estate we’ve seen come through the office in awhile.


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Opening the lid, things don’t get a lot better: a glossy black plastic insert complete with wireless hard switch, volume control, and a four-way controller that can be configured to either provide multimedia controls (play, stop, etc.) or serve as a set of user-defined program "quick access" buttons suggests the N6470 as a multimedia-focused desktop replacement. The rest of the LifeBook’s control surface, however, doesn’t really follow through on this idea, with a bland keyboard and touchpad design.


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Overall, acres and acres of monotonous gray plastic don’t commit any styling atrocities, but don’t do a lot to distinguish the LifeBook either.

These days, most desktop replacement notebooks include a multimedia remote – often with some sort of innovative in-body storage solution to make sure you can always find the remote when you need it. Fujitsu chose to move in another direction: make the remote so outrageously large that it becomes impossible to lose site of it.


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The button layout is fine, and the remote is solid enough: it’s just the size that makes it seem ridiculous, even for a notebook that’s barely portable itself.

Build Quality and Physical Specs

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with plastic as a notebook shell material, the N6470 serves as a reminder of everything that can make plastic unappealing for large, heavy notebooks: the lid flexes, the palm rest flexes, the keyboard flexes, the bottom flexes. Picking up the LifeBook one-handed (if you can), it feels like the entire computer is bending precariously under its own weight.

Thin plastics also find their way to the lid latch and button, which are especially unpleasing and look to be in imminent danger of snapping off if forced. Likewise for the retaining tabs on the LifeBook’s tiny battery.


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So long as it rarely leaves the open position on your desk, you might not find the N6470′s lack of solidity concerning, but how well the LifeBook would hold up to even light travel given its apparent lack of ruggedness is worth asking.

At 10.2 pounds and nearly 2 inches thick, portability is obviously secondary with the N6470. Even with all that plastic and a battery designed to save weight more than optimize performance, the LifeBook is still alarmingly heavy, however. While it might work in a limited sense as a portable gaming or graphics device (it is appreciably easier to carry around than, say, my desktop and display), I shudder at the thought of schlepping the LifeBook through an airport. In fairness, this clearly isn’t the kind of use that Fujitsu’s designers had in mind, but with significantly more portable 17-inch models on the market, the Fujitsu’s weight and bulkiness shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Screen

The N6470′s screen is truly a bright spot on an otherwise average notebook. The 17-inch display is gorgeous, glossy, and extremely vibrant. Gloss is well controlled without too much glare, and calibrated colors are dead-on accurate as well. Brightness is adjustable in 8 steps.


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While horizontal viewing angles are very good (ideal for a multimedia machine), vertical angles aren’t the best. This would probably only matter greatly, however, if you ever intended to put the N6470 on your lap (and you don’t: trust us).

Keyboard and Touchpad

Again, the word of the day here is "flex." Our LifeBook test unit’s keys offered up almost no resistance, making typing a tiring experience. Similarly, the keyboard exhibits some flex before "bottoming out" on an extremely rigid subsurface. On the plus side, keys are well spaced and a full number pad is included as well – expected amenities with a notebook of this size.


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The touchpad feels nice enough under your finger, with a little bit of texture, but also shows some odd flex on one side, as though it’s not completely anchored in place. Buttons offer about the right amount of resistance, however, and aren’t excessively noisy when clicked.


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Ports and Drives

Ports on the LifeBook are as expected for a notebook of this physical size, with five USBs, FireWire, S-Video, VGA, HDMI, and PC Card and ExpressCard slots providing a fairly comprehensive range of connection options. Likewise, the N6470 sports a dual-layer, multi-format DVD writer.

A tour around the N6470 runs as follows:


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Rear view. (view large image)


Right view. (view large image)

Audio Performance

As seen with the screen, our LifeBook’s enormous size and considerable weight come with a few advantages, and the N6470′s audio performance is another bright spot. Overall sound quality was rich and even, with a bottom-mounted subwoofer providing particularly satisfying bass response. There’s enough power to drive the system at smaller home-entertainment setup volumes, and distortion is almost nonexistent.

All of this, combined with a great screen, makes movie or TV watching on the N6470 a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you’re a small apartment dweller like I am, the N6470 isn’t a half bad TV replacement, but given its generally poor performance as a notebook and rather high price tag, the reasons for choosing this option over a similarly speced desktop with a nice LCD monitor aren’t entirely clear to me, at least.

Heat and Noise

Though the N6470 lacks Fujitsu’s trademark heat absorbing felt pads, it’s not as unbearably warm as might be expected. The back of the notebook can get scaldingly hot when taxed, but given that this isn’t likely a notebook that you’re going to be putting on your lap, the parts of the computer that the user comes into contact with (i.e. the palm rest area) stays plenty cool.

Below are images with the temperature readings in degrees Fahrenheit.


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The LifeBook is also appropriately quiet for home theater use, with a constant but barely audible fan noise when the processor is under load.

TV Tuner

Our LifeBook came boxed with an ExpressCard TV tuner capable of pulling in both analog and digital over-the-air TV signals. Connections are straightforward, with a supplied adapter cord providing conversion for traditional coax cables as well.


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In use, the tuner doesn’t do a great job of pulling in weaker analog signals with a small antenna. The lack of any kind of built-in antenna is also a touch disappointing, especially given the tuner unit’s not inconsiderable physical size. Assuming you have acceptable signal, however, setting up and using the TV tuner is as easy as any other system using Windows Media Center.

Battery Life

In order to save weight, presumably, the LifeBook sports a tiny (though, at 11 ounces, extremely light-weight) 6-cell, 3200 mAh battery. In this case, the term "battery" probably implies too much: it would be more appropriate to refer to what’s in the N6470 as a "battery backup system." It might do for keeping your work saved for a little while if the power goes out, but the idea of really computing with this battery borders on laughable.

Under light use – just above constant idle, really, with the screen at mid-level brightness – battery life barely topped an hour. Put in a DVD and you can expect to be able to watch about half a movie (42 minutes in our test) before the battery is depleted. In a quest for theoretical limits, I fired up my video editing software, turned up the screen brightness, and started hitting the optical (where my source clips were stored) and hard drives hard. The result: Vista forced the N6470 to sleep in a mere 26 minutes. Going back through the archives, this is arguably the worst battery performance we’ve ever seen from any notebook/battery combo (including Kevin’s not-TSA-approved "home job" battery rebuild).

Similarly, the LifeBook was painfully slow to charge, often taking several hours to get back anywhere near full power. In general, even given the LifeBook’s portliness I for one would’ve taken on another pound of weight in exchange for battery performance capable of getting this model consistently above an hour off the plug.

Performance and Benchmarks

With its 2.4GHz Penryn chipset and decent graphics capabilities, the N6470 makes a perfectly acceptable gaming solution with the caveats about portability and battery life mentioned previously clearly in mind. With the N6470′s minimal bloatware excised, start-up times are respectably fast, and general users should find the LifeBook more than fast enough for most purposes.

Below are the various benchmarks we used during the review.

WPrime 32M comparison results

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook Time
Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300, Windows Vista) 32.571s
HP Pavilion HDX (2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500, Windows Vista 64) 28.978s
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, Windows Vista) 30.359s
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista) 31.108s
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Windows Vista) 42.085s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7400@ 2.16GHz, Windows XP) 41.40s
HP dv6000z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.00GHz, Windows Vista) 38.913s
Sager 9260 (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU E6700@ 2.66GHz, Windows XP ) 33.718s
Dell Precision M70 (Intel Pentium-M 780 @ 2.26GHz, Windows XP) 78.992s

PCMark05 comparison results:

PCMark05 represents the overall system performance of a notebook. Higher numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 256MB) 5,637 PCMarks
HP Pavilion HDX (2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500, Nvidia Go 8800M GTS 512MB) 6,921 PCMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS) 7,749 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 5,865 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 5,261 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 5,377 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,925 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,377 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks

3DMark06 comparison results:

3DMark06 represents the overall graphics performance of a notebook. Higher numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 256MB) 3,817 3DMarks
HP Pavilion HDX (2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500, Nvidia Go 8800M GTS 512MB) 8,791 3DMarks
HP Pavilion HDX (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB) 4,205 3DMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS) 8,801 3DMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 3,775 3DMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 2,934 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 2,930 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 794 3DMarks

HDtune results:


Hard drive #1. (view large image)


Hard drive #2. (view large image)


Conclusion

While overall performance numbers on the LifeBook more than held their own, this notebook is largely a case of a good specs sheet being let down by a lackluster user experience. With battery life that’s little short of awful, an unpleasant keyboard, lots of flex and a generally unappealing look and feel, the N6470 seems to offset its strong characteristics (beautiful screen, quick processor and plenty of RAM, multimedia capabilities) with some noteworthy irritations and disappointments. If the N6470 cost $500 less, it would be much easier to overlook many of these warts, but at its current price there are simply too many good options out there.

Pros:

  • Penryn performance and plenty of memory
  • Superb screen with amazing colors
  • Good multimedia capabilities
  • Serious styling may appeal to those wanting something less "gamer"-ish

Cons:

  • Frightening flex calls build quality into question
  • Keyboard a pain for long-term typing
  • Abysmal battery life
  • A bit boring for our taste


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