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The design of the E8420 is nothing to write home about, but it's functional. The outside is matte black, while the inside is a dull, stormtrooper grey. Once you open the notebook up you will find a keyboard, which is a good size, flanked by speakers. The keyboard bends slightly when you type, making the laptop seem flimsy.
The 15.4-inch display has a native resolution of 1,280x800. It's also glossy, meaning it's reflective and difficult to see in bright light. For this reason we prefer a matte display. On the right-hand side above the keyboard is an LCD screen that shows information including battery charge, wireless status and hard drive access. Port options on the E8420 are lacklustre. On other Centrino 2 notebooks we have seen eSATA ports and USB ports that allow you to charge accessories even when the notebook is switched off. The E8420 features neither.
What you will find is a range of standard ports; a modem and two USB ports, 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, a FireWire IEEE 1394 port and a PC Card Type II slot. On the back of the E8420 you will find two more USB ports, gigabit Ethernet, a serial and parallel port. There is also an HDMI port, a nice but curious inclusion on a business laptop. On the right-hand side you will find a hot-swappable optical drive, which can be replaced with an extra battery.
One thing we like about the design is the inclusion of five numerical buttons next to the power button that provide shortcuts to various different programs. The buttons can be customised from the control panel, allowing you to create shortcuts to any application you desire.
Another nice feature is the inclusion of a dust filter on the underside of the laptop next to the CPU fan, which you can click out and clean when necessary. While this is handy, the filter itself is simply a plastic grille, it contains no mesh so its ability to trap fine dust is limited.
The E8420 is the first Centrino 2 notebook we have seen from Fujitsu, although a whole pile of offerings have been coming out from competitors such as Dell, Lenovo and HP. The Centrino 2 certification means that the laptop should consume less power, have improved wireless, processing and graphics performance.
Despite its dull appearance, the E8420 is a great performer, thanks to an Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 at 2.4GHz and 2GB of RAM. There is a spare RAM slot so you can upgrade to 4GB. If you do upgrade, make sure you have a 64-bit version of Vista, otherwise just get 3GB.
In order to test the battery we set screen brightness to 50 per cent and then played a DVD. This gave us a battery life of two hours and 20 minutes, a good result. The addition of a battery in the optical drive tray should give this laptop great battery performance.
Speaking of performance, you won't be disappointed by the E8420. Our device achieved a very healthy PCMark05 score of 5365, meaning this device should meet the requirements of most demanding office environments. HDD access was particularly quick, and our laptop included a 250GB SATA drive. There is also a 1.3-megapixel webcam mounted on top of the display.
The E8420 also came with discrete graphics in the form of an Nvidia GeForce 9300M, which includes 256MB of dedicated graphics memory. We're mixed about dedicated graphics cards on business laptops, because the additional processor and memory reduces battery life, and for non-gaming applications a high-end Nvidia card is overkill. They also markedly increase price. On a positive note, they also make for great graphics performance, the E8420 gave a 3DMark06 score of 2208.
Pre-installed demo software, also known as "crapware", seems to be part and parcel of laptops and desktops these days. Along with Windows Vista Business and the prerequisite drivers, our laptop included CyberLink PowerDirector, Sun Java, Adobe Flash Player, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, OmniPass, and the Roxio DVD creator.
A range of software also came with E8420 on DVD but not installed, including Norman Internet Security Suite 7, Acronis True Image 10.0, drivers and factory settings restore disks. Normally laptop vendors include a few pieces of additional software, but Fujitsu seems to have included a whole bag. We much prefer to see business laptops come with a minimum of pre-installed software.
The E8420 also comes with a small mouse and a carry case. We like both accessories, but they are superfluous and push the overall notebook price up. Users with large hands might also find the mouse uncomfortably small.
The LifeBook E8420 is a solid machine, with good battery life and performance, but we're still disappointed. Firstly, the E8420 lacks a lot of the features we have seen in the Centrino 2 releases from competitors, such as eSATA, USB charging when the laptop is switched off and the option of an SSD.
Finally the price, at AU$2299, is a real deal breaker. Equivalent offerings from Dell, Sony and Asus all come in a little cheaper, and in some cases offer more features and better performance.
The most likely culprits for this price hike are the discrete Nvidia graphics card, carry case and mouse. However, we see these as unnecessary extras — while a valuable addition like eSATA are noticeably absent. For this reason, we can't recommend the LifeBook E8420.