One of the best and worst things about being a product reviewer is the sheer bulk of kit that comes through our Labs across a multitude of categories. Unfortunately it also makes you free-info flypaper for friends and family. That said, whenever someone shopping for a notebook asks for advice, they tend to lean towards Sony, Toshiba or Dell. Despite their quality, Fujitsu doesn't normally get a look in. Their new LifeBook S series may quickly be on the way to changing that with its combination of security, battery life, performance and looks.
The ultra-portable market is exploding at the moment, and Fujitsu's offering in the S6311 is an impressive one. The build quality of the chassis is spot on, and where other notebooks in this size bracket tend to have LCD screens that contort with minimal effort, the Fujitsu holds strong, even taking knocks to the rear of the panel in its stride. Fujitsu is pitching this model at SMB (Small to Medium Businesses), consumers and mobile executives.
Regardless of which segment you fit into, there's something in this model for you, with the hot swappable bays accommodating either a multi-format optical drive, weight saver to take the strain off your shoulder, or an additional battery for extended time between power point visits. Fujitsu quotes up to 10.2 hours of continuous battery run time using a second battery in place of the optical drive, enough juice for a full work day without having to plug in and wait around to get mobile again.
For what is a predominantly business oriented machine the S6311 has the feature side well and truly sewn up at a very reasonable price. The first thing you'll notice is the 13.3 inch SuperFine XGA (1024x768) resolution LCD which is driven by the Intel GMA 950 graphics. Certainly not the bastion of graphics power that Intel claims every refresh, but enough to drive the display and meet the Windows Vista business spec requirements. The notebook ships with Windows XP Professional (the operating system of choice for businesses holding back on a full Vista rollout and those users needing VPN support)
Weighing in around the 1.7 kg mark, you won't get this mixed up with some of the desktop replacements posing as notebooks. In comparison, Sony's new business ultra-portable the VAIO VGNG118GNB tops the scales at 1.15 kg, while their VAIO C series consumer notebooks are a heftier 2.3 kg in the same form-factor chassis.
Fujitsu bundles a 100GB, 5400rpm hard drive spanning two evenly-sized partitions. It's unlikely business users will ever fill such a large drive given their propensity for offsite centralised network archiving, but on the off chance that it does happen, there's always the included Super Multi optical drive allowing you to burn DVD-RAM, DVD-+R/RW discs and CDs.
Drive integrity, particularly for a business notebook, is a major concern, and Fujitsu addresses this with inclusion of a 3D hard drive shock sensor, meaning that in the event of a sudden fall the device is intelligent enough to park the drive's heads to reduce the risk of data loss or drive failure. A software configuration tool allows you to set the gyro's sensitivity depending on your usage and work environment.
Connectivity is certainly no afterthought on the S6311, sporting a tri-band 802.11a/b/g wireless module, Gigabit Ethernet wired networking and shipping to users with a docking station. The dock makes portability a snap, saving you the time needed to plug keyboards, mice and monitors in every time you move to, or away from your desk. In addition to giving you easy access to all the features on the chassis of the notebook, it also adds serial, parallel, PS/2 and DVI ports not found on the laptop. Kensington locks are supported and there's space on both the notebook and docking base to plug in, although we weren't able to test whether or not locking the base and then docking the laptop would secure both from theft or just the base.
Given that mobile business people are effectively zooming around with a copy (or in some cases the only copy) of their financial and sensitive company data, securing that information is paramount.
The S6311 features a biometric fingerprint scanner which allows you to securely log-on to the machine and if you wish, encrypt single files or entire folders from prying eyes. This is a particularly handy feature for businesses with limited resources that need to share a notebook across multiple users as each can secure their own files. The ability to register multiple fingers also means you can have several users and shared folders for when people leave the organisation. While no security is perfect, we did attempt to authenticate using an ink stamp copy of a registered fingerprint, only to be knocked back as it appeared to require the capacitance found in a living human finger. And no, before you think it, perish the thought of stealing someone's notebook and taking one of their registered fingers as a souvenir to access their files.
The software bundle with this model includes a full year of Norton Antivirus protection as well as Acronis True Image 9, allowing you to make and restore an image of your system quickly if you're travelling and things go pear-shaped.
Performance and battery life
The S6311's combination of an Intel 1.83GHz T5600 CPU and a full gigabyte of DDR2 memory is slightly above average spec for a business focused machine such as this. Generally the trade off of using a full wattage part as opposed to an Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) processor is for the sake of battery life. Avid multi-taskers will love the performance it offers. This is certainly no gaming powerhouse, though the Intel GMA 950 graphics are enough to run the OS and perhaps the odd older game. Just don't expect blazing frame rates in your favourite graphics intensive app. Users after more hybrid notebooks for casual gaming and business will want to look elsewhere, but be warned you do so at the compromise of battery performance.
We ran the machine through its paces in PCMark05, a benchmark that makes extensive use of open source and common applications such as virus scanners, spell checkers and the odd geometry calculation to gauge real world performance. At 3323 marks it doesn't represent the upper echelons of the notebook market in terms of performance, but it certainly isn't hugging the bottom rungs of the performance ladder either.
We ran Battery Eater Pro's classic test, stressing the CPU, graphics and I/O in one go and the unit crumbled at the 84 minute mark. Not a fantastic result, but the strength of this notebook lies in its mobility, not its raw power.
Next we gave it a lighter reader test with the machine at full power; it achieved a much more impressive 293 minutes before giving up the ghost.
Lastly we dipped the power options, dimmed the screen to the lowest brightness setting (although it's still readable) and left it to run. This time it managed a solid 396 mins, enough for you to only require a quick top up in the arvo at a power point. While it's still behind the 11.5 hours (best case scenario) Sony quotes on their new VAIO G series machine, it's still ample for a machine of this calibre, and if you're really power hungry, you can always dump the optical drive for a second battery.
Fujitsu includes a two year warranty on this model, the first year of which is covered by an international warranty, and the second a pickup and return courier service. An addition year (for a total of three) is available for a further AU$209. It's not an unreasonable ask given the relatively low purchase price of the hardware, especially with rough execs and sales teams lugging them around all day every day.
The ideal notebook for road warriors who crave battery run time without skimping on spec. Its weight and size also makes it a good student or home notebook, albeit an expensive one given it lacks the grunt for anything other than work and the odd DVD.
Serious battery misers may still find love in Sony's new G series product with its similar specs, although for the asking price you could buy yourself an S6311 and a couple of extra batteries.