With the release of the touch optimised Windows 8, you may be wondering why you would want to buy a standard laptop. Especially as tablets are becoming a lot more powerful and more competitively price, with many features you can find on a laptop. Tablets do have their limitations though and you can still get a lot of laptop for your buck. With thousands of laptops on the market, it can be hard finding the right one for your intended usage. Luckily, there are brands like Fujitsu which have ranges for many uses and are priced accordingly.

The Fujitsu Lifebook A series of laptops aims to provide a low cost, well performing, balanced laptop which can entertain but also get work done. I will be looking at the AH512. Priced at only £339.97 (at the time of review), the AH512 is very competitively priced and a great entry level laptop with an impressive spec running Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, but can it deliver on the performance it promises?

Product Specifications and Packaging:

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The AH512 comes packaged in a relatively plain, black and white box with the Fujitsu logos on the front and back and a spec sheet on the side. Opening up the box, you are presented with the laptop, cushioned between high quality closed cell foam. The foam did a very good job of protecting the laptop during the bumps and knocks of shipping.  Also included in the box is a mains adapter for charging, manuals and quick start guides as well as a Windows 8 recovery DVD, Cyberlink Power DVD disc and a drivers and utilities disc.




The specifications are: 

CPU: Intel i3-2328 at 2.2GHz
Memory: 6GB DDR3 1333MHz
Storage: 500GB SATA II 5900RPM
Display: 15.6” at 1366x768 (16:9 aspect ratio)
Graphics: Intel GMA
Optical: DVD Super Multi
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI out, Ethernet out, VGA out, Headphone out, Microphone in, SD card reader and 3x USB 2.0.
Additional: 720p built in Webcam. Spill resistant keyboard and Anytime USB Charging (Charge a USB device without powering the laptop on)

Testing Methodology:

With the price of this laptop and its intended usage, I will be testing the AH512 in the areas I think it will be used. This will be productivity, web browsing and light gaming. I will be putting the hardware through its paces to see if I can find any short falls. As well as testing the usage and specs, I will be looking at other areas such as battery life and display quality. All which are important areas which can make or break the user experience.

Build Quality and Aesthetics:

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Whilst being nothing that breaks the mould in terms of design, the AH512, visually looks very stunning. The entire laptop follows a plastic construction but this is usually the case for laptops within this price range. Don’t be fooled though. It may be complete plastic construction but it feels very solid with very little flex to things such as the display and palm rests. Being a smooth, matt texture as opposed to glossy or aluminium also means that it is relatively fingerprint resistant, a very important feature for something you will be carrying around and wiping your hands on all the time. On the lid is a sleek looking, mirrored, chrome effect Fujitsu logo with the “Fujitsu” name logo situated at the top, centre of the lid.

Lifting up the display which is held in place by two small yet sturdy hinges reveals a full size keyboard complete with number pad and the standard set of function keys. Above the keyboard is a mesh, beneath which sit the two speakers. You can also find the power button above the keyboard, that lights up a cool blue when the system is powered on. Below the keyboard you can find the touch pad and mouse buttons. At the bottom left corner of the laptop sit the indicator LEDs for things such as the battery level, WiFi and HDD indicator lights. Around the edge of the inside of the laptop is a silver/grey bezel which does a good job of breaking up the plain black aesthetic.

Looking past the standard laptop design, the AH512 is attractive and sleek with a very impressive build quality, given the price range. Whilst it may look cheap and plasticy, I can assure you that it is very solidly constructed.

Initial Setup:

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Initial setup used to be a long process whilst you wait for the OS to do its thing and setup. This is a thing of the past with Windows 8. It was as simple as five quick steps till I was in the OS. I was impressed at the speed at which it took to setup. Additionally, the Fujitsu doesn’t come packed with bloat-ware. Whilst this may be a draw back for some less experienced users who want loads of programs from the get go, for many, it is a great thing to see and saves loads of time and hard drive space. In place of these programs is the “Store” which is built into Windows 8. This should make acquiring these starter programs easy.



General Usage:

I define general usage as web browsing and entertainment purposes. In order to test this, I ignored my main machine for a day and used the laptop for all my web browsing and emailing. This allowed me to experience using the laptop as if it was my only machine as I would imagine a lot of people would be.

I found the machine to be very snappy and responsive. This was helped by the Windows 8 environment. It was fast to boot and woke up from sleep almost instantly. Web sites loaded quickly and displayed in full in full screen mode. The experience was a comfortable one, helped by the responsive touchpad (more detail later in the review). YouTube videos played smooth even in their highest quality setting, 1080p. The AH512 was designed for this sort of use and does it very well.

Productivity:

In order to test the productivity of the laptop, I installed Office 2013. This was to test what it would be like getting work done on the machine. In addition to testing the standard Office applications, I tested the laptop with the Adobe suite. This was to get an idea what it was like to video and photo edit on the machine. This testing was focused towards students who may not have room in their dorm for a workstation but need a laptop for their studies.

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Using Office 2013 and Windows 8 together was a breeze. The updated suite takes design queues from the Windows 8 interface and as such, the transition between start menu and application is smooth. Everything just seems to run fluently. The AH512 ran all the applications without any problems and have yet to experience any crashes with them. PowerPoint can be easily displayed using a second monitor through the VGA or HDMI ports. This is a great feature of presentations at work or at university.

The large hard drive capacity meant that there was more than enough room to install the entire Adobe Suite as well as hold a lot of media. This is great for creative individuals in the field of photo editing and the like. The experience when using Photoshop was very pleasant. Whilst the low screen resolution means that you have to be quite far zoomed out of pictures to see them entirely, they still looked crisp. I did notice some slow down when first launching the application and when using some intensive filters such as Lens Correction. In all, it is a very good machine for editing on the go. A mouse should be used however for better results to avoid the frustrations that come with editing with a touchpad in general.

It was a similar story with video editing. The specs certainly do support video editing even up to 1080p resolutions, noticing little slow down. Be aware though that heat and noise levels from the fan did crank up when video editing however, even on full load, the fan remains relatively quiet and the temperatures never get too hot. The laptop handled editing with ease and rendered relatively quickly, outputting a 40MB H.264, 720p video, 1 minute in length in just under 50 seconds.

Gaming:

This laptop is in no way a gaming machine. With no dedicated graphics, it is not designed for gaming, which is something I feel I must stress, this laptop is designed to be a high performer in every day usage, which it is. However I decided to test it anyway to get a baseline for the kind of games it can run and what kind of performance it achieves. In order to test the graphic performance, I used the benchmarking software 3D Mark 06. An older version of the software but still relevant. Especially in a case like this. In addition to this, I performed some more practical tests where I attempted to run some games to see how they ran in real world situations. 3D Mark is a benchmarking standard and tests a mix of graphic performance, CPU performance and DirectX performance. The score for this system was 4348. This is relatively low but given the lack of dedicated graphics, I wasn’t expecting much.

Obviously, the laptop runs light, web gaming with ease so far passing time, the laptop is perfect for this. You will not be able to play the latest blockbusters on this machine as simply, the price doesn’t accommodate for that performance. In order to get a better look at in game performance, I looked at Minecraft. A popular game which people are familiar with won’t push the system too hard. Whilst I had to turn the video settings down to “Fast” and the render distance to “Normal”, the game ran at around 8FPS. When the settings were reduced to their minimum, the game ran at a smooth 25-30FPS.

Graphic performance was exactly as I expected, low end. But frankly, the system isn’t designed for that. It can churn through light gaming whilst procrastinating but it isn’t going to blow you out of the water with performance or have you trading in your console just yet.

Portability:

Laptops are designed to be carried around, so the portability is an important feature. In order to test this, I took the laptop along to college with me. This is a journey which involves a bus journey and a bit of walking.

Despite being a 15.6” laptop, it fit into my back pack with ease along with all my college work. This is great for, like me, students who will be transporting their laptop quite a bit too and from their college or university. Whilst the AH512 feels heavy, once it is in a backpack, it feels light and is easy to carry around and didn’t cause any stress or discomfort on my shoulder. The weight did become a problem however when it was loaded into my camera bag along with camera and lenses so photographers wanting a laptop to take too and from shoots, may prefer to opt for a lighter alternative or carry it separately.

Sound Quality:

I tested sound performance through both the speakers and through the headphone port. Obviously, sound quality through the headphone port depends on what kind of headphones you are using but using the best pair of headphones I could get my hands on, the audio was clear and crisp with no interference. More importantly is how the built in speakers fair. In order to test this, I played a 320kbps MP3 clip to test how it sounded. As I expected, as is usually the case with built in laptop speakers, the sound was very flat and tinny. Songs had little depth and bass. I also found the speakers to be very quiet unless cranked right up.

These are problems which are experienced across the board with laptop speakers, generally. The audio quality for films and web video was passable however.

Display:

Whilst only being 1366x768, the picture remained crisp and clear, even close up. Text was easy to read and overall was a comfortable experience. Colours we bright and well represented but did lose some saturation when the brightness was reduced past half. While it would be nice to see a higher resolution display, there is little need at this price point. The resolution is high enough to play 720p video and simply put, it looks beautiful. Video at 1080p, whilst not technically supported by the display, played smooth. This is great if you are intending on using an additional, external monitor. There are two options for external displays. There is the older VGA port or a HDMI port. The inclusion of the older VGA port is great if you’re using the laptop for PowerPoint presentations, if for example; the projector doesn’t support HDMI. The HDMI is great for outputting full HD video to a supporting monitor or TV. I have to give credit to Fujitsu for implementing support for both. The viewing angle was rather shallow with colours becoming very dark as you moved the screen sideways but is something you would not experience a problem with under normal use.

Keyboard and Touchpad:

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The keyboard is definitely the area where the system falls back. Whilst not being a deal breaker, it did have minor annoyances that I noted. In terms of layout, Fujitsu have got it spot on. It has full size shift, return and caps lock key. A major positive in my eyes as a frequent typist.  The number pad is an excellent addition and is often something which is often overlooked in laptop design. The function keys provide all the system shortcuts you come to expect. These being volume, brightness, WiFi, etc. Now for the not so good points. Now I am very picky when it comes to keyboards so these points may not be a problem for most people. The first thing I noticed straight away with the keys is the short travel time. They feel very soft and spongy which made it difficult to tell if a key had been pressed when typing fast. Additionally, I experienced some flex at the centre of the keyboard around the “G” and “H” area. Both these points are something you get used to over time though and the more you use it, the more you get accustomed to its feel. Fujitsu claim that the keyboard is spill resistant but I will just have to take their word for it on this one as I can’t test for obvious reasons.

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The touch pad is one of the best I have ever used. It was great to the touch and very responsive. It must be noted that there is a very small dead zone around the very perimeter but it is very small and was never a problem in use. The touch pad is slightly recessed from the rest of the palm rest so it is clear where the touch panel starts and ends. It is disappointing that the touch pad is not multi-touch as you find a lot on the market today that are but at this price point, it is something that can be overlooked as a compromise. The buttons give a click as feedback when they have been pressed. Some users may like this, me however, I prefer the soft buttons that don’t make a noise when you press them. Overall, a very good touch pad and very comfortable to use, even over extended periods.

Battery:

Fujitsu claims this unit has a battery life of up to around 6 hours. In order to test this I ran a series of stress test. In order to test the battery under normal load, I used the laptop normally, as a regular user would. This was a mix of typing word documents, watching videos, web surfing and listening to music. The brightness was set at half to provide a comfortable viewing experience. Under this scenario, the battery lasted around four and a half hours on the “Balanced” Windows setting.

This is perfectly reasonable for a laptop of this spec. It is under what Fujitsu claim however their specifications are in ideal situations. I was impressed with the amount of time I was able to squeeze out of it.

In addition to this battery test, I did a series of stress tests to push the battery the hardest. I ran these tests in the same settings in order to make it a fair test. The Window’s mode was set to “Performance”, brightness was turned up to its maximum, WiFi was running and the volume was set to 50%. Each test was timed until Windows displayed the “10% battery” warning, indicating that the system required charging.

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The first test I performed was a full load torture test. I ran the benchmark program “Prime95” in the “In-Place large FFT’s” setting. This is the highest power consuming test and pushes the system to the limits. Under this scenario the battery lasted a short 1 hour and 7 minutes. It must be noted however that this was a worst, worst case scenario. Rarely would you push the system this hard, this persistently. This matters though for things such as video rendering and gaming. I wouldn’t recommend doing these on battery in any case unless you absolutely have to.

Another test I ran was the entertainment test. In order to test this I charged the system back up to full and set a DVD playing in the disc drive. All the system settings were kept the same as the previous test. This being full brightness, WiFi, 50% audio levels etc. The chosen film was “The Lion King”. Under this kind of load, the system lasted 3 Hours and 3 Minutes. This test was designed for when you are travelling. On a train or on a plane. The battery life is more than long enough to play most movies if you are on the go. More juice could be squeezed out though if need be by reducing the display brightness and turning off WiFi for instance.

Finally, I timed how long it took the system to recharge from 10% to full. I left the system idling with the same settings as the previous two tests in order to keep results consistent. In total, the system took 1 hour 37 minutes to charge. This is quite a long time if you’re in a rush to go somewhere it I found to be more than reasonable for standard usage.

Overall, the battery is on par with many laptops in the same price range and you will struggle to find one on the market which exceeds these stats. Do bare in mind that I ran these tests on a “worst case scenario” basis so the performance you would actually achieve would be higher.

Expandability:

The AH512 has the ability to upgrade certain features in the future as you would expect with any laptop. On the base of the laptop, you can find labelled removable panels which makes it easy to remove old hardware and install new. Whilst 6GB of memory is probably enough for the application of this laptop, there is the option to upgrade to a maximum of 8GB if you are interested in squeezing out that extra bit of performance. The HDD can also be upgraded for a larger capacity for example. If you are not worried about capacity though and you want to speed up an already fast laptop, you could install an SSD for lightning fast speeds and reduced battery consumption.

Conclusion:

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I definitely recommend the Fujitsu AH512 to students and business use or for people just wanting an affordable, all-round laptop which gets stuff done. I had my slight gripes with it but they are all menial things which can be easily looked past. Nothing here is really done wrong. The build, although looking cheap is very good and feels very sturdy.  It would be nice to see a few USB3.0 ports here in order to reach those faster speeds capable with newer memory sticks and hard drives. The camera, whilst claiming to be 720p, is relatively low quality but it is what you would come to expect from a small, built in webcam.

For the price, you are getting a good deal. You are getting a good spec laptop which can get stuff done as well as one year warranty if you do encounter any problems. The AH512 runs very quickly on Windows 8 and the exclusion of bloat-ware means you get the maximum amount of HDD space as possible, right off the bat. I also that it comes with a Windows Recovery DVD as opposed to a recovery hard drive partition. This means you can recover with ease even after replacing or upgrading the hard drive.

If you’re looking for a laptop to replace an old one or just in the market for an affordable laptop, I can definitely recommend this one.

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