Review: The Fujitsu LifeBook P7230

What makes the Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 exceptionally easy to carry? Well, there’s the subnotebook’s small size — 7.9 by 10.8 by 1.2 inches. And its light weight — 2.94 pounds, including the DVD±RW drive that many ultra-portables omit or put at the far end of a USB accessory cable.

And there’s an extra touch of class: In addition to its MacBook-fashion Leather White keyboard and lid (you can choose Leather Black if you’re concerned with keyboard smudges), the Fujitsu has a sort of textured velveteen appliqué on its bottom that serves as a nifty nonskid gripping surface. We’ve tested hundreds of notebooks, but this is the first we’ve been able to brush with a fingertip to raise a nap.

To be sure, the P7230 is no powerhouse multimedia machine or desktop replacement. With an ultra-low-voltage, 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 processor and a 10.6-inch-diagonal display, this junior member of the LifeBook line is meant to provide on-the-road productivity and Web and e-mail access with a minimum of briefcase bulk — indeed, throw a few papers over it and you may forget it’s in your briefcase.

To be sure, also, the LifeBook’s miniaturized engineering dictates a higher price than your average laptop. Equipped with Windows Vista Business, 1GB of memory, a 60GB hard disk, the DVD burner, Intel’s Pro/Wireless 3945ABG WiFi adapter, and a Trusted Platform Module chip and fingerprint sensor for corporate security, our test unit cost $1,899.

To be sure, thirdly, other vendors’ ultralight notebooks bear similar price premiums. Whether the P7230 gives you more sticker shock than they depends on how highly you value its versatility: If you’re OK with a plug-in rather than built-in optical drive, systems like the Gateway E-100M we tested last summer or the dual-core-CPU’d Dell Latitude D420 offer larger 12.1-inch screens for under $1,500.

But the Fujitsu’s modular bay lets you not only keep a DVD burner on board, but swap it for a second lithium-ion battery pack. The $116 option adds two ounces to system weight, but stretched work time from around four hours, plus or minus 15 minutes depending on multimedia use, to over six hours in our real-world tests. (The system’s AC adapter adds three-quarters of a pound to your traveling total.)

The Show Must Go On
As long as we’re talking about the DVD drive, we might as well share our worst experience with the Fujitsu: It didn’t want to play Casino Royale.

Whether on battery or AC power, with processor clock speed in Intel’s SpeedStep variable mode or fixed at 100 percent, the bundled CyberLink PowerDVD 6 software started right up when we popped a disc into the drive — and then strangled to death, managing only a slide show of frames from the film at six- or seven-second intervals.

Baffled, we e-mailed Fujitsu tech support. Our first reply suggested using the BIOS setup screen to assign the Intel 945GMS integrated graphics chipset its maximum 224MB of system memory instead of letting it allocate RAM dynamically. Unfortunately, our second reply confirmed our finding that the BIOS didn’t actually offer that option.

On a whim, we tried changing software, installing the trial version of PowerDVD’s rival InterVideo WinDVD. Don’t ask us why, but it worked perfectly in both AC and battery mode, saving the LifeBook from banishment from the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk and reassuring any business traveler seeking the all-important ability to watch a movie on the plane.

Considering its small size, we were prepared to dislike the LifeBook’s 10.6-inch, 1,280 by 768-pixel screen. As it turned out, the display was bright and sharp enough to read even small text and desktop icons comfortably, even with our bleary bifocal’d eyes. The combination of Fujitsu’s Crystal View gloss finish, crisp colors, and a consistent-from-edge-to-edge LED backlight was more than satisfactory — although, as with almost every notebook we try, we had to change the preset power-saving settings to keep the backlight sufficiently bright (in the top three of its eight brightness levels).

We were less thrilled with the P7230’s slightly cramped keyboard, but after some practice managed to maintain a good typing speed on the roughly 90-percent-sized layout. (According to Fujitsu, the keyboard offers an 18mm pitch and a shallow-but-okay 2mm key travel.)

Like many notebooks, the LifeBook uses a Fn or special shift key to let the cursor arrows double as Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys. The keyboard bats .500 on our pet peeve rating — the Fn key doesn’t usurp the Ctrl key’s proper place in the lower left corner, but the Delete key is tiny and located one place to the left of its rightful home in the top right corner.

The touchpad is scarcely more than postage-stamp-sized but works smoothly, although its left and right buttons are sized for fingertips instead of fingers.

Next to the handsome-blue-backlit power button is what Fujitsu calls the Eco button, a handy one-touch way to toggle the computer’s maximum power-saving mode. The latter not only halves the backlight but disables the CD/DVD drive, Ethernet, modem, and FireWire ports, and the PCMCIA and flash-memory-card slots. A separate switch below the keyboard turns the WiFi radio on and off. Bluetooth wireless is a $30 option, as is a webcam above the screen for video chats and conferences.

Sufficient Unto the Day
The modem and Gigabit Ethernet ports are at the rear of the notebook, with VGA (for an external monitor with up to 1,600 by 1,200 resolution), USB 2.0 and IEEE 1394 ports; microphone and headphone jacks; and the PC Card slot on the left. A second USB port is next to the Matsushita DVD±RW drive on the right side. A single slot for Memory Stick/Pro, SD, and xD flash cards is up front.

The optional port replicator offers desktop workers three USB 2.0 ports and S-Video and audio line-out ports along with Ethernet and VGA connectors. We think it’s a little overpriced at $120, especially since it separates from the PC too easily — the P7230 plugs into the replicator by simply lying on top of it, rather than locking or snapping into place.

The Fujitsu LifeBookP7230
The Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 packs five pounds of PC into a three-pound package.

If you’d like to upgrade the standard 1GB of DDR-2/533 memory to 2GB, you’ll need to pay $450 when ordering the LifeBook — with only one memory slot, it’s an either/or proposition instead of an addition. An 80GB instead of 60GB hard disk adds $100 to the bottom line. We were disappointed to find no WWAN or wireless broadband option listed on Fujitsu’s Web site.

Seeing the Core Solo U1400 processor’s 1.2GHz clock speed, 2MB of Level 2 cache, and 533MHz front-side bus won’t raise your expectations of blazing performance; nor will the 4,200-rpm Toshiba hard disk and Intel GMA 950 graphics. Subjectively, however, the LifeBook certainly feels perky enough for word processing and presentation work or e-mail and Web exploration.

Objectively, however, its most impressive benchmark performance is its Windows Vista Experience Index score of 2.7. Its other numbers are downright humble: Futuremark’s PCMark05 yielded a rating of 1,280 (CPU 1,799; memory 1,932; hard disk 2,282; graphics 539), well below the abovementioned Gateway E-100M with the same Core Solo CPU.

As for games and 3D graphics simulations, the LifeBook managed all of 7 frames per second in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and 6 fps in AquaMark3, with both of those too-old-for-cutting-edge programs set to XGA resolution. Its 3DMark06 score was a lowly 143. We should also note that the P7230’s cooling fan spent a majority of our testing time on instead of off; it’s not noisy enough to be a bother, but the left side of the notebook got noticeably warm.

Overall, while we’re eager to see a WWAN configuration, we think the P7230 is a worthy contender in the bantamweight laptop class. Its price is too high for impulse buying, but below that of its showy, slightly larger-screened competitor the Sony Vaio TX, and its choice of a swappable DVD burner or second battery will seal the deal for some travelers.


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