Fujitsu LifeBook S2000 Review

Thursday Feb 12th 2004 by Eric Grevstad

Most notebooks in the $1,300 price range are relatively big and heavy. Most notebooks in the 4-pound weight class have high price tags or small screens, or both. Can Fujitsu bridge the gap with a speedy, slimline notebook?

Hey, here's an idea: A computer that's portable, with a fold-down screen and built-in battery pack. No, it wouldn't be a desktop replacement, with a jumbo 16- or 17-inch display and sizzling desktop processor; it'd be relatively small and light, not a chore to carry in your briefcase, but not too small for a usable keyboard, either.

It might not have all the fanciest features like a DVD burner, but it'd have a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive built in, so you wouldn't need the hassle of external plug-in drives, and it'd have the latest 802.11g wireless networking. And it'd be affordably priced — say, $1,329. It'd be like — what's the word? — a notebook.

Okay, we're being a little facetious, but that's because Fujitsu Computer Systems' LifeBook S2000 seems almost a little retro these days. In an age of heavyweight desktop-replacement designs, the S2000 is a downsized slimline system — not as small or skinny as ultralights like Sony's Vaio TR or Fujitsu's own LifeBook P series, but priced less, and with a larger 13.3-inch screen.

Its AMD Athlon XP-M 2000+ (1.53GHz) CPU — a recent speed bump from the original model's XP-M 1700+ — and ATI Radeon IGP 320M integrated graphics won't set the world on fire, but deliver perfectly fine performance for on-the-road office applications. And at 4.3 pounds (9.3 by 11.5 by 1.4 inches), the LifeBook is perfectly comfortable in a briefcase or lap or on an airline tray table. Even its AC adapter is compact and attractive (12 ounces).

Choose Your CPU
Chipwise, the LifeBook S2000 is the slightly more economical sibling of the LifeBook S6000, which puts Intel's Pentium M Centrino platform into the same 13.3-inch-screened package. The Athlon XP-M 2000+ proved a worthy alternative, racking up benchmark results roughly in line with Pentium M/1.3 through /1.5 notebooks we've tested, if not quite up to Pentium M/1.7 portables: FutureMark's PCMark 2002 scored it at 4,096 (CPU), 2,465 (memory), and 411 (hard disk), with PCMark04 posting an overall score of 1,846 (2,236 CPU, 1,177 memory, 1,840 hard disk, and 473 graphics). The Fujitsu crunched through our BAPCo SysMark 2002 application test with an overall rating of 137 (Internet Content Creation 191, Office Productivity 98).

All these numbers indicate better-than-adequate performance for everyday work, if not for video editing or 3D game playing: At the display's native 1,024 by 768 resolution, the ATI integrated graphics strolled through the old Quake III Arena and newer Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory demos at all of 31 and 8 frames per second, respectively. The LifeBook's lame score of 85 in 3DMark03 is surpassed only by its GFX rating of 153 in the free version of AquaMark3 — to its credit, the system completed the latter benchmark in its entirety, but its speed of 1.5 fps left it a close second to plate tectonics.

Fujitsu LifeBook S2000At This Price, You Can Afford a Few Options
The graphics chipset borrows 16MB of the standard 256MB of system memory, so we think it'd be smart to order more DDR266 at purchase time — a second 256MB module is $50 extra, or you can configure the system with 1GB of memory for $350. Similarly, the 40GB, 4,200-rpm Hitachi hard disk can be replaced with a 60GB model for an extra $70.

The Toshiba combo drive on the LifeBook's right side is an 8X DVD-ROM and 24/10/24X CD-RW unit. At the left, you'll find microphone and headphone jacks and one PC Card slot; VGA, Ethernet, modem, infrared, one IEEE 1394, and two USB 2.0 ports are at the rear. Atheros' 802.11g chipset provides both 54Mbps and fallback 11Mbps wireles networking.

The S2000 doesn't have multimedia control or play-CDs-with-the-screen-closed buttons as many larger laptops do nowadays, though it comes with a handy software CD player (but predictably small and tinny stereo speakers).

Four buttons (plus a fifth Enter button) above the keyboard serve as customizable launchers for programs such as Calculator and Internet Explorer; if you read an Adobe Acrobat how-to file that reveals how to launch a configuration utility, the buttons also let you specify a security combination that prevents thieves or snoops from turning on, much less accessing, the computer.

The keyboard itself combines a good typing feel with an ever-so-slightly-cramped layout; a Fn key doubles with the cursor arrows in lieu of real Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys, and the arrows, left Ctrl key, and function and Delete keys are puny. A handy vertical scroller rests between the touchpad's mouse buttons, though the Synaptics touchpad and driver seemed a bit more balky or sticky to us than rival Alps touchpads we've tried.

A Right-Sized Screen
We won't go so far as to say that 12.1 inches is too small, 14.1 inches too big, and 13.3 just right — not only are we not Goldilocks, but we've written many times how we enjoy the view with 14.1- or 15.0-inch displays on full-sized notebooks, and even larger LCDs on desktop replacements.

But the LifeBook's 13.3-inch display is an excellent compromise for a small and light system, yielding sharp text and images with no bad pixels even to our middle-aged eyes (although we found only the top two of the eight brightness settings to be sufficient). Again, its good-old-XGA instead of wide-aspect-ratio resolution hints at the S2000's status as a productivity rather than letterboxed-entertainment machine, though Fujitsu supplies InterVideo's WinDVD and RecordNow along with Microsoft Works 7.0, Quicken 2003 New User Edition, Norton AntiVirus 2003, and Windows XP Home Edition.

If you're going on a trip and can live without watching DVDs or burning CDs, the LifeBook's modular bay provides a bonus — the ability to swap the optical drive for a second battery pack (a $116 option). That's especially tempting because the standard lithium-ion pack proved to be a bit of a disappointment — we repeatedly managed only an hour and a half or an hour and 40 minutes of real-world work before running out of juice.

On the other hand, while you can readily find notebooks with better battery life than the Fujitsu, most of them are bigger and heavier, and while you can find lightweights with longer life and fancier features (again, Sony's Vaio TR models come to mind), they invariably cost a lot more. The LifeBook S2000 isn't a flashy performer, but it's worth a look for travelers who put the emphasis on portability and affordability.

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