Fujitsu LifeBook A512 budget laptop review

Fujitsu LifeBook A512

The Fujitsu LifeBook A512 is a budget laptop that stands out because it is designed for business use. But that doesn't restrict it to just the office, as its build and specification can still be of interest to anyone looking for a cheap laptop. Pre-installed with Windows 7 Professional, it also recommends itself to workers or home users that are steering clear of Windows 8. (For more, see: Best budget laptops 2014.)

It's a budget design and a conservative choice at that. At 36 mm thick, it out-slabs even Asus' desktop replacement 17-incher, and tips the balances at just over 2.4 kg. That's not untypical for 15-inch laptops in recent memory, but somehow seems even heavier here, we'd guess because of the chunky proportions.

Build quality is tougher than much of the competition at this price, tough-feeling black plastic throughout with an eggshell patina that should shrug off daily use.

Underneath the laptop is a useful layout of trap doors, through which it is much simpler to access the key areas of hard disk, memory and wireless card. The decent capacity 48 Wh battery is also easily removable.

Running around the front and sides of the top deck is a silvery band, but don't be fooled – this affectation is also just plastic trim.

Further evidence that the LifeBook has been built for professional use can be found with the display open for business. The 15.6-inch display has a matt anti-glare finish to help its use in a typical office, although its low resolution of just 1366 x 768 is the minimum to just get by before text and images become really blurry.

Comfort level is one of the best on test, thanks to a superior keyboard with more satisfying action, still quiet and responsive to the touch. It's listed as spill-resistant too, a popular touch for business laptops that must withstand accidents from rushed beverages.

The trackpad is from an older era of Windows laptops, that is to say small at just 85 x 47 mm, but most importantly it was accurate in use; and with proper click buttons below too. The trend for buttonless trackpads was started by Apple, but Windows copyists rarely include the intelligent software required to differentiate between your fingers clicking, and your fingers simply steering near the bottom edge.

Around the sides is some evidence of an older model too – all three USB ports are the slow USB 2.0 type; and we also find an ExpressCard 34 slot, which is no longer a popular way to expand connectivity. Video outputs run to VGA and HDMI.

On main processor duties is an Intel Core i3 dual-core part, clocked at 2.3 GHz and with Hyper Threading Technology to better performance. But note that this is a two-year old Ivy Bridge generation processor. As this laptop doesn't include any discrete graphics, it must rely on the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 solution, which is more limited in power than the 5000 generation in current chips. The choice of CPU also means slower memory, 1333 MHz rather than 1600 MHz, which could hold back system speed slightly.

For wireless, the Wi-Fi is limited to single-band operation but at least uses two antennae to give 2x2 MIMO, which usually begets increased range and performance on that one 11n band. We borrowed our test laptop from eBuyer.

Fujitsu LifeBook A512: Lab test

It may be running an obsolete Intel chip, but in simple application performance the Ivy Bridge series does not want much for power. The single- and multi-core scores from Geekbench 3 place it roughly on par with the Haswell-powered Asus X751L with its 1.7 GHz Core i3 processor, showing how new chips will perform as well with lower clock speeds, leading to better battery life.

The results from Futuremark benchmark tests were not so comparable, with sub-2000 point results in PCMark 7 and PCMark 8 Home. And the Fujitsu was unable to run the PCMark 8 Work test in our usual GPU-accelerated mode; we tried it again in conventional CPU-only mode, where it recorded a slightly improved 2030 points.

With its slower HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics chipset, it was little surprise that Windows games would be less well supported. Our two games tests at easiest settings each returned average framerates of 26 fps; but in the case of the Batman test, minimum framerate was recorded at just 1 fps, suggesting that the game would effectively freeze at times of peak screen-action demand.

Screen quality is poor. In our tests it had an sRGB colour gamut of only 72 percent, albeit a step up from the mid-50s gamut figures we see in the dismal low-grade panels used by budget laptops we have tested recently from Acer, HP and Lenovo. Contrast ratio was also poor at just 90:1, but with a matt anti-glare screen finish you will at least not have to fight reflections to appreciate the limited image quality.

The larger-than-average 48 Wh battery failed to demonstrate decent battery life. In our standard looped-video test it ran for just over 90 minutes before shutting down. We did note that the default power plan set up by Fujitsu instructs the machine to hibernate at 10 percent battery level, so tweaking this may give a few more minutes runtime. Also see: How to choose a budget laptop.

Fujitsu LifeBook A512: Lab test

Runtime: 1 hr 33 min
Contrast ratio: 90:1
Colour gamut sRGB: 72 %
Geekbench single: 1766
Geekbench multi: 3938
PC Mark 7: 1535
PCMark 8 Home: 1630
PCMark 8 Work: DNR
Batman: Arkham City 1280 x 720, Low: 26
Batman: Arkham City 1366 x 768, Med: 22

Also see: Best laptops 2014 and Best gaming laptops 2014.

Fujitsu LifeBook A512: Specs

  • Windows 7 Professional
  • 15.6-inch (1366 x 768, 100 ppi) matt TN LCD
  • 2.3 GHz Intel Core i3-3110M (2C/4T)
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3
  • 320 GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
  • DVD±RW
  • 3x USB 2.0
  • single-band 802.11b/g/n 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • HDMI, VGA
  • SDXC, MS Pro
  • ExpressCard 34
  • removable 48 Wh lithium-ion
  • 378 x 251 x 36.2 mm 2411 g
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • 15.6-inch (1366 x 768, 100 ppi) matt TN LCD
  • 2.3 GHz Intel Core i3-3110M (2C/4T)
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3
  • 320 GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
  • DVD±RW
  • 3x USB 2.0
  • single-band 802.11b/g/n 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • HDMI, VGA
  • SDXC, MS Pro
  • ExpressCard 34
  • removable 48 Wh lithium-ion
  • 378 x 251 x 36.2 mm 2411 g

OUR VERDICT

Very short battery life recommend this laptop to a life on the mains leash, although its older IO, low-res screen and chunky build still make it hard to get excited about this dated design. In its favour are relatively easy memory and drive upgrades, fairly fast main processor and an anti-glare display.

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