The desktop replacement category at the high end is heating up faster than a stuffed chicken in a nuclear reactor, and now Fujitsu is entering the fray with the Lifebook N6460. Amongst all the monster "laptops" from HP, Dell and Toshiba, there's been a heavy focus on multimedia and power, and to a degree, the Fujitsu does well here -- the speakers, lack of Bluetooth and price being the only things that truly cripple it.
This machine doesn't make any attempt to insult your intelligence by being needlessly pretty or "personalised" (can something be personalised if it's mass produced? Perhaps that's what Apple's engraving deal is all about). As a result, it's big, it's grey, it's well built, it's non offensive, but neither is it inspiring.
A full sized keyboard and separated numpad lets you know you're in desktop replacement land, other than the obvious 17-inch 1,440 x 900 resolution glossy screen which rightfully dominates the view.
Ports dot the left, right and rear, but wisely there is nothing on the front. The air vent at the rear means no hands will be cooked while using external mouses.
This is where a large notebook will always do well, due to the amount of extra space inherent in such a venture.
The N6460 features both Express Card 54 and PCMCIA Type I/II, and comes laden with five USB ports meaning that it should be able to support most add on hardware. Above the Express card slot is a card reader, servicing SD, XD and Memory Stick/Pro formats.
The included Firewire port, composite in, RCA audio in, S-Video in/out, VGA and HDMI ports means that most of your video needs are covered as well, and since it uses a Radeon 2600 as a graphics card, the HDMI port will carry sound over it as well, unlike a lot of other HDMI solutions. The Radeon 2600 isn't too crash hot as a gaming card, but will fill the gap in a pinch.
The video fun doesn't stop here, as it comes with a TV tuner as well, relying on Windows Media Center to show the result. Fortunately, for recording Cyberlink's PowerProducer is also available, and for watching back your Blu-Ray movies PowerDVD is included as well.
A rebranded version of PC-Doctor is a welcome hardware testing application, for when you're trying to hunt down that elusive problem you just can't solve.
Gigabit Ethernet and a dial-up modem are featured at the back with wireless A/G/N available as well. Bizarrely for the current market no Bluetooth adaptor is installed.
A fingerprint reader doubles as a scroll wheel, but isn't terribly accurate, leaving you to use the much better trackpad scrolling option.
The circle situated at the top near the screen is actually a four way button -- hit the side labelled "A" and it makes a vastly annoying sprite type sound and loads notepad. Hit "B" and you get the same annoying sound, but calculator pops up instead. The other sides bring up your browser and mail client. All the buttons can fortunately be customised to launch the application of your choice, although shutting up the sound is a little less intuitive, requiring you to click on a button labelled "Application registration" click the "Next" button and then check "Do no replay sound" [sic]. Pressing the mode button next to the circle switches it to a media control, play, pause, stop and seek buttons lighting up.
A button marked "Visual Optimizer" sits to the left of the control circle, and flips between "Video Mode" and "PC Mode", although we could never spot any difference while playing back DVDs or during ordinary tasks.
To the left again is a volume control -- odd as the function keys for volume control are still included on the keyboard itself -- and a switch to turn the wireless adaptor on and off.
Annoyingly the speakers had a propensity to occasionally squeal due to hard drive activity when they weren't in use, and while there was a subwoofer on the bottom, it didn't seem to contribute largely to the overall sound. The speakers being placed at the front of the notebook was also a poor design decision, as the sound is muffled when you type.
The N6460 did well in the benchmarks though, busting out a respectable 3630 on 3DMark06, and an equally respectable 5170 in PCMark05.
For battery life things were a bit grim as they always are with desktop replacements, clocking in at a tiny 31 minutes and 36 seconds while playing back a DVD, all power saving options turned off and all settings pushed to maximum. While this is a particularly gruelling test, it shows that you won't want to take this thing away from the wall for too long. The space in which you can insert a battery is limited as well, meaning the possibility of upgrading to a juicier battery has been effectively nixed.
This is also a notebook you don't want on your lap -- it gets far too hot far too quickly. Interestingly Fujitsu's unique heat pads usually included on the bottom also aren't present -- perhaps the intent was that it would never be on your lap.
It's ruggedly built and is a decent performer, but at AU$5,299 it's a little hard to recommend in the face of its competition. Even on the street the average price is around AU$4,600 at the time of writing, for which one can pick up a Dell XPS M1730 with the same processor and Blu-ray drive that has not one, but two superior 8700M graphics cards, a Webcam, a higher resolution screen (1920 x 1200), Bluetooth and a nine-cell battery. You sacrifice draft-N wireless networking, HDMI/VGA (both of which can be converted from the DVI port anyway), the subwoofer and the video-in ports as a result, but this is a sacrifice we'd be willing to make.
Similarly HP's monster 20-inch notebook, the HDX9004 comes in around the same street price, despite having an RRP AU$700 higher and being significantly larger.
Sony's VAIO VGNAR49G manages to be more expensive (RRP AU$5,499, and not much better on the street), while offering less on some specs (no wireless N, slower processor, less USB ports) and punches through in other areas (higher resolution screen, Webcam, Bluetooth, superior graphics card, more attractive design). Sony, like Apple has a reputation for pushing prices higher than anyone else though, so perhaps this is not the best example.
In saying that, video enthusiasts may well leap for the N6460's video in ports and HDMI out that also carries sound, although we suspect this will be a restricted market.
Fujitsu offers a two-year nationwide pick up and return warranty, with parts and labour inclusive.