If there's one thing we've noticed, it's that PC manufacturers have an unhealthy affinity to pandas. Asus started it all with the bamboo-clad EcoBook concept, followed by Dell with its wood-effect small form-factor PC. The latest to join the panda brigade is Fujitsu Siemens. Okay, so its Amilo Pi 3540 has absolutely jack squat to do with pandas, but it is black and white -- and that's good enough for our hyperactive imaginations. You can buy one of these stylish 15.4-inch multimedia work
pandashorses now for a measly £700.
The Amilo Pi 3540 isn't just black and white -- like real pandas, it's really rather cute. The white lid, wrist rest and contrasting black screen bezel may prompt some people to compare it to an Apple MacBook, but not us. We're way too sensible to liken two objects just because they're the same colour.
Colour aside, there are several things we like about the Pi 3540's design. It has front-facing audio jacks, making it easy to connect a set of headphones. The headphone port even doubles as a digital S/PDIF jack so you can output a surround-sound signal to a set of compatible external speakers. There's also a front-facing memory card slot, and a 1.3-megapixel webcam, with array mics on either side of it. These allow the laptop to more clearly pick up voice commands in noisy areas, although whether you'd want to speak to your laptop in public is another issue altogether.
Fujitsu Siemens may have got plenty right with the design of the Pi 3540, but it also got some things wrong. There are only 3 USB ports, for a start. It's not as if the laptop's not big enough to accommodate more -- even Eee PCs have 3. One of these ports doubles as an e-SATA port, so if you are one of the few people that owns an e-SATA device, you're resigned to having just two available USB ports. It is possible to buy a USB hub on the cheap, but why not install a decent number of ports in the first place?
Now our little rant's over, we can talk about some of the other cool features. The mouse trackpad is very comfortable, and the keyboard feels fantastic to type on. It's also spill-proof, which is good news for pathologically clumsy users who don't like being electrocuted by their laptop.
The Pi 3540 is a Centrino 2 laptop, so it promises strong, efficient performance. £699 buys you a fairly nippy Intel Core 2 Duo 8400 CPU running at 2.26GHz, and 4GB of 800MHz DDR RAM. However, because the PI 3540 uses the 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium edition, only 3GB of RAM is available for use. Pah.
Experience teaches us that you should never expect powerful graphics performance in a laptop costing less than £1,000, and the Pi 3540 reinforces this theory. Its Nvidia GeForce 9300M graphics card is designed more for thin-and-light laptops than high-end gaming rigs, and though it'll run 3D applications, it can best be described as middle of the road.
The 9300M is capable of high-definition video playback. It sports Nvidia's PureVideo HD engine, which is designed specifically to produce crisp, smooth HD movies. Fujitsu Siemens has thrown in a decent-sized 320GB hard drive to help you get your collection started, although after you amass around 300 or so videos, you may need to attach an external hard drive via one of the two USB ports. Alternatively, you can create disc backups using the dual-layer DVD rewriter.
The Pi 3540 has an optional Blu-ray drive, but we wouldn't advise watching films directly on the integrated 15.4-inch display. It's very glossy, which makes it too reflective to be used in daylight. In addition, the vertical viewing angle is horribly limited and the backlight uneven. We found ourselves constantly tilting it back and forth trying to get a decent picture. On a similar note, the integrated speaker system on the Pi 3540 is utterly useless. It's simply not loud enough to hear anything unless you have the laptop within 30cm of your face.
The Pi 3540 is a Centrino 2 laptop, so it benefits from excellent wireless connectivity. 802.11b and g networks are supported, as is 802.11n high-speed. Software is pretty impressive, too. You get the Microsoft Works productivity suite, which includes word processing, spreadsheet and database applications, plus you get a copy of Nero Essentials S to help you write CDs and DVDs.
Despite being a Centrino 2 laptop with a relatively fast CPU, the Pi 3540 is an average performer. It clocked a mere 2,380 in PCMark 2005, which is pretty lame considering the similarly priced Samsung Q210 racked up 5,184. 3D performance isn't so hot either. It scored 2,259 in 3DMark 2006 which, to its credit, is a tiny bit better than the Samsung.
Battery life is pretty average, too. It lasted 1 hour 30 minutes in our CPU-intensive Battery Eater test, and 2 hours 35 minutes in the less intensive reader test. That's pretty lame compared to the 3 hours 14 minutes and 5 hours 28 minutes achieved by the Q210.
We have to give props to Fujitsu Siemens for the Pi 3540's extremely quiet operation. You can barely hear the thing when it's running -- and that's nothing to do with the gimmicky 'quiet mode' button above the keyboard, which seems to serve absolutely no purpose.
The Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Pi 3540 is a fairly average laptop with above-average looks. It doesn't excel in any particular area, but it is pretty affordable, so for that it earns our respect. However, if you're after a faster, lighter, longer-lasting -- albeit uglier -- Centrino 2 laptop, you'll be better off with the Samsung Q210.
Edited by Nick Hide