Fujitsu Siemens Celsius H230 review

£2099
Price when reviewed

If proof were needed that we’re past the days when workstation applications needed a £2,000+ graphics card, the Celsius H230 provides ample evidence.

The specification is immediately impressive. First off, there’s the latest and fastest-ever Pentium M 770 processor, running at a maximum speed of 2.13GHz. The Intel 915M Express chipset gives it the maximum bandwidth with which to work, with 533MHz DDR2 memory. There’s 2GB installed, with two 1GB SODIMMs giving dual-channel operation. The only component that isn’t quite on the bleeding edge is the hard disk – an 80GB Fujitsu. It is, however, a Serial ATA model, complete with an 8MB data buffer.

The 915 chipset also endows the Celsius with PCI Express, and it’s utilised by ATi’s newest mobile PCI Express workstation graphics, in the shape of a Mobility FireGL V5000 adaptor, with 256MB GDDR3 memory. This is a full-speed 16x PCI Express chipset, with eight pixel pipelines and six geometry engines.

Turning on the H230 for the first time and loading up a few test applications, we couldn’t quite work out why it felt so relaxing to use. But it soon dawned on us: the screen coating. This machine eschews the current trend for glossy screens in favour of a non-reflective panel. All you can see is your work: you’re not squinting and angling the screen differently to fight reflections, and this has a significant effect, reducing fatigue noticeably. This is just as well, since a 15in 1,600 x 1,200 resolution panel will be on the limits of usability for some – standard icon text is only about 2mm high. We can’t criticise Fujitsu Siemens for this, though: workstation applications demand the highest resolutions possible and you’ll be hard-pressed to get the benefit of complex development environments such as Visual Studio with anything less.

The chassis itself is only 3.2kg in weight and has the typically classy, restrained two-tone design of most Fujitsu Siemens notebooks. The keyboard feels relatively shallow but nonetheless reassuringly solid and fast. You don’t get too many novel hardware widgets, although there’s a hardware wireless power slider switch at the front, which simultaneously deactivates both the integrated 802.11b/g WLAN and Bluetooth for instant and complete peace of mind in public places. The touchpad is unremarkable, but placed correctly so that there’s no chance of brushing it with the heel of your hand while typing. There’s a trackpoint nestling in the centre of the keyboard too, which has a pleasant, light feel to it; we prefer it to IBM and Toshiba’s versions.

The raft of interfaces and connectors you’d expect on a machine of this level are present, and engineering and scientific equipment as well as server CLIs are catered for with the serial port that’s often lacking on modern notebooks. You’ll also find an ExpressCard slot in addition to the PC Card slot. The PCI Express-based ExpressCard standard is so new that there aren’t actually any devices on the market that we know of – you can’t get much more cutting-edge than that. In addition to three rear-mounted USB ports, there’s a fourth on the left-hand edge, making it easy to pop in an external mouse.

Performance-wise, the V5000 is a very impressive graphics chipset. A 100-frame animation of a 200,000-polygon scene rendered in preview mode under 3ds max 7 (which, unlike a production render, uses graphics hardware) finished in 26 seconds, as opposed to the 28 seconds of the Quadro FX Go1400 chipset in the SavRow Katana (see opposite). Subjectively, using 3D preview mode for modelling feels fast, but for anything more than moderately complex scenes we still found the need to drop some preview detail settings or use adaptive degradation to avoid that wading-in-treacle feel setting in. But that isn’t a criticism of the chipset, more an observation that no matter how fast the hardware, polygon counts and scene complexity tend to stay one step ahead.

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