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At some point, the desktop form factor was deemed too restrictive to be useful, so all the major PC manufacturers jumped on the portable bandwagon. Now even 15.4-inch laptop models are being sold as desktop replacements. If they planned on just using them at desks, why didn't they just make desktops smaller and offer an optional battery and handle?
The A200 is a strange beast, straddling the line between notebook, desktop, productivity and gaming, but because of this odd mix -- and while it's a fairly solid machine -- it doesn't really do any one task particularly outstandingly when put head-to-head with single-function specialist products.
The A200's feature set weighs in at around the middle of the pack with its 1.73GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory and a 5,400rpm 120GB hard disk drive. Granted to hit its modest AU$1,799 price point, sacrifices have been made, but it still represents good value for what's in the box. Unfortunately the first thing we noticed was that the system memory comes in a two by 512MB configuration, meaning those wanting to run 2GB for Vista will have no option but to junk both DIMMs and purchase two 1GB replacements to get to their goal.
Graphics are taken care of by NVIDIA's GeForce G7300 card, a step above Intel's own integrated product, and enough to run the Vista Aero interface, but pretty average for anything more intensive. The machine returned a score of 655 under 3DMark, and given Toshiba sells it as a desktop replacement primarily designed to sit powered by mains, something with a bit more grunt even at a greater price would have been more appreciated. If graphics are your biggest motivating factor, The PSPBGA-01X015 version of the A200 includes the bigger brother NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 for better 3D performance.
Because of its sub AU$2,000 price tag, this model forgoes flashy features like a next-gen optical format such as HD-DVD or Blu-ray. It's not strictly a gaming PC, but you shouldn't have any trouble running less demanding games from the last few years on it.
Like most consumer notebooks it includes a 1.3-megapixel digital camera built into the lid facing the user, a bit big brother, but handy for video conferencing with family and friends or recording YouTube clips of that cute thing your pet does that no one cares about.
Toshiba throws in a biometric fingerprint reader for added security; it's not a deal signer, but it is a nice little extra for the security conscious, or those with bad memories for passwords.
The chassis is finished in a two-tone silver/black combination. The top of the lid is finished in a glossy bluish metallic paint and while attractive is a real fingerprint catcher.
Rather than being hinged by the top edge of the lower clam-shell as is often done, it's attached at the desk level and as a result means there's no room for rear I/O ports. The A200 isn't particularly legacy friendly (which isn't a huge loss unless you're still using with parallel printers or serial mice -- and if you are, get with the times!)
The left hand side of the chassis houses your video options with VGA and S-Video out, Ethernet port, two USB ports, a 4-pin FireWire connector and Express Card slot. The right has an additional two USB ports and the DVD burner optical drive. The latter ports are particularly handy for right-handed mousers looking to plug in an external device for long desk use sessions.
The touchpad while responsive is just a tad too small given all the unutilised space above the keyboard where the speakers and quick launch buttons live.
The screen is coated with a glossy finish, and does a good job showing off Vista's new user interface. Movies look great, although turning down the lights exposed some nasty contrast ratio and viewing angle issues with the display.
Returning just shy of 3300 PCMarks, it offers solid day-to-day functionality, and would suit office productivity applications and play on the side.
While the DVD playback was quite good in ambient lighting, dipping the lights accentuated the flaws in its contrast ratio and viewing angle -- blacks not quite true and some detail that went missing in poorly lit scenes if you tilted your head too far. That said, this model does offer something we can't often say about notebooks -- it has exceptionally good quality sound for a portable. We're pleased to say it lacks that horrible tinny sound we've come to expect, instead producing a clear and sharp movie soundtrack.
Given this product is designed to spend its life perched on a desk, with the option of portability; we didn't hold huge hopes for the battery run time. At maximum brightness and performance the A200 ran for just over an hour and a half, well short of finishing our DVD movie test. Dropping the display brightness to minimum (which is still quite easily read) and giving the unit an easier reader test yielded an extra hour, for a total of two and a half hours of run time. It's not stellar, but does offer enough juice to get some work or play done on the go.
In the end it tries to be everything to everyone, but trips over in all but a productivity setting. The A200 won't be winning any awards in the performance stakes anytime soon, but that's not what it's designed to do. It's not quite a gaming machine with only a small step above integrated graphics. The memory is about as little as you'd want to run Vista and does present an upgrade challenge, but for the cost it's a good all-rounder with plenty to offer those on a budget.