Toshiba's new line of mainstream laptops manages to add just enough sizzle to keep things interesting, despite being released just weeks before Intel's Santa Rosa platform (and its new CPUs and chipsets) debut. The most interesting feature here is the laptop's built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi antenna. The tipping point may be fast approaching when it will be time to trade in that old 54g router for an 802.11n model. The $1,349 Toshiba Satellite A205-S4617, one of several preconfigured A205 models, also includes Harman Kardon speakers and a Labelflash DVD burner that can burn text and images onto your optical media. These high-end perks help the system stand out from the mainstream crowd and make it worth a look if you're specifically interested in any of them.
|Price as reviewed||$1,349|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB at 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 945GM (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.2x10.5x1.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / weight with AC adapter||6.2/6.9 pounds|
For a 15-inch laptop, the Satellite A205-S4617 looks and feels fairly slim, especially compared with bulkier mainstream systems such as the Dell Inspiron E1505. The A205's design lends it a more sophisticated look than that of the typical 15-inch laptop, such as the Inspiron E1505 or Toshiba's own Satellite A135-S4467. The most striking feature is the single, long hinge that runs almost the entire length of the display and feels sturdier than the typical two-hinge setup on most laptops. The dark-blue speckled lid has a high-gloss coating that makes it especially prone to fingerprints and smudges.
The system's slightly beveled edges make it seem slimmer than it is, although it does weigh nearly half a pound less than the Dell E1505 (and a little more than the A135). At just less than 7 pounds with the AC adapter, it's right at the weight that we wouldn't want to carry it around in a shoulder bag more than once in a while.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size and the same as the Toshiba A135. This provides for text and icons that are highly readable, and the screen is bright and stands out against the black screen bezel.
Blue LED lights on the front edge give you updates about battery status and hard drive activity, while a row of media control buttons (play/pause and so on) sit above the keyboard, between the stereo speakers. The speakers have a Harman Kardon logo next to them, which would seem to indicate a better-quality audio experience than standard laptop speakers. The sound quality indeed seemed bright and less brittle than typical laptop speakers--although some of that may be a placebo effect from the high-end logo.
|Toshiba Satellite A205-S4617||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card slot, ExpressCard slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Labelflash DVD burner||DVD burner|
As the above chart illustrates, the ports and connections on the Satellite A205 are in line with what we'd expect to see on a mainstream laptop. One exception is also one of the main highlights of the Satellite A205, the inclusion of 802.11n Wi-Fi technology; this is one of the first laptops we've seen to include that by default. Of course, you'll need a Draft N router to make use of the increased speed, and Toshiba will sell you one for an extra $139. Bluetooth, however, is not an option, which is disappointing.
The included DVD burner is a Labelflash drive, which means it can burn grayscale text and images onto specially coated media, which cost around $20 for a five-pack of DVD-R discs. It's essentially similar to HP's LightScribe drives, which do the same thing, also using proprietary media. We've seen some very professional-looking results from LightScribe discs in the past.
Toshiba offers several fixed-configuration versions of the Satellite A205, ranging from less than $1,000 to more than $1,500. A customizable version, called the Satellite A200, is also available. The $999 Satellite A205-S4577 is the cheapest of the A205 systems and skips the 802.11n action. Otherwise, the A200 features a fairly standard set of specs for the money, including an Intel Core 2 Duo T5300, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and a basic DVD burner (no Labelflash, either).
At the higher end, the $1,549 Satellite A205-S4639 upgrades from Vista Home Premium to Vista Ultimate, adds a second hard drive (it's only 280GB total, but the drives are of the faster, 5,400rpm variety), and more importantly, adds a Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card, which surpasses the integrated graphics in the other models.
The Toshiba Satellite A205-S4617 model that we tested beat out its corporate cousin, the Satellite A135, on our Photoshop CS2 image-processing and iTunes encoding tests, owing to the A205's slightly faster processor and 2GB of RAM (vs. 1GB in the A135). Both systems fell behind another 15.4-inch mainstream laptop, the Dell Inspiron E1505, which has a higher-end Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU but was also a more expensive configuration, coming in at around $400 more than the A205. Using the Satellite A205 for Web surfing, basic productivity, and media playback, it performed well, with no obvious slowdown or stuttering, which included during multitasking scenarios.
The Satellite A205-S4617 ran for 2 hours, 8 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's acceptable for a laptop of this size, but not as impressive as the Dell E1505, which lasted almost 30 minutes longer. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.