How little can you get away with spending on a midsize 15-inch laptop? According to Toshiba, it's $399, the price of the 15.6-inch Satellite C655-S5542.
Of course, a few corners are cut at that price. Most importantly, this laptop doesn't have an Intel Core i3 or i5 CPU, not even last year's version. Instead, it has an Intel Celeron B815, a dual-core chip that runs at 1.6GHz. Yes, Intel still makes Celeron chips (and Atom chips, as well), although it's hard to think of a situation where we'd strongly recommend one.
Standard Core i3 i5 systems can be found for not too much more -- Lenovo has some good deals on its Essential G570, currently $499 for a Core i3 model and $559 for a Core i5. Either would be a much better mid- to long-term investment. Usually when playing in price ranges this low, I'd suggest looking at an 11-inch ultraportable, such as HP's dm1z, where the limited performance would feel more reasonable.
To be fair, the Satellite C655-S5542 runs, if slowly, and even plays back HD video. For simple e-mail and Facebook-surfing, it'll suffice, and I found its battery life was surprisingly good (not that it has any high-end components to power).
|Price as reviewed||$399|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Celeron B815|
|Memory||3GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15x9.8 inches|
|Height||1.1 - 1.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.1 pounds / 5.8 pounds|
We often joke about other unattractive, plastic, cheap-feeling laptops, but the Satellite C655 could make them all run up a tree. This is essentially identical to previous versions of the C655 we reviewed in 2011 and 2010. Back then, we said it was "remarkably pedestrian and generic-looking from a design standpoint," and noted that "a thick overall case design and a distressing amount of flex on the sides and at the seams along the front edge of the palm rest make this laptop uninspiring to behold."
All those points remain true, with an additional caveat. The past six months or so have seen a real trend toward better designs, materials, and workmanship in even inexpensive laptops, thanks in large part to reasonably priced ultrabooks, making this system look and feel even more low-budget.
Its keyboard has wide, flat keys that run up against each other, in sharp contrast to the island-style keys found on nearly every other current laptop (including Toshiba's other models). The keys feel shallow and clacky, with a lot of flex near the middle of the keyboard, but key size and overall placement are good. A separate number pad sits to the right of the keyboard, which probably counts as a featured "extra" on a $399 laptop.
For a 15-inch laptop, the touch pad was surprisingly small, although two-finger gestures were a lot zippier than I expected. The left and right mouse buttons are large, together being wider than the pad itself, but their convex plastic shape wobbles under even light clicking.
The 15.6-inch display has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for 13-inch and smaller laptops, as well as less expensive 14- and 15-inch ones. It handled HD video streaming well, and off-axis viewing was better than expected, but don't expect much from the tiny stereo speakers.
|Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Don't expect too many, or really even any, frills on the Satellite C655. Forget about USB 3.0, Bluetooth, or Intel Wireless Display -- there isn't even an HDMI port. You can live without the other ports and connections, but the lack of HDMI is frankly shocking in a 2012 laptop, and means it'll be hard to get content onto another screen if you're using this as a cheap multimedia playback device.
You might expect the 1.6GHz Intel Celeron B815 CPU in this system to come in dead last in any of our CNET Labs benchmarks. That's actually not the case, and the C655 did well in our single-app tests. But, keep in mind that that's because we kept the competition reasonable. In this price range, you're likely to find laptops with AMD's A4 CPU, or for a little more, an Intel Core i3.
Confine the comparisons to systems in that general ballpark, and the Toshiba C655 seems usable, but keep in mind a mainstream Core i5 can run our multitasking test nearly three times as fast. In anecdotal use, the C655 often felt sluggish, especially when opening Windows menus and performing system tasks. Yes, it'll work for basic office and online work, but I suspect those extra seconds spent waiting will eventually become extremely aggravating.
This is clearly not a laptop intended for even basic gaming, nor does it claim to be. In our Street Fighter IV test, at the native 1,366x768-pixel resolution, the game ran at an unplayable 10.7 frames per second.