Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Holiday Roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: especially in this economy, it's hard to hate a laptop that only costs $330. It's even harder to hate a Windows 7 laptop that costs that much. The Toshiba L455-S5975 is, by at least 50 dollars, the least expensive notebook computer in our 2009 holiday retail laptop roundup. Less expensive than many Netbooks, the L455 sounds too good to be true for a computer with a 15.6-inch screen and Microsoft's newest OS. And, to some extent, it is. Starting with a shape that comes from a time machine dialed to 10 years ago to an underpowered Celeron processor inside--the very same Celeron that we've already seen before in the last retail roundup--the L455 won't ever be confused for anything other than a bargain.
We thought the L455-S5975 looked familiar, and it turns out we weren't crazy. The Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955 (you have to love Toshiba's naming conventions) had nearly the same specs. The L455 does have a larger hard drive, at 250GB, as well as the aforementioned Windows 7 Premium, and a massive 15.6-inch, 16x9 screen.
While this laptop is fine for basic e-mail, media-viewing, music-playing, and other simple tasks, we wouldn't recommend it for any sort of multitasking or serious multimedia. It was a dinosaur before, and it's even more of a dinosaur now processor-wise, but Windows 7 does run fine on it, and, all things considered, this could be the sort of bargain a low-expectations consumer is looking for.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$330|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Celeron 900|
|Memory||2GB, DDR2 800 MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.1 inches wide by 10.5 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.8 / 6.5 pounds|
The next question you may have is, "Why wouldn't I just buy a Netbook?" To that, we answer: it depends on whether a larger screen and keyboard matter to you. Netbooks are considerably more portable, and many newer Netbooks have enhanced GPUs like the Nvidia Ion that can handle HD graphics quite well. On the other hand, although many Netbooks are getting larger screens and keyboards, they still have compromised keyboard sizes and small screens that might be too limiting. One previous "advantage" in laptops' favor--that full-fledged laptops ran Windows Vista while Netbooks came with Windows XP--has been equalized, as even new Netbooks now have Windows 7.
Before buying, ask yourself what you're using this laptop for. Large laptops carry a different set of expectations than Netbooks do. Many users expect larger laptops--no matter how low-powered or inexpensive--to behave more-or-less like standard mainstream systems.
The L455-S5975 will never be confused for a Netbook from the outside--at 1.5 inches thick, it's larger than many multimedia laptops--and the matte, gray-silver, plastic chassis feels like a throwback to laptops from years past. On the other hand, at least it's not fingerprint-prone. There's a full-size keyboard with tapered keys, a power button, and that's it--all other media controls are accomplished with function key combinations. Volume control, like with the similar Toshiba L505D-S5965, is operated via a wheel at the front of the laptop, under the touch pad. As far as the touch pad goes, it's flat, gray, and perfectly standard. Two large and slightly clunky buttons lie below it.
The 15.6-inch LCD glossy screen has a resolution of 1,366x768, which is standard for an inexpensive mainstream laptop. Unlike its predecessor, the L305, the L455 has a 16x9 screen. When displaying streaming videos and playing games, it looked sharp but a little more washed-out at extreme angles than an LED-backlit display.
|Toshiba Satellite L455-S5975||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
You can count the port features on one hand: thee USB 2.0 jacks, a basic VGA output, and an SD card slot. It seems like someone was listening to us over at Toshiba, since we wished for that SD card slot over an ExpressCard in its last retail cheapie, the L305-S5955. There is no Webcam--an omission that's hardly surprising in such a low-cost model.
The Celeron 900 is an older, bottom-line Intel processor, and we'd have a hard time recommending it to anyone for mainstream computing needs. Its multitasking performance is terrible, since it's a single-core processor; basic office work and Web browsing plus e-mail and occasional media browsing are about all that can be expected. Even worse, the L455 performed slightly worse in our benchmark tests than the previously middling L305-S5955. It's better than a basic Netbook, but not by much. Still, our anecdotal use of the L455-S5975 yielded acceptable results for basic tasks. Streaming video worked well, as long as the video was lower-resolution and not full-screen--480p Hulu streams in full-screen were stutter-filled. Non-streaming video played better than on Netbooks lacking Nvidia Ion GPUs. The L455 is poor at multitasking, and not much better at single-tasking.
|Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)|
|Raw kWh Number||42.56|
|Annual Energy Cost||$4.83|
The L505D-S5965's battery life was the biggest clunker, though: it lasted only through 1 hour and 47 minutes of video playback using our CNET battery drain test. This fall's L305 did better using the same low-power Celeron processor, which is surprising and disappointing. In this day and age, less than two hours of battery life is just plain poor, especially for a mainstream laptop. Having the worst battery life and processor performance combo in our retail roundup certainly doesn't help its appeal any.