Editors' note: This review is part of our Back to School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
Toshiba's recently revamped Satellite line is most notable for its clever new Sleep-and-Charge feature, which lets you charge USB devices even if the laptop is powered off, and for being a relatively affordable 13-inch laptop, a size most closely associated with the popular MacBook line.
We liked the $1,150 Intel Core 2 Duo version we looked at back in April, and this fixed-configuration retail version, called the Satellite U405D-S2852, comes in even cheaper, at $949, but trades the CPU down to a 2.0 GHz AMD Turion X2 Mobile RM-70.
While we like the idea of charging our iPods overnight without having the system on, the U405 brought up the rear in almost all of our benchmark tests, including battery life, so there are clearly better options in the just-under-$1,000 category.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$949|
|Processor||2.0GHz AMD Turion X2 Mobile RM-70|
|Memory||3GB, PC6400 DDR2 SDRAM|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon 3100 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Ultimate|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.4 x 9.0 x 1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.6/5.5 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
Toshiba refers to the current Satellite design as a "Horizon" pattern in a "Fusion" finish, which basically means silver-gray and black pinstripes that combine for a distinct metallic sheen. It's a smart look that will work in both casual and professional settings, but the lid is far too fingerprint-prone, as are the glossy keyboard keys. We did, however, like that the touch pad is totally flush with the wrist rest--using a different, matte surface material for the touch pad, so you can still easily discern the active area.
Perhaps the most interesting new feature is something called Sleep-and-Charge, which means you can plug in and charge USB devices (iPods, mobile phones, and so on) even if the laptop is in sleep or hibernate mode, or is totally powered off, as long as it's plugged into an outlet. Most laptops provide power to USB ports only while they're turned on. Note that this feature is turned off by default for some reason, and you'll have to hunt around to figure out how to turn it on, as it's buried in a series of submenus. (Start > All Programs > Toshiba>Utilities > HWStup > USB).
The 13-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. We generally prefer matte finishes on laptops screens, but didn't mind the glossy display on the U405, as it seemed more resistant to excessive glare than other glossy screens.
|Toshiba U405D-S2852||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The ports and connections on the U405 are a bit on the skimpy side, with only two USB ports and only a VGA-out (there's labeled spot for an HDMI output, but it's plugged shut). There's no Bluetooth, either, but, surprisingly, there's an eSATA port for connecting an external hard drive.
In all the retail back-to-school laptops we've looked at, the systems with AMD CPUs have consistently underperformed Intel-powered laptops in the same price range. This was also true of the U405, which had a 2.0GHz AMD Turion X2 Mobile RM-70. Other systems in the same price range, such as the HP Pavilion dv6985 Special Edition, did better with a middle-of-the-road Intel Core 2 Duo T5750. You can see a trend looking at our charts, where the three AMD-based models in this price range finish at or toward the bottom of the charts, including battery life.
The Satellite U405 ran for 2 hours and 6 minutes on our video playback battery-drain test, which is near the bottom of the barrel among the eight mainstream-priced retail back-to-school laptops we've tested, and not terribly useful for a small 13-inch laptop that will probably be carried from class to class, or at least make extended visits to the library.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard, one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line and a reasonable detailed online knowledge base. Retail stores offer a variety of extended warranty plans with your laptop purchase, but they're generally expensive and hard to use, so we do not recommend them.