The time has come for more reasonably priced ultrabooks, and it seems like every Windows laptop manufacturer has one coming out this back-to-school season. Between the Dell Inspiron 14z, Asus Zenbook UX32A, Lenovo IdeaPad U310, and Sony Vaio T, ultrathin laptops have emerged bearing traditional hard drives and ultrabook-grade CPUs at prices as low as $700. Toshiba's first ultrabook to be classified as such was the Portege Z835; this year, its line has fragmented with the addition of the Satellite U845, a thicker 14-inch laptop that trades off price for size.
Or does it? The entry price for the Satellite U845 is as low as $699 with an Intel Core i3 processor, but our review version has an MSRP of $879. Laptops like the Inspiron 14z, IdeaPad U310, and Sony Vaio T are all less expensive for similar specs. Depending on where you buy the Satellite U845-S406, it can currently cost as little as $779, but that's still not bargain-basement: in fact, it's middle-of-the-pack for "budget" ultrabooks. Note: this isn't the same laptop as the Satellite U845W, a similarly named ultrabook with an ultrawide 21:9 screen and a different chassis design, but it has the same processor and specs under the hood, just in a more normal and generic design.
The Satellite U845-S406 does have a backlit keyboard and all the basic ports (Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, SD card slot), plus a slightly larger-than-average 14-inch screen, but it weighs more than a Toshiba Portege R935 (the CPU-upgraded update to the Portege R835 CNET has reviewed), even though the Portege R935 also includes an optical drive and a faster processor. Even more oddly, some models of the new Portege are more affordable.
Simply put, Toshiba has too many laptops, but that's an argument for a different day. The Satellite U845-S406 offers what amounts to, for mid-2012, a solid, standard set of ultrabook specs and features, but in a rather generically designed package, and not at a standout price. It doesn't stand out from its peers. I'd try to get one for as little as possible and pay down for the entry-level model. This type of laptop should cost $750, not $879.
|Starting price / Price as reviewed||$749 / $879|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB, 5,400rpm + 32GB SSD hybrid|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4x9.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.7 pounds / 4.3 pounds|
The best thing I can say about the Toshiba Satellite U845 is that it's clean and minimal -- qualities you don't often find in a Toshiba laptop, where glossy, textured metallic plastic and extra LED lights tend to reign. Silver plastic on the underside and brushed aluminum on the top lid and keyboard deck are understated. Open it up and you get glossy black plastic around the display, a raised keyboard and large clickpad beneath, and that's it except for a single round power button.
The Satellite U845 is not particularly light for an ultrabook (3.7 pounds) nor thin (0.8 inch), keeping within the guidelines for larger 14- and 15-inch ultrabooks set by Intel, but emerging as a heftier laptop than the average 13-incher. It's also heavier than the Toshiba Portege R935, a laptop that includes an optical drive and a faster CPU -- and, in some configurations, costs less. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Welcome to the wide world of Toshiba laptop configurations. (There are four different Satellite U845 configurations on Toshiba's Web site, but more on that later.)
With a laptop this basic -- as with many other ultrabooks and ultraportables -- a lot comes down to keyboard and touch-pad design. Both range from fair to good. The raised keyboard is backlit, and shares the same build as the Satellite U845W's keyboard. It also feels a little like a Portege's keyboard. The keys feel narrower than average for a laptop, and my fingers slipped on keys when speed-typing. Also, a column of Page Up/Down keys on the right cramps access to Shift and Enter, which I hate. Maybe it won't bother you as much.
The multitouch clickpad forgos discrete buttons to offer more finger room, but the click zone on the bottom of the matte pad is stiffer than usual, and I found it hard to press. The pad's Synaptics software picks up gestures well, and there's more surface area than on previous Satellites, but it's not as big a pad as you'd find on a MacBook, or even a Samsung Series 9 or Sony Vaio T.
The glossy 14-inch screen has a standard 1,366x768-pixel resolution, with no greater resolution options. That's not a big surprise. The Satellite U845's picture quality is average: not particularly bright at the brightest setting, while off-axis viewing angles deteriorated quickly. I also found the screen's glossy covering throwing a lot of glare in my office.
Stereo speakers, located under the bottom of the laptop, are decent and loud enough, but nowhere near the excellent quality of the Harman Kardon speakers in the $999 wide-screen Satellite U845W.
|Toshiba Satellite U845-S406||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone and microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, (w/power-off charge), 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
This Satellite U845 has all the necessary ports for a 2012 laptop: HDMI, a physical Ethernet jack (which was a little loose in our review sample), USB 3.0, an SD card slot, and Bluetooth, plus Intel Wireless Display compatibility. You don't get a DVD drive.
Toshiba offers four different configurations of the Satellite U845, starting at $749. That entry-level model has a third-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive with 16GB solid-state drive (SSD) cache for system files. Our $879 step-up model, the U845-S406, has a Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 32GB SSD cache on its 500GB hard drive. You can't venture any higher in configuration cost.
The 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor is a third-gen Intel Ivy Bridge CPU, the same processor that's appeared in a ton of other 2012 ultrabooks including the Satellite U845W-S410, the 13-inch Samsung Series 9, and the Dell Inspiron 14z. These laptops came out pretty evenly matched in our performance benchmarks, so close that they're nearly interchangeable. Intel's latest ultrabook processors, particularly the Core i5 series, are great for everyday computing, and even some video editing and media creation work. The Satellite U845 got warm on the bottom when streaming lots of Flash videos and keeping multiple applications open, however.