Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
It's hard to hate a laptop that only costs $350. Indeed, decent televisions weren't even this cheap half a decade ago. The first question that pops into one's head when confronted with such an absurdly low number is, "What am I getting for that?" The second question is, "Can I get away with owning one?"
Toshiba's bottom-of-the-line entry-level laptop in our 2009 Back-to-School roundup is the cheapest machine in this collection, and that bears some attention. In fact, $350 is even cheaper than many Netbooks. For a 15.4-inch laptop, what comes under the hood? Last year's L305-S5875, which cost $675 and was housed in a nearly identical case, came with a 200GB hard drive, 3GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 1.86GHz Pentium Dual-Core T2390. Therein lies the difference: this year's L305 has a 160GB hard drive, only 2GB of RAM, and an inferior Celeron 900 processor for nearly half the cost. In essence, it has the guts of a Netbook in a 15.4-inch laptop's body (the earliest Netbooks actually used Celeron chips, before Intel release the Atom processor).
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 mission-critical computing. It's already more than a bit of a dinosaur in 2009, and it won't get any less outdated, making it a questionable investment--on the other hand, Windows 7 should run fine on it (although most new Vista Basic systems are ineligible for a free upgrade), and this could be the sort of bargain a low-expectations consumer is looking for.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$349|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Celeron 900|
|Memory||2GB, DDR2 800MHz|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Basic SP1|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.3x10.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.92 / 6.78 pounds|
The next question you may have is: "Why wouldn't I just buy a Netbook?" To that, we say: it depends on whether a larger screen and keyboard matter to you. Netbooks are considerably more portable, and an Atom processor doesn't make much of a computing difference compared with the Celeron 900 in the Satellite L305-S5955. However, many budget Netbooks have compromised keyboard sizes, and screens that might be too limiting for power users. Also, the L305-S5955 runs Vista as opposed to Windows XP. Take that as you will.
We also find there's a sizable psychological factor: small Netbooks come with one set of expectations attached, while users expect larger laptops--no matter how low-powered or inexpensive--to behave more or less like standard mainstream systems.
The L305-S5955 will never be confused for a Netbook from the outside, however. At 1.5 inches thick, it's one of the beefier nongaming laptops on the market. The muted blue-gray exterior is prone to fingerprint smears, but the plastic-feeling lid is solid. There's a full-size keyboard with tapered keys, and six physical media-control buttons that aren't backlit. Volume control, like with the similar Toshiba L505D-S5965, is operated via a wheel at the front of the laptop, under the touch pad.
The 15.4-inch TFT LCD glossy screen has a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which is standard for an inexpensive mainstream laptop. The display looked sharp when playing back streaming videos and playing games. It's not a 16x9 screen, but then again, this isn't the sort of machine you're likely to buy for HD movie-playing. The stereo speakers above the keyboard had crisp but not very loud sound--which is perfectly fine, especially for this price range
|Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0||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 a surprising ExpressCard/54 slot. A lack of SD card slot is frustrating, so you'll be stuck with a USB or ExpressCard model. The L305-S5955 also has no Webcam. Again, this is an entry-level machine, but in an age of videoconferencing and Web communication, it's a feature that's sorely missed (but can be rectified, obviously, with a USB cam).
The Celeron 900 is an older, bottom-of-the-line Intel processor, and we'd have a hard time recommending it to anyone for their home computing needs. However, despite the Celeron performing expectedly subpar in our multimedia and iTunes/Photoshop tests--nearly three times as slow as the Asus K50IJ-RX05--our anecdotal use of the L305-S5955 yielded surprisingly livable results. Streaming video, for instance, looked better than it ever has on an office Netbook running an Atom N270, including effortless handling of HD videos and Netflix Instant Streaming. We also gave PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies game a whirl, and while that game's not exactly a spec-consuming barn burner, it looked great on the L305-S5955. So, yes, you can expect some basic video playing and casual game consumption on this superbudget machine, too.
|Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.5|
|Sleep (10 percent)||0.78|
|Idle (25 percent)||14.86|
|Load (5 percent)||36.07|
|Annual energy cost||$5.86|
The L505D-S5965's battery life is better than other retail models we tested, though not by much--it lasted 2 hours and 37 minutes on our video playback battery-drain test, which is a little lower than average for a 15-inch laptop. Only the Asus K50IJ-RX05 did better among the entry-level-retail models in our Back-to School roundup. However, remember that this system's Celeron is a very low-power chip compared with standard dual-core CPUs.