Underneath the seemingly predictable veneer of the 14-inch Toshiba Satellite P745D-S4240 are two new stories, albeit ones that might not interest the average person much. The Satellite P series is a new laptop line for Toshiba, although you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between it and the M, A, and L series of Satellite laptops (it replaces the M and A). Also new under the hood is a quad-core AMD A6 processor, part of a new line of budget-targeted AMD Vision A-series APUs that include better-than-Intel-integrated graphics to accompany mainstream processing power.
Indeed, for $629, the Toshiba Satellite P745D-S4240 represents a very fair value for a midrange laptop with Harman Kardon speakers, 640GB of hard-drive space, and 6GB of RAM. There are caveats, however: the battery life on the thick P745 is decidedly below average. And, the AMD A6 processor as tested was significantly slower than an Intel Core i5-2410M, although Core i5 laptops tend to cost at least $100 more--some budget Core i5 laptops like the Lenovo Essential G570 manage to be even less expensive. The Satellite P745-S4240 is admittedly full-featured in bells and whistles such as Bluetooth and USB 3.0, but other than that it's just more of the same in a similar package. Affordable, yes, but not utterly memorable. Budget shoppers would be better off considering a laptop like the Dell Inspiron 14z, an even thinner laptop with USB 3.0 that has a far better battery life and a comparable price.
|Price as reviewed||$629|
|Processor||1.4 GHz AMD Quad-Core A6-3400M APU|
|Memory||6GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||640GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||AMD ID 1705/780E|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6520G|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4 x 9.0 inches|
|Height||1.1 - 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.8/5.5 pounds|
Toshiba Satellite laptops are getting to the point where they're identifiable from 20 yards: thick bodies, curved glossy plastic designs, and plenty of patterned textures. The Satellite P is new to us, but it's awfully familiar at the same time. A blind "taste test" would have had us guessing the P was a Satellite M or A series laptop, both midrange models with many of the same glossy touches.
Plastic dominates the Satellite's design and feel. The body felt a little creaky, but it's an overall solidly built machine, coated in a Mylar-like dark metallic-silver finish called the "Fusion X2 finish in Platinum." The textured plastic protects against smudges, but gives the laptop an ever-so-slightly tacky look, like an overdetailed spoiler on a budget car.
The thick-bodied laptop feels needlessly big, especially since the curved top lid rests at some distance from the body beneath. Gaps near the sides are so large you could practically stick a pencil through. We'd prefer a tighter lid closure.
Inside, the keyboard area and touch-strip between the Harman Kardon stereo speakers both look more upscale, akin to the Satellite M. The island-style raised keys are comfortable, although Toshiba's squared-off keys always feel a bit smaller than others. A column of page up/down keys graces the right side, but the gap between these keys and the rest of the keyboard is a bit wider than normal, making the process of feeling for the Enter/Shift keys a bit easier. We'd still prefer that these frankly useless page up/down keys weren't there at all, or were replaced by discrete volume control buttons, although some people prefer them to finger-scrolling.
LED-lit touch controls for Wi-Fi, battery mode settings, play/pause, and volume control are similar to those we've seen on other Satellites, and are slightly finicky. The volume controls emit an annoyingly loud beep that takes some hunting to turn off in system settings, and the keys are hard to use for volume fine-tuning.
A matte multitouch touch pad works as well as those we've used on other Satellites. It's reasonably responsive, and just large enough for larger fingers to find room. Curved discrete plastic buttons below are stiff and shallow.
The 14-inch glossy 16:9 LED-backlit display has a typical 1,366x768-pixel screen resolution, and the same screen quality we've come to expect from midrange Toshiba Satellites: plenty good enough for videos and games, but the image washes out when tilting the viewing angle.
The stereo Harman Kardon speakers are very good, and are a chief part of this budget-priced system's appeal. The little-known USB sleep-and-play feature included on this Satellite (and many other Toshiba Satellites) lets you plug in a 3.5mm cable from your audio source to the line-in jack on the P745D and use the speakers for music, even when the system's asleep or off. You need to enable the feature through Toshiba's Sleep Utility, much like Sleep and Charge, which does the same for USB charging of devices like phones. Speaker volume is lower when in Sleep and Music mode, and volume's only controlled via the device being used, such as your iPhone. In regular powered-on use, the speakers are excellent for music, movies, and videos.
The included Webcam is a basic no-frills one, with a very rudimentary Toshiba application. The image looked darker and underexposed compared with other Webcams we've recently used. The video and picture quality is VGA-level, not HD.
|Toshiba Satellite P745D-S4240||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0 with Sleep-and-Charge, 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, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
For a $600-range laptop, the Satellite P745D-S4240 has a better set of features than most in this price range: notably, USB 3.0 and Bluetooth. Sleep-and-Charge charges USB devices while the Satellite P is asleep or even powered off, but the feature must be turned on in sleep settings and the device must be plugged into the lone USB 3.0 port.
The Toshiba Satellite P745D-S4240 is one of a number of Satellite P740 configurations, and it's on the lower end of the price scale. More expensive variants include Intel Core i5-2410M Sandy Bridge processors, but they also cost at least $150 more for otherwise similar specs. The included 640GB hard drive and 6GB of RAM are very generous for the price, and exceed the standards on mainstream systems.
Now, about that AMD processor: the 1.4 GHz AMD A6-3400 quad-core APU is part of a new series of budget-targeted processors made by AMD. We've reviewed one other laptop recently that featured one: the Gateway NV55S05u, which had a slightly faster 1.5 GHz quad-core AMD A8-3500. While AMD's A6 processor is suitable for most mainstream tasks, it was notably slower in all of our single and multitask benchmarks compared with Intel's recent second-gen Core i-series processors: in fact, the A6 was about half as fast as a Core i5-2410M. That's to be expected, to some degree, since this A6-toting laptop is also less expensive than a Core i5 Satellite P, but many people might consider an extra $150 a worthy investment to significantly improve performance and go with a Core i5 version instead.
Graphics is one area where the AMD A6 relatively shines. Unlike Intel's Core i-series CPUs that rely on improved integrated graphics, AMD's APU has dedicated graphics on the processor that are a little more robust. Street Fighter IV played at 29.9 frames per second at the system's native 1,366x768-pixel resolution and medium graphics settings; comparatively, Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics on equivalent systems don't fare as well. It's enough to enjoy some basic gaming, but you'll never confuse these graphics for those from a higher-end dedicated GPU from Nvidia or AMD. Serious gamers need not apply. Considering the lower processing performance of the AMD A6 in other tasks, we consider it a trade-off.