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.
With laptop prices dropping across the board, the bottom-line territory for entry-level machines is a fascinating landscape. Leaving Netbooks aside for a moment, what can you get for less than $500 in mid-2009? If you're willing to bulk up, Toshiba is offering its Windows-Vista-running Satellite L505 for $450. With it, you get a dual-core AMD Athlon X2 CPU, 3GB of RAM, a decent 16:9 15.6-inch screen, a DVD burner, 250GB hard drive, and basic ATI graphics--which is a pretty good package for less than $500. It's an improvement over similarly priced systems with sluggish Intel Celeron processors, but don't expect to impress anyone but yourself, because this machine screams "satisfyingly mediocre."
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$449.99|
|Processor||2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 Dual Core|
|Memory||3GB, DDR2 800 MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon 3100|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||15 inches wide by 10.15 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.02/6.9 pounds|
This Satellite L505 retail-ready fixed-configuration laptop provides a total package that is not exactly the sexiest portable on the block, but is reasonably likable considering its Netbook-esque cost. A glossy, gray-with-pinstripes exterior recalls recent Asus designs we've seen, but we weren't thrilled with the overly bland look. Inside, a lighter gray, glossy plastic surrounds the gray plastic keyboard, above which is a dark gray plastic bezel around a 15.6-inch screen. That's a lot of glossy gray, and--combined with this system's considerable bulk--it gives the machine an unsophisticated, cheap look. But it's attractive enough if you're primarily interested in the bargain price.
Toshiba's keyboard has tapered keys, which feel good to type, and comes with a full number pad, too, which is a nice touch. We also liked the touch pad, which was strangely flush with the rest of the case (and the same color, too, thus blending in and disappearing), but with a matte texture to demarcate where it starts and ends.
The 15.6-inch TFT LCD glossy screen has a resolution of 1,366x768, which is standard for wide-screen mainstream system. It's also a 16x9 aspect ratio display, which is fast becoming a norm across laptops. It looks pretty good when watching videos, and text is crisp. Two exposed stereo speakers were merely average, and a handful of physical media control buttons sit next to the power button between the speakers and aren't backlit. The volume control is a plastic wheel, and oddly sits on its own at the front of the laptop. There are no clear maximum or minimum markers, and it's hard to figure out how many spins raise or lower the volume.
Another odd note: the L505D-S5965 has no Webcam. This wasn't an obvious omission to us the first time around, but when we finally noticed, it bothered us. While it's a cost-saving measure, Webcams are nearly universal nowadays, even in the cheapest laptops, and it wouldn't have hurt Toshiba to throw one in.
|Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB/eSATA, 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|
Don't expect much in terms of ports or connections on the L505, because this is pretty bare-bones. Two USB ports, a VGA output, and an SD card reader are pretty much it, plus an extra USB/eSATA port, which is the one stand-out inclusion. There's no Bluetooth or 802.11n Wi-Fi--both fairly common features even in budget systems.
AMD's 2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 is a decent dual-core processor that can handle Vista as well as basic office apps and multimedia, and while the benchmark tests weren't spectacular, they were perfectly decent considering the low-cost of the machine. Faster alternatives in the same price range of our Back-to-School retail laptop roundup use Intel's low-cost 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200.
An ATI Mobility Radeon 3100 GPU provides fair, but not great, video support, so you can play some basic games on this machine, too. Popcap's Plants vs. Zombies looked great, but don't expect a kick-ass game of Far Cry 2.
|Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965|
|Raw (annual kWh)||62.94|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$7.14|