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Toshiba Qosmio G30-163 review: Toshiba Qosmio G30-163

The Good Harman/Kardon speakers; TV tuner; HD DVD drive.

The Bad Previous-generation CPU; read-only HD DVD drive.

The Bottom Line Despite a few excellent multimedia inclusions, such as a 1080p screen and great speakers, the G30 is essentially an HD DVD player attached to a mid-range laptop. As a result the £2,000 asking price is a difficult pill to swallow

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7.5 Overall

Review Sections

We've waited what seems like an age to review the Qosmio G30. We've eyed, fondled and caressed it numerous times through its development cycle, but now it's here we can get a real taste of how the HD DVD-equipped machine fares against its Blu-ray-toting rivals. The G30 range comes in six different guises -- three with an HD DVD drive, three without -- and all with varying specifications affecting CPU speed, memory or hard drive size.

Our review model, the G30-163 is the all-singing, all-dancing version costing £2,199

Design
The Qosmio G30's looks are an acquired taste. Though it's only a fitted with a 17-inch screen, it's as chunky as a Yellow Pages and weighs a hefty 4.8kg. Its metallic grey lid cover makes a nice contrast to the black inner section, but the inwardly sloping sides won't be everyone's cup of tea -- if it were spherical it would look a bit like a yo-yo -- a massive, unusable yo-yo that would probably break your arm.

The Toshiba logo doesn't appear anywhere on the outside of the laptop -- only the word Qosmio is embossed into the lid. The lid itself is marred slightly by a wobbly hinge, but only poses a problem when using the laptop in a moving vehicle, which it isn't really designed for. The front of the screen is fastened to the base of the laptop with a rather large and unsightly hook that protrudes by about 10mm. The hook mechanism is released by pressing a single spring-loaded button at the front lip of the laptop.

Along the front lip you'll find the main infrared receiver port, a Wi-Fi switch and six indicator lights for the AC power, battery, hard drive activity, optical disc activity and Wi-Fi status. Above this is the wrist-rest portion of the laptop, which looks awesome. The matte black keys make a great contrast with the glossy, brushed-metal surround, and you can't not like the circular Harmon/Kardon speakers on either side just below the screen.


The volume knob makes it easy to adjust the noise level

The keyboard lacks a dedicated numerical keypad and has some keys in strange positions (the Windows Start button is at the top left), but it feels great to type on and there are eleven separate shortcut buttons above it. Most of these keys are actually quite useful -- there's one for activating the TV tuner, another for activating DVD playback software and others for controlling playback, recording, screen brightness and more. All these features can be activated whether inside or outside of the main operating system, but it's not possible to play HD DVD movies unless you start Windows.

Littered around the side of the laptop in no discernible order are a range of ports. There are two USB ports on the left, PC Card and ExpressCard slots, a 3-in-1 memory card reader, 4-pin FireWire port and three audio ports. On the right side is a video-in port, S-Video output, a modem port and a Kensington port, should you feel the need to chain the laptop to your desk. Most impressively though there's a circular volume knob that lets you adjust the sound level quickly and easily. The rear of the laptop has TV-output (S-video and component-out), D-Sub VGA output and an HDMI port -- but there's no DVI. You'll also find a socket for a TV aerial, a LAN port and two further USB ports.


There's no DVI port, but you get D-Sub and HDMI as standard

On the whole it's a functional and, in places, attractive design that has only a few drawbacks.



Features
And then it all goes wrong. You could be forgiven for thinking the £2,199 G30 is crammed to the hilt with the latest components, but apart from the HD DVD-ROM drive, it's shockingly under-equipped by modern standards. Core 2 Duo processor? Nope. Super-whizzy graphics card? Not really. Inordinate amount of hard drive space? Sort of.

You get an Core Duo processor running at 2GHz, 1GB of DDR2 memory, a mid-range Nvidia GeForce 7600 Go graphics adaptor -- all of which smacks of "yawn", or "aargh!" if you thought your two grand was getting you the latest in laptop technology. The only strong positive here is the pair of 120GB hard drives, which you can choose to 'mirror' (where one drive automatically backs itself up with the contents of the other) when you first switch on the laptop, though you'll halve your storage if you choose this option.

The HD DVD-ROM drive is Toshiba's own TS-L802A, which you can use to play and read HD DVD discs, but not to make HD DVD file backups. You'll still be able to burn ordinary DVD+RW discs at up to 4x, or dual-layer DVDs at 2x, but the fact you can't write HD DVDs paint the Qosmio G30 as an overblown movie player stapled to a mid-range laptop.

Annoyingly, HD DVD movies won't play in the Media Center portion of Windows XP -- you'll need to launch the WinDVD HD software instead, which is a bit of a pain. What's even more irritating is the fact that, when pumping HD DVD movies to an external display via the HDMI port, you'll need to have a TV that supports HDCP encryption.

Seeing as most of us don't have one of these, you'll either need to dig into your wallet for a new TV, or watch HD DVD movies on the laptop's 17-inch display. This isn't so bad, particularly as it has a huge 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution which is just fine for 1080-line progressive scan. The only drawback is that text can look far too small, but you can switch to a more readable resolution by hitting the Fn key and space bar simultaneously. As good as the screen is, you really should use an external display or you won't appreciate the beauty of HD movies.

We had further gripes when we stumbled across a document in the box with a few bizarre disclaimers. It says for "uninterrupted enjoyment of HD DVD" you need to connect the laptop to the Internet at unspecified intervals in order to renew the digital AACS key, which is used by the HD DVD format to prevent unlawful copying. The leaflet also says: "Frame dropping, audio skipping or out of sync audio and video may occur during playback of some HD DVD Video titles". Extremely reassuring to know after you've parted with £2,199.

Gaming is quite possible on the G30. It uses an Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 video card -- a mid-range product that can handle most 3D titles. The downside is that you won't be able to crank up the detail levels on demanding titles without frame rates dropping to frustrating levels.

The G30 comes with a high-end SigmaTel Audio chip that is Dolby Home Theater-certified. One of the shortcut buttons above the keyboard launches a Dolby Home Theater interface, from which you can activate Pro Logic II, Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Headphone, which gives you funky spatialisation effects. Many of the audio features will make no discernible difference to the untrained ear, but it's nice to have the option, and the Harmon/Kardon speakers sound good either way.


The Harmon/Kardon speakers look good and sound even better

Performance
You'd expect any laptop that offers the latest in optical drive technology to feature some pretty spanking components elsewhere. That's not the case with the G30. Its Core Duo chip helped it achieve a good, if unremarkable PCMark 2005 score of 4,025.

This indicates it's perfectly adequate for running everyday tasks and multimedia applications, but you may struggle with video encoding or anything similarly demanding.

The GeForce Go 7600 graphics chip is similarly mediocre. It racked up a 3DMark 2006 score of 2065, which is nowhere near the Alienware m9700's 3DMark 2006 score of 5,434.

Thankfully, in our experience with the G30, we didn't see any of the "Frame dropping, audio skipping or out of sync audio and video" that we were warned about in the accompanying documentation.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield

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