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The 18-inch laptop has truly come into its own, with recent systems from Sony, Acer, HP and now Toshiba threatening to clutter the desks of multimedia enthusiasts everywhere. The Qosmio G55-Q802 is the odd man out among this group in that it does not offer a Blu-ray drive or even the 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution needed for true HDTV-quality video.
Instead, the $1,549 Qosmio G55 adds a handful of genuinely unique extras, which run from gimmicky to useful under certain, limited circumstances. The 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 is joined by a second Cell processor (just like the chip powering the PlayStation 3). Toshiba calls this combo "Quad Core HD," and uses the extra horsepower to power both a Webcam-based gesture control system and accelerated video encoding (as long as you're using the prescribed software). Neither addition is going to be of much use to casual consumers, but we can see limited circumstances where specific tasks--encoding lots of HD video to DVD--would make the G55 worth a look, and note that the non-Blu-ray versions of Acer's and HP's 18-inch laptops cost around the same, even without the extra processing power.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,549|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 (plus 1.5GHz Cell processor)|
|Memory||4GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm (x2)|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel P45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||17.8x12.2x1.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||18.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||10.7/12.1 pounds|
Easily the biggest and bulkiest of the current crop of 18-inch laptops at nearly 2-inches thick and almost 11 pounds, the G55 dwarfs the (relatively) smaller HP HDX18 and Sony Vaio AW170. The system's glossy (and fingerprint-prone), pinstriped design resembles the recently revamped Satellite line, but the chassis itself has the same clamshell look, with the edges of the lid curling in slightly, as on the 17-inch Qosmio X305-Q701. It's not for those without ample desktop space, but the G55 also feels solid as a rock.
The full keyboard and separate number pad are typical for Toshiba--which is to say very glossy. The keys themselves are comfortable and easy to use, but there's a bit too much flex around the middle of the keyboard. A row of standard touch-sensitive media control buttons sit above the keyboard, but we're much more excited about the small volume control jogwheel that's on the lower-left side of the keyboard tray. We always find jogwheels easier to use and more responsive than volume up-and-down buttons, or touch-sensitive volume sliders (which never respond fast enough for our tastes).
The 18.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,680x945-pixel native resolution, which is a bit of a mystery. Every other 18-inch laptop we've seen has a 1,920x1080-pixel resolution, which is a natural match with the 16:9 aspect ratio and 1080p HD content. The G55 also lacks the Blu-ray drive that the other 18-inch laptops we've reviewed all carry as standard equipment. However, since Toshiba laptops were saddled with HD DVD drives for long past that format's useful life, we can call this progress, of a sort.
|Toshiba Qosmio G55-Q802||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks, S/PDIF jack||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader, eSATA||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner or Blu-Ray|
The G55's two most interesting features are its gesture controls and its extra processing power for video editing and encoding. Both features make use of what Toshiba calls "Quad Core HD," which means the standard Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 working with a second processing chip. That chip, essentially the same Cell processor found in the PlayStation 3 (and originally co-developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba), has a clock frequency of 1.5GHz.
The gesture controls work by using the built-in Webcam to detect hand movements. The controls work specifically in a handful of media programs, including Windows Media Center and Toshiba's proprietary media player. You have to sit 3 to 10 feet away from the laptop and hold up your hand (there's a menu setting for left- or right-hand preference). At its most basic level, holding a hand up, palm facing the screen, will start and stop playback. That works about 70 percent of the time, just shy of being actually useful. By holding up a closed fist, one can move a cursor around like a mouse pointer, raising and lowering the thumb to left-click on any icon or window. That part of the gesture control system is much trickier, and at least in this initial version, will be more frustrating than helpful
It's a decidedly interesting development and while this first attempt at implementation leaves something to be desired, we have hopes of the tech improving in future versions to where it might be something useful. An interesting alternative, if you must have that kind of 10-foot control, is investing in a gyroscopic mouse, such as the Logitech MX Air.
The Quad Core HD hardware is designed to help with video encoding and converting, using the Cell processor to offload some of the burden. There's even a Windows Sidebar widget that shows all fours cores working at a particular task. Unfortunately, the real-world application is limited, as the Cell processor only works with the bundled Ulead MovieFactory software, so you won't see any benefit in common applications such as Photoshop, Premiere, or QuickTime.
This is evident in our multitasking benchmark test, where the G55 fared no better (slightly worse, actually) than other 18-inch laptops. That's because even though this test includes video encoding, it uses QuickTime, which gets no benefit from the Cell processor. Anecdotally, we took a 226MB HD WMV file and used Ulead MovieFactory to burn it on a standard video DVD. The process took 5:50 (or 12:07, if you include "disc finishing," which didn't tax the CPU at all), which seems reasonably speedy, but not game changing.
Aside from that, the Qosmio G55 is a robust performer, which gave us no trouble even while multitasking with several Web browsers, office documents, and a media player going simultaneously. The other 18-inch laptops we've looked at all have older but slightly faster CPUs from Intel's T series, but in everyday use, you're unlikely to notice a practical difference.
One area where the system excelled was in battery life. The Qosmio G55 ran for 3 hours and 7 minutes on our video playback drain test, which is especially impressive for a huge desktop replacement system. Acer's 18-inch Aspire 8920 ran less than 2 hours on the same test.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and driver downloads, although the Toshiba support Web site can be confusing (do you want the link for the "Tech Support Center," the "Warranty and Services Center," or the "Repair Center?").
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Toshiba Qosmio G55-Q802
Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm (x2).
Sony Vaio AW170Y/Q
Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm.
Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 160GB Toshiba 7,200rpm.
Acer Aspire 8920-6671
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition SP1; 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9650M GS; 320GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.