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The Satellite A200 is the cheese and tomato pizza of Toshiba's laptop range -- it's designed to please everyone. It's a desktop replacement laptop, but ironically, it's quite portable. It has a faster-than-usual graphics card, and yet its mid-range CPU gives it the potential for decent battery life. It's a jack of all trades, for sure, but will its ambivalence backfire, or will its flexibility save it from obscurity?
The A200 is available in a whopping 12 different configurations. We tested the A200-A1i, which is available for around £750. For more details, visit the Toshiba Web site.
Toshiba's design team has played it safe. The lid's blue-grey colour should appeal to consumers and 'suits' alike, but the oversize Toshiba logo screams function more than fun. The inside of the laptop is even less adventurous -- the screen bezel is black and the keyboard section is, surprise surprise, silver.
In contrast, there's an almost boy-racer-esque Satellite logo on the left front edge. Its blue backlight reminds us of those cheesy neon lights beneath modified cars and its very inclusion makes us think Toshiba was just ticking the boxes of what it thinks will appeal to as broad a market as possible: inoffensively coloured lid? Check. Silver interior? Check. Blue LED lights? Check. It's a laptop, alright.
We're not fans of how the input/output ports are arranged. Our main gripe is that the LAN and Modem ports are on opposite sides of the laptop. Both are used for networking purposes, so wouldn't it be more sensible to have them side by side? We also take exception to only having three USB ports. If you're going to use this laptop as a replacement for your main PC, you'll probably need a USB hub.
Other design quirks include the ubiquitous Wi-Fi switch -- which is positioned under the laptop where you can't see it. Then there's the keyboard, which is truly lovely, apart from the enter key, which is inexplicably too small. Finally, the front-facing volume adjustment is perfect for adjusting volume quickly, but it never stops spinning -- there's no lock when you reach the absolute minimum or absolute maximum volume. Not that you'd want to use the internal speakers much anyway -- they're dire, even by laptop standards.
The most interesting aspect of the A200's design is its mouse trackpad. Look closely and you'll see a host of shortcut icons printed on the surface. Pressing the icon to the top right causes all the others to glow blue. You can then touch individual icons to launch an email client or Web browser, adjust the volume or assign up to three of your own shortcuts to the user-definable keys.
The A200 has a 15.4-inch screen. This is small enough so you have an excuse to cuddle in front of a movie with your sweetheart, yet big enough so you don't have to get too close when they've been on the garlic. The screen has a glossy coating that improves the appearance of colours and heightens contrast, though you'll need to be wary of using it outdoors -- the high reflectivity renders it near-useless in direct sunlight. The 1,280x800-pixel resolution is too low for our liking -- we'd have preferred 1,280x1,024 pixels, as this makes it easier to use multiple application windows.
Driving the display is the new Nvidia GeForce Go 7300, which has 128MB of dedicated memory. It also uses Nvidia's 'TurboCache' system, which allows it to borrow from main RAM for up to 320MB of video memory. The graphics-processing unit itself isn't compatible with the new DirectX 10 standard, but it'll run many of today's games -- just as long as you scale back the screen resolution and fancy effects.
Feeding the graphics card with 320MB of memory might seem a tad overindulgent, but there's plenty of RAM to spare, so why not? The laptop comes with 2GB of DDR2 667MHz memory, so even if you give the graphics card its fill, there's 1.7GB left to run the operating system and applications.
One thing we aren't overly keen on is the Intel T5500 Core 2 Duo CPU. It's fine for undemanding users, but we'd prefer something faster, especially as the A200 is supposed to be a desktop replacement. The fastest A200 variant is the Satellite A200-18T, which has a 1.86GHz CPU, a 120GB hard drive, 1GB of RAM and a GeForce Go 7300 graphics card.
Our Satellite A200-1Ai may have a slowish CPU, but it has very good storage. Its 200GB drive will let you stash a couple of hundred hours worth of DivX movies -- far more than the 120GB drive in the A200-18T will. It also uses Windows Vista Ultimate edition, which includes the Windows Media Center user interface.
Despite it having Media Center, the A200 doesn't have a TV tuner card and neither does it have an HD DVD drive. Neither is essential, but it's worth remembering that all Toshiba's laptops will include an HD DVD drive from 2008 onwards. HD DVD fans who buy the A200 now will be missing out.
Wireless connectivity is a mixed bag. Its Wi-Fi adaptor lets it connect to all three types of Wi-Fi network (a, b and g), but there's no Bluetooth. We'll be the first to admit that Bluetooth isn't the most widely used or even reliable feature, but its omission is conspicuous. If you like to sync your laptop with your mobile wirelessly, the A200 isn't much use to you.
The A200 performed in line with our expectations. It rarely felt sluggish during our test period, but it wasn't exactly greased lightning either. Its 1.66GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM helped it score 3,328 in PCMark 2005 -- which is on a par with PCs and laptops with similar specs. The Shuttle mini X 200 desktop, which uses a 1.6GHz laptop CPU, scored 3,336.
3D performance was fairly poor. It scored 657 in 3DMark 2006, which is par for the course in a non-gaming laptop. It'll run the odd game, but if you're serious about polygons you should look elsewhere.
We didn't have high hopes for the A200's battery life, and it's just
as well. It ran BatteryEater for 60 mins, which isn't particularly
impressive. It's worth remembering that BatteryEater is a highly
demanding test based on 3D rendering, so expect the laptop to last
longer when performing simple tasks, or idling. The A200 isn't best
suited to life away from the mains. By comparison, the Sony Vaio FZ series lasted 80 minutes.
The A200 is a good laptop. It's not exceptional in any regard, but it's a decent enough all-rounder to satisfy most people's tastes. If money isn't an option, we'd point you in the direction of the Sony Vaio FZ series. It's faster, sexier and has a longer battery life. But if you want to save a few bob -- over £100, in fact -- the A200 is worth checking out.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide