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.
What a difference a hundred dollars makes in the world of budget laptops. For $550, there's the 18-inch Toshiba Satellite P505D-S8930 that doesn't have much going for it beyond its large screen and nice looks. Come up with another $100 and you can get the Toshiba Satellite A505-S6960. Its screen isn't as big at 16 inches, but the design is nearly the same and the performance and battery life noticeably better. It's not perfect, but it's certainly worth the extra money.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$649.99|
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500|
|Memory||4GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.1 x 10.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||16 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||7/7.8 pounds|
Toshiba used its Fusion Finish on the A505 with its sonic pattern in black onyx. It's a stylish look with a light-gray wavy pin-stripe pattern on a glossy black background on the lid, palmrests, and speaker surround above the keyboard. The speakers sound great, by the way, far above the laptop's budget price tag. The keyboard is comfortably large with a full number pad on the right end. The keys are flat like a chiclet-style keyboard, but they're set above the tray instead of the tray coming up and separating the keys. The keys are also somewhat slick, making it slightly unpleasant to type on, and due to the glossy nature of everything, the laptop collects a lot of fingerprints. A row of touch-sensitive media controls above the keyboard and a Webcam and mic above the screen round out the package. In all, it's a nice design despite our nit-picking.
It has a thick chassis made thicker by the extended-life battery that comes with this system. The battery adds weight and bulk compared to a standard six-cell pack and lifts the back of the keyboard off your lap or work surface. This provides better airflow under the notebook as well as an improved typing angle, but will make it a tighter squeeze into some laptop bags.
The 16-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is typical for its size. As we've come to expect from Toshiba's laptops, it's a quality display with good color, contrast, and brightness. And of course the wide screen is great for doing side-by-side work between two apps or documents or whatever.
|Toshiba Satellite A505-S6960||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, multiformat card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The I/O, port, and jack connections are what we expect from a laptop in this price range, though we were happy to find Toshiba's sleep-and-charge eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port and an HDMI out in attendance. Unfortunately, most of the connectors are crammed into the front half of the left side. If you plug in peripherals at a desk, there's a good chance you'll have all manner of cables snaking from that area. The only thing we really found lacking is built-in Bluetooth, but at this price it's not a shocker.
The Toshiba Satellite Toshiba Satellite A505-S6960 is a retail-only fixed configuration. However, the memory and hard-drive compartments are easily accessed through the bottom of the case should you want to do a post-purchase upgrades. For example, this model comes with 4GB of memory but can be expanded to 8GB total.
The budget section of our Back-to-School roundup (laptops priced $500 to $699) consists of three Toshiba systems, including the A505, and an HP. Two of the systems--the Toshiba Satellite P505D-S8930 and HP G60-445DX--are powered by AMD dual-core processors that didn't offer much in the way of performance, even for their budget prices. However, both the A505-S6960 and Toshiba Satellite M505-S4945 run on a 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor. These two are more expensive, but there was a clear across-the-board performance advantage to the Intel chips in our tests.
|<="" b="">||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.5|
|Sleep (10 percent)||0.9|
|Idle (25 percent)||15.9|
|Load (5 percent)||41.2|
|Annual energy cost||$6.39|
The A505-S6960 ran for 4 hours and 28 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included 12-cell battery. So while it blew away the competition in the budget category of our back-to-school laptops, the battery has twice the number of cells as the other systems. The only drawback to the battery is its size, so if you're not traveling with the laptop and just need extra lap time without a power cord, this is a good option. Plus, our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and productivity tasks. This notebook is also Energy Star qualified.
The Toshiba Satellite A505-S6960 is backed by an industry-standard one-year warranty. Support is accessible 24-7 via a toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and a Web site with driver downloads. While retail shops are happy to sell you an in-store extended warranty, they are often expensive and hard to use, so we don't recommend them.
Note: While this machine comes with Windows Vista, many retailers, including Best Buy, and some hardware manufacturers are offering a free upgrade to Windows 7 for systems purchased after the end of June 2009. However, many upgrade offers specifically exclude systems with Vista Basic.
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