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Entry-level desktop-replacement laptops are almost as popular as netbooks in many online stores' bestseller lists. The appeal of models like those in Toshiba's Satellite L350 series lies in their size. Big screens and keyboards make them no less usable than a desktop PC, but they can still be carried around and hidden away when not in use.
Here we review the mid-range Toshiba Satellite L350-17P, which is available for around £430. The low-end L350-21Q is available for around £400, and the high-end L350-21T costs about £480.
Like any 17-inch laptop, the L350-17P is something of a bruiser, but its boring design makes it look even more monolithic than some similarly sized competitors. The only adornments on the dark grey case are the light grey, painted Toshiba logos on the lid and below the screen. We should, perhaps, be thankful for the lack of tacky silver plastic and blue LEDs that some manufacturers like to use.
The case feels sturdy and, at 3.15kg, rather heavy -- and that's not counting the external power adaptor. There's plenty of flex in the lid, and the hinges, although stiff, do allow for a fair amount of wobbling. These, however, aren't really problems for a laptop that won't be used on the move. Four large rubber feet keep the L350-17P planted on a desktop, but a large air intake on the underside needs to be kept clear if the laptop is used on anything other than an even surface.
A big case means there's room for a large keyboard. The L350-17P's is full-size, with a separate numeric keypad. The keyboard is set well back in the case, with a wide wrist rest, but, while comfortable to type on, it does feel rather cheap and insubstantial. One pleasing touch is that there's some breathing room between the main keyboard and both the numeric keypad and function keys. Many other laptops -- even ones this size -- simply cram them all together.
Keyboard aside, the other obvious attraction with a 17-inch laptop is the large screen. The L350-17P's display is clear and bright, but the 1,440x900-pixel resolution is on the low side for such a big screen. The glossy finish helps create good contrast, but it means that you can see your own face when watching darker scenes in movies. That problem isn't unique to this laptop, though.
Although hardly hi-fi, the sound quality of the two speakers that sit below the screen is acceptable enough for the usual Windows Vista noises and the odd music track or movie. One audio annoyance, however, is that the rotary volume control on the front of the laptop lacks end stops -- it just turns and turns and turns. Since there's no on-screen volume indicator either, this makes it tricky to know how loud the sound is set until you hear it.
The 2.16GHz Pentium T3400 processor is one of Intel's budget mobile offerings, but it's still a dual-core chip. It managed to propel the L350-17P to a PCMark05 benchmark score of 4,161, which isn't too far behind what a Core 2 Duo CPU of a similar speed would achieve.
Sadly, the Intel GMA 4500M graphics chip isn't quite so capable. It runs Vista's translucent Aero theme perfectly well and can cope with graphically demanding tasks like editing high-resolution images, but a 3DMark06 score of 620 makes it wholly unsuited to 3D gaming, at least at anything remotely approaching the screen's native resolution.
The L350-17P isn't intended for use on the move. Nevertheless, its battery lasted for 1 hour in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, and 2 hours and 40 minutes in the less intensive Reader's test. That's not bad, and you should get at least a couple of hours of Internet use out of the L350-17P away from the mains.
If you lack the space for a cheap desktop PC, the Toshiba Satellite L350-17P is a capable alternative with precious few compromises when it comes to usability. The only real weak spot is the under-powered 3D graphics chip, but, since that's only an issue for 3D games, it won't matter to everyone.
Edited by Charles Kloet