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.
Positioned as a midrange affordable laptop in the budget area of our back-to-school retail roundup, the Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940 is a machine that simply looks a little better than it is. In terms of body design and many features, it's very similar to the almost identically-named Toshiba Satellite M505-S4945, which we also reviewed. At $649, the 14-inch S4940 falls into a range already mapped by products such as the Lenovo IdeaPad Y450 and the Gateway TC7804u. But, buyers beware: for the $50 savings, the S4940 bumps you down to an inferior Pentium Dual Core processor and lops off an HDMI port. On the other hand, the hard-drive space and RAM are greater compared with the S4945--nice adds, but it still doesn't make the processor faster or less outdated. Even with the added RAM and storage space, we say you're better off spending the extra $50 on the S4945, or spending a little more for any other machine with a Core 2 Duo processor, an option available on many models in its price range.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$649|
|Processor||2.0GHz Pentium Dual Core T4200|
|Memory||4GB, DDR2 800 MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.5x9.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.38 / 6.06 pounds|
At 1.5 inches thick, however, the Satellite M505-S4940 is one chunky laptop (chunk-top for short). It has an identical case shape to the M505-S4945, but with a "special edition" gold stripe pattern across its glossy black interior and exterior. The look is attractive, particularly with its LED-backlit media control keys above the keyboard illuminated. The touch-sensitive keys are for volume, play/pause and track-skipping, a launcher to Toshiba's PowerCinema photo/video viewing software, and the Eco utility panel for energy-saving presets.
The volume buttons are finicky and make annoying beeps when used, but the other buttons work well. As for the keyboard itself, it's not backlit and it's annoyingly glossy and flat, with soft-feeling high-flex keys. Typing on the keyboard after a while felt extremely uncomfortable, at least to us--the glossy surfaces got slick and greasy. The smaller-than-normal multitouch touch pad was matte but slick to the touch, and blends in with the case, making its borders hard to sense. Even worse, the LED strip above the pad only served to blind us when we looked at it in dim lighting. Using it and the larger silver buttons below felt like a clinic in anti-ergonomic awkwardness.
The 1,366x768-pixel resolution 14-inch screen is a standard resolution for a 16:9 LCD of this size. LED-backlit, its colors were sharp and bright during video playback, and viewing angles were decent. Of particular note are the built-in Harman/Kardon stereo speakers, which have great sound compared with most laptops in this range. They're similar to the speakers in the Lenovo IdeaPad Y450, and are a notable improvement from the lackluster speakers in the recently reviewed entry-level Satellite L305 and L505 laptops.
|Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, USB/eSATA combo||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||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 port selection covers many of the basic needs for mainstream laptop owners: a generous three USB ports, plus a sleep-and-charge USB/eSATA combo port, which can charge USB devices when the laptop is sleeping or even off. This is a nearly universal Toshiba laptop feature, but it's a notable benefit for those who own Satellites. A full-size ExpressCard slot and a memory-card slot are all welcome features, but HDMI has been dropped in the S4940--a plugged-up port is all that remains.
The 320GB hard drive is actually generous, and we can't complain there. So are the 4GB of memory. But the older T4200 dual-core processor is a step backward from similarly priced models, and produced benchmark results that lagged compared with its S4945 sibling in most categories. In this day and age at this price, we recommend ponying up a little more money for a Core 2 Duo processor (similar-sounding to the Dual Core, which can fool tech newcomers, but a better buy). The T4200 will perform basic office tasks and even play a few very basic games, but it's not a cutting-edge processor by any means, and is behind the performance of Core 2 Duo chips found in nearly every other mainstream machine.
|Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940|
|Raw (annual kWh)||574|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$5.99|
The M505-S4940's six-cell battery lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes in our battery-drain test. That's below average for what we'd expect in a standard 14-inch laptop. However, our video-playback battery drain test is grueling--you can expect longer battery life under normal office work and casual Web use conditions.
The Toshiba Satellite L505-S4940 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.