The 17.3-inch Toshiba Satellite P770 certainly won't win the 'most fashionable laptop' award, but you may still be able to impress other geeks with its decent performance and ability to handle gaming.
Our model, the P770-109, packs a 2.3GHz, dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, and 6GB of RAM. It will set you back around £730.
The P770 looks like a fairly unassuming piece of kit, wrapped entirely in black plastic. If bright colours and fancy swirls are your thing, move along -- this guy is as colourful as a lump of charcoal.
The lid has a weird texture to it -- we think it's meant to be a wood-grain effect, but we're not sure. It's not totally horrible, though, and it makes an otherwise incredibly boring-looking laptop slightly more interesting.
The P770 certainly isn't pretty but it looks just about smart enough for a boardroom. It's definitely more suited to being slid out of a briefcase than a colourful tote bag.
The shell isn't the sturdiest we've ever encountered. We held it in our arms -- like a baby -- and thoroughly poked it all over -- not like a baby -- and found a fair amount of flex in the lid and keyboard. The P770 seems to be made from cheap materials. We wouldn't trust it to survive for long on a rough-and-tumble road trip.
With a 17.3-inch screen and weighing around 3kg, the P770 isn't the sort of chap you're going to want to carry around all day. It doesn't feel too bulky slung in a bag over your shoulder, but it's not slight enough to whip out in a cafe or on a bus -- not without intruding on the lap space of the old dear sat next to you, busily unwrapping her toffees.
Inside the laptop, you'll find an isolated keyboard. It's comfortable to type on, even talking into account the significant flex. The plastic base plate around the keys is separate to the rest of the body and doesn't connect as well as we'd like. It's not a massive issue and probably not one you'd even notice that much, but it does indicate that the build quality of this laptop is some way short of seamless.
The trackpad is pretty big, and its rough coating makes sliding your finger around easy. There's a handy button just above the trackpad that lets you turn it off if you find yourself accidentally brushing over it and moving the cursor when typing long documents. The buttons are fairly chubby, which makes them easy to press.
The screen is a great size for watching movies and TV shows on. It's pleasingly bright too, although it doesn't handle deep blacks as well as other screens we've laid our eyeballs on. And, while it displays high-definition content well, the resolution of 1,600x900 pixels isn't quite 1,080p quality.
We're disappointed not to see a Blu-ray drive, as there's an HDMI port for hooking the laptop up to a TV. It seems like a stingy move by Toshiba, especially considering the £730 price tag.
Toshiba hasn't been quite as stingy on the storage front, though, offering a 640GB hard drive. Naturally, we'd prefer a 1TB drive, but it's still better than the 500GB hard drive offered on similar models.
We expected decent performance from the Harman Kardon speakers, and we weren't disappointed. They reproduced high frequencies with impressive accuracy, and made a good stab at pumping out bass too. You wouldn't want to sit and listen to music on them, but they do the job perfectly well with TV shows. If you want to be totally immersed in an epic movie or game, then you'll need to hook the laptop up to a good set of speakers or grab some decent headphones.
There's a pretty standard array of ports on offer. You get an HDMI port, VGA out, three USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 socket, an Ethernet jack, an SD card reader, and audio in and headphone out jacks.
Inside the P770-109, you'll find a dual-core Intel Core i5-2410M processor clocked at 2.3GHz, teamed up with 6GB of RAM. For the gamer in you, there's also an Nvidia GeForce GT 540M GPU with 1GB of VRAM.
That's a fairly decent set of specs, and the only thing to do with a fairly decent set of specs is launch a full-scale benchmark assault on them. Which we did.
In the PCMark05 test, the P770-109 produced a score of 7,292, which isn't bad for a laptop in this price range. It easily beat the slim Asus U36JC, which achieved 5,973, and just beat the MSI CX640's score of 7,183, although the CX640 comes in at a much more wallet-friendly £540 or thereabouts. Both of those machines pack Core i5 processors.
The P770-109 will be able to tackle anything from office tasks to playing high-definition video. You might even be able to coax it into doing a little photo editing, but it won't happily deal with ploughing through hi-res images in a power-hungry program like Adobe Photoshop.
If you're as into your games as you are your spreadsheets, then you'll be happy to know that the P770-109 can handle polygons. The 3DMark06 test resulted in an admirable score of 8,678.
That number means very little without some real-life tests, so we booted up Codemaster's Dirt 3, a game full of highly detailed landscapes that should give any machine a run for its money. The frame rate stayed at an average of around 25 frames per second, so the game played fairly smoothly. Only a couple of times did it dip to around 19fps, at which point we noticed some lag, but, overall, it was an enjoyably smooth experience. We were pretty pleased with the laptop's performance overall.
The P770's battery life isn't what you'd call fantastic -- it managed to last 1 hour and 13 minutes before conking out in our battery benchmark test. That test is brutal, though, running the processor at a constant 100 per cent until the battery dies, so you'll be able to get much better battery life with normal usage. If you're planning on playing plenty of video, though, make sure you don't stray too far from a power source.
The Toshiba Satellite P770-109 certainly isn't the belle of the laptop ball, but it offers good performance with general computing tasks, and provides decent gaming chops too. At £730, it's not an absolute bargain, but you will get a fair performer for your money. If you can put up with the unappealing black shell, the P770 may be one to consider.
Edited by Charles Kloet