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Laptops

Toshiba Satellite U840

The Toshiba Satellite U840 may not be the slimmest ultrabook around, but it has an attractive finish and an affordable price tag.

Toshiba has been busy showing off a bunch of its new kit at a showcase in London, including its new AT300 tablet and super-wide Satellite U840W.

This time it's the turn of the Satellite U840 (there's no 'W' on this one, try to keep up) that offers a brushed metal shell and the latest Intel Ivy Bridge processors and comes with a very reasonable starting price of £599.

It's due to be on sale in the UK sometime in July. I've gone hands-on with the laptop, so read on and stay tuned for a full review soon.

Design

The U840 might have an almost identical name to its wider brother the U840W, but that doesn't mean they look alike. The U840 dispenses with the black strip from the lid of the wide version, instead offering an all over brushed aluminium finish.

Brushed aluminium seems to be the material of choice for many laptops, which personally I'm happy with -- it looks smart and can often result in the laptop being sturdy than plastic models.

The metal here has been given a blue-grey hue that looked fine in my hands-on, although I was in a rather dark bar in Soho, so it was quite difficult to come to a decision one way or the other about the colour. It looks merely grey in the press photos (above) -- perhaps it seems more blue in person.

Toshiba Satellite U840 keyboard
Like other ultrabooks, the U840 uses modern isolated keys that look smart and are easy to type on.

Although technically an ultrabook, it isn't quite as slim as others on the market, such as the Asus Zenbook UX31 or Toshiba's own Satellite Z830. Toshiba reckons it's 19.9mm thick, but I think that's at the thinner end of its wedge, as it seemed generally a little fatter than that in my hands.

It only weighs 1.58kg though, which is below average for ultrabooks, so you shouldn't have any trouble carrying it around with you. The aluminium covering should help protect it from the odd knock and bump, although I did find quite a bit of flex in the lid, which made it feel much less sturdy than the solid metal construction of the Zenbook.

Around the edges you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, an HDMI out, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Underneath the lid you'll find more brushed metal surrounding the keyboard and on the wrist rest. It was pleasant to run my hands over, although I worry the metal will show up fingerprints easily. The keyboard uses squared isolated keys, which I found to be relatively comfortable to type on, although I'll see how it really handles in the full review.

Screen

The U840 offers a 14-inch screen, making it slightly bigger than some ultrabooks on the market -- Asus' Zenbooks only come in 11- and 13-inch varieties -- so it's handy if you desperately need that extra inch. Whether you'd ever tell the difference between a 13- and 14-inch model in normal use is debatable though.

It seemed to be fairly sharp and to do a decent job of handling colours -- the trailer for the upcoming Dark Knight Rises movie looked pretty good. As the room was so dim though, it was extremely difficult to make any kind of assessment as to the brightness and overall colour so I'll have to leave that for the main review when I can use it under varying lighting situations.

Toshiba Satellite U840 ports left
The HDMI port (centre) means you can pump your hi-def movies to a bigger screen.

It doesn't have the same 21:9 aspect ratio, so if you particularly want to watch widescreen movies without those annoying black bars at the top and bottom, that might be the one to go for.

Specifications

Inside the brushed metal shell you'll find the latest Intel Ivy Bridge processors. Annoyingly, Toshiba wasn't able to tell me exactly what specifications will be offered, so it's difficult to gauge how this thing is likely to perform.

I'm hoping it's going to be offered in varying configurations, so you can have as much or as little power as your wallet can stretch to. Personally, I'm hoping a super-specced Core i7 model with at least 6GB of RAM will be available to help chew through all your office tasks as well as tackling some light photo and video editing too.

The newly launched Ivy Bridge processors promise greatly improved graphics performance over their predecessors, which will lend a helping hand to play back hi-def video. Don't expect it to be able to play the latest 3D games at a decent frame rate, but you might be able to play old-school stuff like Half Life 2 without much worry.

Most of the storage is provided by a 500GB hard disk drive, although this is backed up by a 32GB solid-state drive. SSDs are much faster than normal HDDs, so the operating system and other critical files will be saved to the SSD allowing for improved bootup and resume from sleep times. I'll be sure to see exactly how this system works in practice in the full review.

Outlook

The Toshiba Satellite U840 isn't the slimmest or most sturdy ultrabook on the market, but if it offers a good selection of specs and keeps the sub-£600 asking price, it may well appeal to those of you after portable power on a more modest budget.

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