Toshiba Satellite A500 review
Toshiba's latest portable boasts all-new design and a keen price, but it's when playing movies and games that it shines
Review Date: 17 Sep 2009
Reviewed By: Sasha Muller
Price when reviewed: £565 (£650 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
With budget laptops offering more and more for ever-diminishing prices, mid-priced models are having to work pretty hard to justify their existence. After all, when you can get a perfectly capable portable for under £400 exc VAT, then there seems little reason to spend more on the likes of the new Toshiba Satellite A500.
Skim through the A500's specifications and, at first, such cynicism would seem to be well-placed. With an Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard disk, there's precious little to set it above the morass of budget-priced portables. Look closer, however, and there is one crucial difference: this Toshiba boasts one of the more capable mobile graphics chipsets around - the ATI Radeon HD 4570.
Indeed, gaming is where budget laptops so often stumble and, if you like nothing better than kicking back with a game at the end of the day, you'll find Toshiba has put the extra budget at its disposal to good use. It's still no match for the likes of the Asus G60Vx, but fire up Crysis and it puts up a valiant fight. Our medium Crysis test runs through a test level at a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 and medium detail - a challenge which saw the A500 manage a very reasonable average frame rate of 19fps.
Design and build
It's not just games that look good, though, as Toshiba has gone right back to the drawing board with the A500. There's something unmistakably familiar about the rounded edges and the combination of glossy black with silver trim and pinstripes. In fact, it's almost as if Toshiba has been taking some fashion tips from the excellent HP Pavilion DV6. That's no bad thing, though; it marks a definite improvement on its somewhat frumpy predecessors.
Meanwhile, it may not be the lightest laptop - weighing in at 2.94kg (3.48kg with the power adapter) - but the A500 feels strong and sturdy in all the right places. The base, for example, is impressively rigid, and while the lid and hinge feel a touch more flexible, it feels like a laptop built to last.
Unfortunately, that's not the case when it comes to battery life. It's unlikely that anyone will want to carry around a 3kg laptop on a regular basis, but light use battery life of just 2hrs 23mins puts paid to all but the briefest of jaunts away from the mains. Even the HP Pavilion dv6 outlasts the Toshiba, stretching to a more reasonable three hours.
And, once you get over the excitement generated by the ATI graphics, the Toshiba doesn't have a great deal to shout about. Performance is pretty modest - the Core 2 Duo and 4GB memory managing a middle-of-the-road 1.01 in our benchmarks - and the rest of the specification is simply par for the course.
Sometimes, however, just looking at the raw numbers isn't enough to give you the true measure of a laptop. Fire up a DVD or a game, for example, and the Toshiba relishes the challenge. A superb pair of harman/kardon speakers quickly get the foot tapping, and the 16in display raises the heart rate just a little higher.
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