Toshiba Satellite A500 review

17 Sep 2009

Toshiba's latest portable boasts all-new design and a keen price, but it's when playing movies and games that it shines

Price when reviewed: 
650(£650 inc VAT)
4

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.

Toshiba Satellite A500 rear

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.

Impressive visuals

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £565
Price inc VAT £650
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 5
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 384 x 260 x 44mm (WDH)
Weight 2.940kg
Travelling weight 3.5kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T6500
Motherboard chipset Intel GM45/GM47
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 16.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset ATi Mobility Radeon HD 4570
Graphics card RAM 512MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 500GB
Hard disk usable capacity 466GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Toshiba MK5055GSX
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Matshita UJ880AS
Battery capacity 4,000mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 1
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 4
eSATA ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader yes
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 2hr 23min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 5min
Overall application benchmark score 1.01
Office application benchmark score 1.02
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.21
Encoding application benchmark score 0.94
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.88

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery partition, burn own recovery discs