Toshiba NB550D review

25 Mar 2011

The first Brazos netbook excels at graphical tasks, and battery life is immense. If only it had arrived last year

Price when reviewed: 
301(£301 inc VAT)
5

The Toshiba NB550D might not look special from the outside, but it’s what’s inside that matters: it’s the first netbook we’ve seen to ditch Intel’s Atom in favour of Brazos, the low-power opening salvo of AMD’s Fusion line-up.

At its heart lies the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), which combines the CPU, GPU, north bridge and memory controller all on to one compact 40nm die. Of the four Brazos APUs, we looked at the two Zacate nettop chips recently; the NB550D uses the AMD C-50, one of the two Ontario netbook chips. It has two CPU cores running at 1GHz, an integrated AMD Radeon HD 6250 graphics core and a TDP of only 9W, so it looks ideally suited for a modern netbook.

Unfortunately, our benchmarks were hamstrung by the Toshiba’s steadfast refusal to install Sony’s Vegas Pro 10 – we can only surmise it’s a driver issue. Instead, we disabled all Vegas sections on both this netbook and an Atom N550 equivalent, and ran the remaining tasks to make a like-for-like comparison.

Toshiba NB550D

Intel’s Atom N550 has Hyper-Threading, which helped it complete our Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Cinebench tests a full 20% faster than the C-50. Across all tests, the C-50 was 15% slower on average, but it’s worth remembering this is despite each of its cores running at only 1GHz compared to the Atom’s 1.5GHz – a 33% reduction in clock speed. In our iTunes encoding test, the C-50 outperformed the Atom by 10%, and our application-switching test (minus Vegas) put the two neck and neck: the AMD took 90.7 seconds to complete the test; the Intel in 91.9 seconds.

Plus, thanks to the C-50’s out-of-order execution pipeline, our subjective experience was that the Toshiba NB550D felt every bit as responsive in daily use as any Atom netbook we’ve tested. For web browsing, tapping out an email or watching videos on BBC’s iPlayer, the AMD hardware is perfectly capable.

Not a great leap forward, then, but we haven’t got to the best bit yet – the integrated AMD Radeon HD 6250 graphics core. Crysis is an unfair challenge to set a netbook, but installing TrackMania Nations Forever and running its built-in benchmark opened up a significant performance gap over the Intel integrated equivalent. Run at Medium detail and the standard netbook resolution of 1,024 x 600, the Toshiba managed an almost-playable average frame rate of 21fps, while the Intel netbook managed only 5fps.

Details

Price ex VAT £251
Price inc VAT £301
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 6
Performance 2

Warranty

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Physical specifications

Dimensions 262 x 190 x 36mm (WDH)
Weight 1.270kg
Travelling weight 1.6kg

Processor and memory

Processor AMD Fusion C-50
Motherboard chipset AMD Fusion
RAM capacity 1.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 10.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,024
Resolution screen vertical 600
Resolution 1024 x 600
Graphics chipset AMD Radeon HD 6250
Graphics card RAM 256MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 250GB
Hard disk usable capacity 233GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Toshiba MK2565GSXN
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Battery capacity 5,300mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 0
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 no
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset AMD HD Audio
Speaker location Wrist rest
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 9hr 55min
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Starter 32-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied N/A