Toshiba Satellite Pro A120 review
A good, basic notebook that's specifically designed with the accident-prone user in mind
Most notebooks will take a lot of abuse during their lifespan, and Toshiba has designed the new A120 series to better survive the knocks and drops that come its way. Best of all, this is on a budget notebook range - and we looked at the most basic model.
The changes go down to the motherboard level, which has been purposefully designed to keep some distance from the outer casing's vulnerable edges. So even if you do drop the notebook and crack the casing, the damage should only be superficial. The same goes for the hard disk - if the notebook senses any vibration, or it goes into freefall, the drive heads are parked automatically. This feature isn't anything new on expensive and ultraportable business laptops, but it's the first time we've seen it on a notebook at such a low price, and it's a very welcome inclusion.
There's also protection from liquid spills - an all too easy way of destroying a perfectly good notebook. The A120 doesn't go quite as far as those that have direct drainage but, instead, there's a small reservoir beneath the keys. Any liquid can then be poured off without ever reaching the valuable components inside.
One minor side effect of the rearranged motherboard is that all three of the USB 2 ports are positioned rather awkwardly on the rear of the notebook. There are also some notable omissions, including no FireWire port of any type (which may put off owners of digital camcorders) and no legacy parallel, serial or infrared ports. A memory card reader is provided, but it only supports SD and MMC card formats. We're also slightly disappointed that there's no ExpressCard slot, limiting future expansion options.
In use, though, we've few complaints. The keyboard has a crisp action with good feedback, and we're glad to see Toshiba has also rearranged its key layout to place the Windows key in its traditional spot near the bottom left-hand corner. The touchpad is occasionally frustrating, as it doesn't match the wide aspect of the screen and has an unusual papery texture to its surface. It's also very sensitive and took a little getting used to, although the mouse buttons are of a good size and benefit from a positive action.
The 15.4in widescreen TFT has a native resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels: big enough for most tasks you'll want to undertake, but more complex apps may swamp the screen with toolbars. It's bright and crisp with decent contrast and colour reproduction, though, and, given the price, entirely satisfactory. The screen also has a matte finish, so you won't suffer from distracting reflections under office lighting.
The rest of the components are modest. The hard disk is a 60GB model, so there's plenty of space for most users, although big media files will naturally fill it up quickly. There's a basic CD-RW/DVD optical drive, so you're limited to burning backups onto 700MB CD-Rs - fine for office users or casual digital photographers, but again those with lots of big media files may feel restricted.
Performance certainly isn't anything to get excited about, but it's still more than respectable. The Intel Celeron M 410 is one of the newer versions, with a faster 533MHz front side bus speed, matched with 512MB of 533MHz DDR memory. This is on a single module, so there's a free slot available should you want to make an inexpensive upgrade to 1GB.
Scoring 0.63 overall in our application benchmarks, it's more than fast enough for those wanting to do simple everyday tasks such as using office applications, web browsing and email. The integrated ATi Radeon Xpress 200 graphics chipset uses up more system memory than is really necessary, though, which could slow down the A120 a little in more memory-intensive tasks.