by Krista Justus, USA
Overview: Toshiba Satellite M100
The 14.1" screen Toshiba Satellite M100 is part of Toshiba's new line of notebooks equipped with Intel Core Duo processors. Armed with this processor, optional dedicated graphics in the form of an ATI X1400, and an amazing weight of around 5 lbs, this (borderline) thin and light notebook seems like it could be a heavyweight contender in the laptop arena.
Specifications for Toshiba Satellite M100 Being Reviewed:
Reasons for Buying
I've had a Dell Inspiron 8200 for three years and will be going to college this fall. Although the Dell had performed well during its lifespan, it was beginning to wear out, and its hefty weight wouldn't be friendly on my back to carry around campus. Conveniently, the old home desktop had a meltdown and my family agreed it was time to get a new computer for me and dump the desktop in exchange for my Dell.
The Satellite doesn't look that different in size from the 15" Inspiron, because they're the same width. (view large image)
Open, the difference in size is more apparent, but the Satellite doesn't look too small, by any means. Note the brightness of each screen. The Satellite isn't plugged in, so its brightness is diminished. It as bright or brighter than the Inspiron, which is plugged in. (view large image)
The difference in girth is really apparent in this view. The Inspiron is very chunky, making the Satellite look tiny in comparison. (view large image)
The search began for a new computer. I wanted a machine that weighed under 6 lbs, but was still capable of the graphics performance I would need to do digital art and some light gaming (mostly The Sims 2 and recently Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). The cap for my price was $2,000. Early on, I was enamored with the Acer Ferrari, but I was hesitant about dealing with an unfamiliar company and I wanted the option to customize my computer. I decided that although the carbon fiber chassis was tempting, I didn't really like the design or racecar theme. I moved on and fell even harder for the HP Pavilion dv4000. In fact, I had settled on it. I was just waiting for a check to clear so I could make my order. However, the morning I was going to order, HP's new line of dual cores came out, and my dv4000 was stripped of its ATI Radeon x700 graphics card option! I was devastated, but determined to make my order and not buy any of HP's new line -- they had burned me their last (and only) time!
Scouring review sites and NewEgg, going over mostly Asus and Acer products, I decided to look at Toshiba's site. A friend got a Satellite last year and I was really fond of its design. This is where I found the recently-released Satellite M100 and decided to take a risk on this unreviewed machine.
Where and How Purchased
I bought my Satellite directly from Toshiba, via their website Toshiba.com. As I said, it was brand new, within a week of its release and it hadn't been "officially" announced yet. The price came to $1,821 with a rebate, but it seems to have gone down since, so you may want to act soon if you're interested in buying. Considering the power of this machine, and comparing it to companies like Sony, I feel it was a really good deal.
Build and Design
This is where the M100 truly shines. Its tri-color scheme is really pleasing. The common laptop silver and black on the inside are familiar and clean, and the blue lid really adds an individuality to this laptop you don't often see. The silver is a matte, shimmery metallic and it makes the computer feel more expensive than just plastic and looking closely, the shimmer is very pretty. The lines of this design are very modern and all the corners are rounded, even the control buttons beneath the screen. This makes the computer feel very sleek and a little futuristic. The round edges are really attractive and comfortable. Something really nice about several of the Satellite models is that the lid color is customizable, with the options of blue, copper, or a dark grey. As I mentioned, I'm a student, so I wasn't looking for a professional-looking machine. The blue felt really expressive to me and I like its character. However, if you're planning to use the M100 as a work machine, the grey option still provides a contrast, as it's more of a pewter color, and wouldn't blend with the internal silver, still achieving the sleek and modern tri-color look.
The build is also surprisingly solid for such a small notebook. The first time I held it, I was shocked at its light weight and at how solid it still felt. My Dell was probably around 8 lbs and it was clunky and still felt less solid than my M100. It's hard to understand how light five pounds can feel until you've lugged a much heavier computer around airports. The M100 feels practically weightless to me. The plastic it's made from is very hard and solid. There is minimal flex in the keyboard and I can't feel any air pockets or space if I press firmly on the hand rest. The metal hinges of the screen don't wobble at all, which is a relief because my old Inspiron definitely needs tightening up. There is some flex if you try to twist the screen from the upper corners, but for a computer this thin, I think it's well within acceptable. Pressing on the back as firmly as I'm comfortable with and tapping causes absolutely no ripple, which surprised me. The plastic case on the lid is very, very hard. The overall build is impressive.
If you look closely, you can see my reflection taking the picture, in the glossy screen. (view large image)
Unfortunately, this is the only aspect of the M100 I'm displeased with. My complaints are very minor; I just had high expectations, because I heard Toshiba was strong in this department. The glossy screen is nice and achieves high contrasts, as it's marketed to, although I sometimes tire of seeing myself in the screen, so you should try to stay out of a lot of bright environments when watching or playing anything with a dark atmosphere. Because it is widescreen, I was surprised at the size of the laptop. It is much wider than I'm used to, which makes the computer itself seem more substantial. Expecting to be a little dissatisfied with a 14.1" display, I was totally converted--it doesn't seem small at all. It's a little sad that the only resolution offered is WXGA, but I'm not disappointed with that, as it's what I'm used to and it fits the computer. Any higher might make things too small on a 14" screen. You can customize higher resolutions in the display properties, but this is if you want to connect an external monitor and the ratios aren't right for the widescreen.
The color and quality of images are superb on this display and watching movies on it is a joy, because the picture is so clear and the colors are very bold. Whites are pure white and blacks are very dark. Everything in between is rich and true to life. There is no "sparkle" on whites or graininess that a few reviews have described. Additionally, if you get the ATI Radeon x1400, there is preinstalled software that lets you further customize settings to tweak the anti-aliasing or 3D rendering capabilities. It's nice to have so much control over the graphic performance of my computer. Another feature of this software is the ability to rotate the orientation of the screen from normal landscape, to portrait, which makes everything display sideways, as with tablet PCs. I don't know why you would want to do this, and I just did it for the first time for this review, but it's an option, if you want it. It's really confusing and a little disconcerting for me, though.
My only issue: the screen does have minor light leakage across the bottom and in the top right corner. It's not as bad as it could be, to be certain, but in such a high performance machine, it's disappointing. The leaking is only apparent when the screen is in black, and I guess if that's the case, it isn't impairing anything, because there's nothing to view. But it can be distracting, nonetheless. Besides in black, it's very difficult to tell. I do use the green XP theme and the color of the taskbar seems a little washed out compared to the windows, but this is the most you can tell of it with the computer performing normal tasks. Truthfully, the leakage is well in the range of normal. And, it's probably not worth mentioning, because it isn't guaranteed to happen again or anything, but I do have a single dead pixel in the lower right part of my screen. It's only noticeable if you look at it, and only then if what is being displayed is very light in color.
I tried really hard to get a good picture of the light leak, but it was very difficult. This is way more exaggerated than it actually is, but you can see where the leaks are. It looks like there are leaks on the sides too, but that's just the angle of the screen. I promise the leak isn't as bad as this looks. (view large image) (Also, that green spot on the screen is a camera defect, not a problem with my screen.)
If I have one piece of advice, buying any Toshiba notebook it is GET THE HARMAN KARDON SPEAKERS. They are only $30 to upgrade and you'll kick yourself if you don't, like I am. The standard speakers seriously lack power. I have to turn them up full blast most of the time, and it's really annoying. I know from other reviews and experience with my friend's Satellite that the Harman Kardon speakers really resolve this lack of power. However, even turned all the way up, the speakers still sound crisp and the sound isn't very tinny or hollow like a lot of laptops. Using headphones is recommended, and it's what I'll be doing most often in a dorm anyway, otherwise I would regret my speaker choice more.
Processor and Performance
As is maybe expected of a laptop with the dual core processor, the M100 is a powerhouse of a multitasking monster. I can (and have) run Photoshop, Word, Firefox, Winamp, and have had a game (The Sims 2) minimized in the background. There was no lag at all in any of these programs in this setting. Installing a program takes seconds, and even a large program such as Photoshop took little over a minute. When copying the My Music folder from the Inspiron to my iPod to my Satellite, the transfer from the Dell took two hours. The transfer from the iPod to the Satellite took about fifteen minutes. The Toshiba had the dual benefit of processor and USB 2.0, but this example illustrates the power of this notebook very clearly. I can't imagine that upgrading to 2 gigs of RAM from the 1 gig I have currently would actually impact the speed of this computer. Every task seems quick, there is almost never a hiccup in the functioning, and loading the few games I play takes no time.
Although it isn't a gaming notebook, for 5.2 lbs, it is certainly not to be scoffed at in that area. My games aren't graphics-intense, but I can play both The Sims 2 and Knights of the Old Republic at top settings in all areas with no breaks in frame rate or lag. It means little to me, but a friend of mine interested in my Satellite M100 installed Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion onto it and ran it for a few hours. He was able to run the game at native resolution, highest graphic settings, medium frame rate, and it only lagged in a couple areas (shops, specifically). This game is very recent and he tells me it is graphics-intensive. I'm inclined to believe him, so take from that what you will; we were both impressed. Any problem caused by not having a top-of-the-line graphics card is probably resolved by the high end processing. Of course, doing work on Photoshop and Painter is wonderful on the M100. The colors are brighter than they have ever been and I can switch between both programs if I desire.
I ran Super Pi twice, once with all the background processes that boot naturally (there were 76 running, actually), then again with a more comfortable 35 processes. Surprisingly (or maybe not, considering how little stress all those tasks put on my system), the results were the same both times. Closing 40 processes made absolutely no difference. Two million digits of Pi clocked out at 1 minute, 18 seconds.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|HP dv5000t (1.83GHz Core Duo)||1m 17s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.83 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 42s|
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00 GHz Core Duo)||Asus W3A (1.86 GHz Pentium M)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||6.88 MB/s||3.285 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||58.43 MB/s||26.06 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||52.7 MB/s||24.257 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||23.81 MPixels/s||10.59 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||4805.79 MB/s||1733.669 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||4.87 KB/s||2.976 KB/s|
|File Decryption||59.69 MB/s||54.966 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||3078.18 KB/s||2946.057 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||6.3 Pages/s||4.028 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||75.52 FPS||50.432 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||172.67 FPS||97.737 FPS|
|Graphics Memory - 64 Lines||1516.36 FPS||375.403 FPS|
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||1660 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, ATI X600 128MB)||1659 3DMarks|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727 3DMarks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2530 3D Marks|
|Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb)||2,486 3DMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2536 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4157 3DMarks|
HD Tune Benchmark results:
Heat and Noise
Under normal conditions (word processing, graphic editing, internet, chat, multimedia, all at the same time, often) the M100 is almost completely silent and cool. You actually have to put your ear about an inch from the keyboard to hear any sound at all, which is a tiny bit of fan, coming from the left side. After several hours of multitasking, the area around the right palm rest can get a little warm, but it's only noticeable compared to the left hand. If you don't plan to game with this notebook, you'll probably never hear its fan, unless you're playing a DVD that lasts several hours, and then the fan may kick on.
Gaming does cause substantial heating, though. After a few hours of gaming, the right palm rest and right half of the keyboard can get quite warm. The larger of the fans is on the bottom of the computer (so I wouldn't recommend using it on soft surfaces very often, and I'm going to buy a Laptinator to keep it cool), so demanding programs do cause the bottom to be rather warm, but never so hot that it would be uncomfortable to use in the lap. Even under intense use, the fans never get loud, and it's certainly quieter than average. These fans will never distract you from your gaming experience or a movie.
Something really weird and shocking for me was the sound of the optical drive. I did order the plain CD-RW instead of the DVD-RW, and I'm sure most laptop aficionados will want the DVD capability, but I don't watch a lot of DVDs, and if I do, it's on my computer, so I didn't really need that option. I can't speak for the DVD drive, but the first time I ran it, the CD-ROM ran really loudly. I'm used to a speed of 4x, so it might be that drives spinning at 24x always sound like that, but it was really alarming for me and I thought something was wrong. There is pre-installed software called the CD/DVD Drive Acoustic Silencer, and that's an option if the noise bothers you. It decreases the spin rate, but it does what its name advertises. I only had to use it the first day I had my computer, though, the sound seems to have diminished or resolved itself.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Note the nonstandard placement of the home, end, and delete keys, and the lack of a right ctrl. (view large image)
This keyboard has both positive and negative qualities. Because it's a widescreen, this keyboard is really roomy and comfortable, not at all cramped like some laptop keyboards can be. The keys aren't as cushioned as some laptops' are and they don't have much travel when you press them. I've grown to like this, but some may want a softer typing experience, or a quieter one. I'm a light typist and sometimes the more cushioned keys made me have to type unnaturally or backtrack if I touched a key too lightly. These keys are very responsive and my light touches seem to trigger them to press all the way down. They aren't very loud keys, but the sound is sort of satisfying, I think. They won't cause anyone to be distracted in a library, but they do make a productive sound.
The placement of the keys, however, is awful. I think this is the standard for Toshiba keyboards, but I'll never grow accustomed to it. Instead of the standard placement of the home, page up and down, end, and delete keys over the backspace, the home to end keys are placed in a column to the right of the backspace and enter. The delete and insert keys are moved to the right of the spacebar, replacing the second ctrl key. This is a major annoyance for me and my biggest complaint about this computer, as odd as that may sound. It wouldn't be so much of a problem if they had replaced the second alt with a ctrl, but as it is, my ability to use keyboard shortcuts is almost cut off. I can't use or ctrl+- to zoom out in Photoshop and it is a serious problem for me, because I do use Photoshop for my art and the keyboard shortcut is the only convenient way to zoom in or out. I really don't need two alt keys and I feel like this decision represents a lack of awareness of the customer's needs. Another annoyance of the nonstandard keyboard is the reduced width of the backspace key. I frequently miss it and press home instead, which can be really confusing and frustrating. Also of interest, but less annoying is that the tilde key is where the Windows button is usually and the Windows button is now in the upper right. If they hadn't made this change, it seems like the delete button could be in the upper right, and there could be a second ctrl button.
The touchpad is smaller than many, as are the buttons, but I prefer that. The touchpad is smooth and responsive and its length to width ratio mirrors that of the screen, which is nice. With my Dell, which actually had four touchpad buttons, including two HUGE ones, I frequently had the problem that if I was using it in my lap, lying down, sometimes my body would actually press the huge buttons, because they were placed right at the edge of the laptop and weren't very solid. This would never happen with my Satellite, because the buttons are small and require a deliberate press, making a very light but pleasant click sound.
A Toshiba software feature that some may like, but I found annoying until I figured it out, is the Touch and Launch window, which lets you set each corner of the touchpad to a different shortcut. For instance, by default, the top right corner is set to the desktop. So, if you rest your finger on that corner, an attractive, semitransparent window with all your desktop shortcuts pops up. For instance, the bottom left corner is set to your internet favorites. I found it annoying, despite its convenience, because I like to use the right side of the touchpad as a scroll bar, and if you hesitate at all, the Touch and Launch would open, or if you let your finger deviate too far from the center in any direction, some other Touch and Launch will open. This is easy to disable, via the taskbar, or customize to make the wait longer, like I have. I do admit that the Touch and Launch is attractively designed and once you realize what it is and how to close it, it's not nearly as confusing or annoying.
This is the top right corner Touch and Launch. By moving your finger around the touchpad, you can select any of your desktop icons. To close Touch and Launch, move your finger over the close button. (view large image)
From left to right: the Power button, browser launch button, Express Media Player button, Play/Pause, Stop, Rewind, Fast Forward (view large image)
The shortcut buttons under the screen work as they should and their design is simple and attractive, like the rest of the computer. They are easy to press and make a nice sound. I don't use them much, but when I do, they're quick and responsive. One of them turns the computer on in Media mode, allowing you to play DVDs or CDs without booting. This is a popular feature. The volume control is a dial at the front next to the audio ports, which is nice, and a lot better than volume buttons, in my opinion.
There's no category for this, since it's such a unique feature: The M100 has a biometric fingerprint reader. By far, this is one of the M100's coolest external features. It lets you input up to 21 fingerprints, so you can program all your fingers (in case of equipment accidents, you know?) and a bunch of your friends'. This is really useful if you want to up the security on your machine. You can choose which folders need fingerprint access and online, you can set it so that the fingerprint software remembers all your passwords. If you have tons of passwords you can't ever remember, this is a great option because you can forgo the typing and just swipe your finger; the software remembers for you. Another feature associated with the fingerprint reader is the "safe" drive which you can put all your important documents in and lock with your fingerprint. Even if you have the fingerprint reader disabled as I do, the safe stays secured. The fingerprint reader is one of the most impressive external features of the M100 and it gives a real wow factor if you're showing it off.
Input and Output Ports
The ports for the M100 are very nice, in my opinion. There are a total of 4 USB 2.0 ports, which is very generous for a laptop of this size. Their placement is convenient, two on the right, one on the left, and one on the back. Something nice, I feel, is that Toshiba didn't stack any of the USB ports on top of each other like some companies do. Sometimes I need my pen tablet, scanner, and printer plugged in all at once and with stacked USB ports, things could get a little cramped. That's not a problem with the M100, because the ports are spaced out and distributed nicely around the notebook.
The Satellite M100 comes with:
On the right, you have two USB 2.0 ports and the optical drive, and a place for a lock. This is nice, since the right side is where you'll want to have most plug and play devices (if you're right handed), and you don't want that area cluttered with a lot of ports. (view large image)
On the left, there's a port for an external monitor, the second fan, a USB 2.0, a video output port, a four-prong firewire port, a PC card slot, a 5-in-1 memory card reader. (view large image)
In the front, there's the switch to turn off the wireless LAN, the infrared receptor, microphone and headphone ports, and the volume control. (view large image)
On the back is the modem, power jack, LAN, and the final USB 2.0 port. (view large image)
The bottom, with the primary fan, battery at the back, memory slot, and hard drive access. (view large image)
I didn't know when I ordered it, but the M100 comes with a small remote control which fits conveniently into the PC card slot. Its power button turns on the Media OS mode (in addition to the button under the screen). It's nice that the remote fits in the Pc Card slot, but even if it didn't, there wouldn't be a gaping hole there, because a little door flips down when it's empty. This is nicer than some notebooks I've seen that just put in a fake plastic card.
I ordered my computer with internal wireless capabilities and it's very convenient not to have a wireless card or USB dongle always sticking out of the side of the notebook. The off/on switch works as it should and has an orange LSD that tells you when your wireless is on. The network sensor is the standard Windows XP and is really user-friendly and picks up all networks in the area. Mine has constant excellent connectivity with my Linksys router, and I expect it would work just as well with any other. I sometimes pick up the neighbors' networks and I expect if I didn't live in the middle of nowhere, I'd get a lot more. It has the option to be configured with Bluetooth as well, for $40 extra but I decided not to, since I don't own any Bluetooth capable devices.
A Toshiba-exclusive software utility is the much-lauded (at least on the box my computer came in) ConfigFree utility. It's a suite of programs that aids the user in setting up and managing networks and wireless devices, and it's actually kind of cool. For one, it has a diagnostic "doctor" that tells you if there are any problems in your network and seeks to identify them. Another really neat thing about ConfigFree is the Network Finder, which is basically this diagram set up like the solar system, with your computer at the center and all available networks placed around it like planets in terms of signal strength. This is a really unique approach and a fun design, as opposed to the generic windows network finder (which is also an option, as always).
The available networks orbit the computer in a very creative and functional display. To the right, you can see the transparent ConfigFree shortcuts. (view large image)
Working with the battery decreases the brightness and contrast of the screen, as is normal and also diminishes processing power greatly. Even at decreased brightness, the screen is still very bright, only a little dimmer than my old Inspiron at full brightness, as demonstrated in the comparison pictures earlier. I tested the battery with the screen at full brightness and the wireless turned on and I got about 2 and a half hours, which is respectable considering the quality of the processor and video card. To increase battery life further, you can decrease the brightness and turn off the wireless. Keep in mind that they do offer a nine cell battery, but that will increase the weight of the computer.
The AC adapter is of average size, but it's very light, so it won't be a huge issue to carry it around, if you're worried about battery life. (view large image)
Operating System and Software
The Satellite M100 can be configured with either Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional. I was surprised that they didn't offer Media Center, since it is billed as one of their two portable multimedia laptops and has the dedicated graphics option. I wouldn't have ordered the Media Center anyway, since that's more extraneous software that I'd have to disable, but it should be an option for those that do want it. Although it doesn't have Media Center, it does have the increasingly common option to bypass the OS and play a DVD or CD. I've only done this once, but it does work. To use it, you open the computer and press the Express Media Player button, which turns the computer on in Media mode, so you can play a DVD or CD.
The Satellite M100 and everything that was packaged with it, including many small manuals and data sheets. (view large image)
As I've mentioned several times throughout the review, the M100 comes with a lot of preinstalled software meant to enhance your computing experience, and most of it does what it's supposed to. There's some bloatware, like preinstalled AOL, but less than comes with most notebooks; my friend's Inspiron 6000 came with twice the amount. It only took a few minutes to remove the unwanted programs. Most of the Toshiba-exclusive software is functional and is meant to enhance the computer. There's a lot of it though, so here's a list:
I'm sorry to report that I haven't had any customer support experience. We did have an issue regarding the clearance of my credit card, and from what I could tell, they were helpful and quick in resolving the issue and the computer arrived on time, despite the credit card clearance taking several days. This wasn't the fault of Toshiba at all, but merely a conflict in information with the credit card company. The day after I placed the order, a representative did call to confirm the order, so this may show that the company is responsive and interested in the customer. They provide both an e-mail and a phone number via the website, after ordering.
The compulsory warranty I got is a one year limited warranty, but you can upgrade, if you're willing to spend the money. There was actually a rebate on an upgraded warranty that I didn't notice when making my order, so make sure to pay attention! The warranty seems pretty average, overall, and if you're worried, you can definitely upgrade to better coverage.
I'm extremely impressed with my Toshiba Satellite M100. It's a beautifully designed, powerful machine and it is very, very light. It is a really good choice for those who intend to use it as I do: for school and entertainment and medium to good quality gaming. It stands up solidly to competitors, and in my opinion, is much prettier than most equivalent computers. Its price is amazing compared to other machines of its size and quality, and with dedicated graphics, it is a force to be reckoned with. The few problems I have with it are very minor and only because I had such high expectations. Overall, I'm extremely pleased with my purchase and like my computer more every day.
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