by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada
Toshiba Satellite P100 Review
Toshiba Canada recently sent us their latest Satellite model, the P100, for review. This unit is aimed squarely at the fattest portion of the notebook computer market bell curve -- the home PC market.
This notebook is not without its pedigree; the Satellite range is Toshiba's long-running notebook line that traces it roots to the very first truly portable computers in the late 80's. Over time it has been super-ceded by the Tecra business line, but it still probably constitutes the lion's share of Toshiba's notebook sales in North America. These notebooks are ubiquitous in retailers across the continent, a testament to their good value and solid reputation.
The P100 is the first notebook that I have tested that features Intel's new dual core mobile platform Core Duo. The launch of Core Duo came at a time when Intel had pretty well sewn up the mobile performance crown. They probably could have rested on their laurels for another six months - possibly longer.
As the owner of an AMD Turion notebook, and the reviewer of many Intel notebooks, I can honestly say that there is a huge difference between the seamless integration of Intel's Centrino technologies and AMD's sm rg sbord approach. Hopefully AMD has been watching and learning because the addition of Core Duo to the Centrino platform stands to make what was already a big performance gap into a gaping chasm.
In Canada the P100 comes in two flavors; the P100-J100 ($1,999 CDN) and the P100-J500 ($2,399). The primary differences between the two are processor (T2300 versus T2400), memory (512 MB versus 1024 MB) and hard drive (100 GB versus 120 GB). Toshiba sent us the higher-end model for review. In the U.S. this notebook is customizable via the ToshibaDirect.com website Satellite P100-ST7111 model.
Furthermore, the Satellite P105 model is essentially the same as the P100, but available with a higher end configuration graphics graphics card for certain SKUs. If you're buying the P105, most aspects of this review apply to this model too. Retail stores mostly carry the P105.
Design and Build
Front view of P100 / P105 (view large image)
Toshiba's hyperactive design department is at it again. It seems as though they start from scratch with new case and chassis designs every single year. Some of Toshiba's past designs have been revolutionary, but the P100 is a refinement of the designs that came before it. It possesses a matte silver interior finish with piano black speakers that looks refined and understated. The faux copper lid looks great and distinguishes the P100 from the myriad generic-looking models on the market.
Front side view of P100 / P105 (view large image)
Left side view of P100 / P105 (view large image)
Toshiba Satellite P100 / P105 right side view (view large image)
Toshiba's chassis designs continue to get stiffer and better. The P100 is extremely solid feeling with no flex at all (hand rests or lid). The keyboard is also very stiff -- in the same league as ThinkPads (maybe even stiffer than my T40) although the key feel is not quite as good.
Glossy screens are still all the rage on home notebooks, and the P100 uses Toshiba's TruBrite screen coating. The result is a great looking high contrast 17" display that would be ideal for movie watching. Native resolution for the screen is 1440 x 900 pixels. The viewing angle on this screen is fantastic. There is no ghosting whatsoever.
This is a big notebook -- it has to be in order to accommodate its 17" screen. Unlike a 17" Apple MacBook that looks kind of ridiculous with its little keyboard, the P100 features a full keyboard with separate numeric keypad. It fills the space nicely.
With a weight of just under 8 lbs, the P100 is far from light, but it does not seem heavy when you carry it around. This opinion might change if I took it on the road with me, but for lugging around the house the P100 would be fine. On the other hand, the power brick for the P100 is a monster. I would recommend that moving it room to room be full extent of its portability.
Toshiba Satellite P100 / P105 power adapter -- it's big! (view large image)
Processor and Performance
Where Centrino was great, Core Duo is simply out of this world. In many tests you are getting performance that is in-line with dual core Athlon64 desktop CPUs. And it goes without saying that Core Duo is faster than Intel's Pentium 4 desktop CPU line. When you factor in the modest power requirements the performance of these chips is simply incredible.
Intel gave the Centrino platform a slight boost in order to get the most from this new CPU. We see the front side bus speed increasing to 667 MHz from 533 MHz.
The P100 uses Intel's i945PM core logic chipset and ICH7 Southbridge (handling I/O duties). Like most systems based on this platform, the P100 uses DDR2 RAM operating at 533 MHz (up to a maximum of 4 GB). It is possible to add faster RAM (ideally 667 MHz to match the front side bus speed), but that would have increased the price.
Where you will see a benefit to having all this power will be in intensive tasks such as media encoding and multitasking scenarios. Games are just starting to come out that take advantage of dual core processors, but eventually most applications will be multi threaded as personal computing goes parallel (with more and more CPU cores rather than a single CPU core operating at incredibly high clock speeds and generating tons of heat).
Super Pi results for the P100 are consistent with what we having been seeing from Core Duo processors -- in other words blazingly fast. At 1 minute 22 seconds the T2400 is about 20% faster than a 2 GHz AMD Turion. The PCMark05 score of 3358 is also very good for a notebook.
Super Pi Results:
|Toshiba Satellite P100 (1.83 GHz Core Duo)||1m 22s|
|Alienware M770 (AMD Dual Core FX-60)||1m 23s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)||1m 46s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite P100 (1.83 GHz Core Duo)||3,358 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)||1,390 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz)||1,877 PCMarks|
This performance comes at a price and that is battery life. The fast dual core processor and big screen overwhelm the P100's little 4000mAh battery. DVD viewing time away from a power plug was only 1 hour and fifteen minutes, consistent with the Battery Eater Pro benchmark I ran. As a point of reference, an average single core 15" Pentium-M notebook would see about 3 hours of battery life from a charge. To be honest, this notebook was never intended to be a travel companion -- it is more suited to home use. Keeping this in mind I would not hold the battery performance against the P100.
According to the SATA specifications a SATA hard drive conserves a bit more energy than regular ATA. While this spec also provides more bandwidth for improved I/O performance, the typical notebook hard drive will not benefit. The biggest benefit to SATA in a current notebook is that you will be able to upgrade to a larger capacity in a few years when regular ATA is just a memory.
HDTune benchmark performance for the P100 (view large image)
Both P100 models come with 5400rpm hard drives and a dual layer DVD burner. This makes the P100 a nice choice for doing light video work (typical family stuff).
The performance jump from 4200rpm to 5400rpm is significant so it is good to see Toshiba including a fast drive. I am happy to say that we are starting to see fewer 4200rpm drives (except on value models).
The dual layer DVD burner is compatible with a multitude of disc formats, but burns DVD-R or DVD+R discs at a maximum of 8x. A burner without software is not much fun, so Toshiba bundles InterVideo WinDVD Creator 2 Platinum and Sonic Record Now! Both of these are well-established and capable products.
Below are screen shots of CPU-Z information for the P100 being reviewed:
I mentioned the P100's great 17" display earlier. Powering this panel is NVIDIA's GeForce Go 7300 video processor with 128 MB of dedicated memory. NVIDIA supplements this with what it calls Turbo Cache. This is extra memory borrowed from system RAM. Doing this used to cause extreme slow-downs in the early AGP days, but the extra bandwidth of PCI-Express and fast system RAM makes shuttling textures around the video subsystem less painful. During my 3Dmark tests the benchmark reported 512 MB total video memory.
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Toshiba Satellite P105 (1.83 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7300)||1,665 3D Marks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB||2866 3D Marks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)||7,078 3DMarks|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727 3DMarks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,157 3DMarks|
Even with Turbo Cache and the boosted video memory, you might have a hard time playing a really demanding game like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion on the P100. It should play older or less demanding games nicely. In 3DMark05 the P100 scored a disappointing 1,665 points. This is a bit slower than last year's NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 and well off the pace of the ATI's Mobility RADEON X600 and X700 (older technology that now competes at this price point). If you need the fastest video system, Toshiba recently introduced a gamer-centric version of the P100 that uses the NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS (Toshiba Satellite P105-S921). We will try to get our hands on one for a review.
While you won't be playing the latest games, you will be able to enjoy movies on the P100. NVIDIA's GeForce Go 7300 includes NVIDIA's PureVideo technology for hardware acceleration of High Definition (HD) video content. Unlike ATI who limits HD playback performance based on the GPU (i.e. you need to buy the fastest video chip in order to hardware decode the highest resolution HD content), even the least expensive NVIDIA chips that support PureVideo will decode any type of HD content. Sadly, you will need to buy either NVIDIA's decoder or DVD playback software designed to take advantage of the GeForce Go 7300's capabilities.
The last generation of the Centrino platform introduced Intel's High Definition Audio specification. This replaced AC/97, which was getting very long in the tooth. It is essentially a competent soft audio solution coupled with a good quality multi-channel codec.
Toshiba uses the Conexant CX20551-22 audio codec. I have not seen (or heard) this chip before and could not find product information for it on Conexant's website, but I must say that it sounds great when pumping audio to the Harman Kardon speakers. They were easily the best speakers I have tested on a laptop.
Wireless and Communications
Intel's Pro Wireless 3945 ABG solution works great and covers all of the current wireless LAN standards. 802.11A is not very common, but that is exactly its appeal. In WiFi congested neighborhoods it is nice to be able to use the relative uncrowded 5GHz band of 802.11A (you will need a router that supports it though).
Toshiba's Toshiba ConfigFree software does a great job of keeping you connected. I have always liked this software -- much like IBM's ThinkVantage software I think it help differentiate Toshiba's products from the competition.
There is no Bluetooth, but I am not sure that this is a feature most home users really want or need. Personally I can't live without it as I have numerous devices that require it (such as cell phones).
A Built-in multinational 56K V.90 modem, and 10/100 Ethernet are provided in case you have to revert to wried mode.
Ports and Slots
The P100 includes the common CardBus slot. No ExpressCard here, but there are not many cards available in that format yet.
A 5-in-1 Multimedia port (supporting SD, Memory Stick , Memory Stick Pro, MMC, xD-Picture Card ) makes it easy to download pictures from digital cameras.
Ports include: 4 USB 2.0, Firewire, external microphone port, headphone port, VGA, DVI and S-Video out.
Heat and Noise
The P100 runs quite cool. During testing -- including lots of benchmark runs, the unit never became hot to the touch. I used the P100 on a solid surface at all times so the vents were unobstructed.
Underside view of heat vents and comparts on the P100 / P105 (view large image)
Thermal performance is noteworthy because of the lack of fan noise from the P100. Apart from the occasional whir (probably related to power profile changes) the fan was silent.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I like the fact that Toshiba used the extra space afforded by the P100's 17" screen to add a numeric keypad. Even with the extra space, some of the keys needed to be truncated. Most notably the 'Enter' key is a bit smaller than normal. Despite the frequent use of this key, it did not take me very long to get used to the change.
Keyboard view (view large image)
Overall keyboard feel was quite good. As I mentioned earlier, the keyboard base is flex free, and the keys themselves are pretty good though they are a bit on the light side.
Touchpad view (view large image)
Toshiba employed a fancy touchpad surface on the P100. It has an option button' that when pressed allows you to activate a number of shortcuts. You get a visual cue that the short-cut mode has been activated when the touchpad becomes illuminated. It is a pretty nice technology and works well -- it is quite easy to toggle on/off for access to short cuts. Like most notebooks in this class you also have a series of media control buttons above the keyboard.
Toshiba's P100 series is a really nice home computer. It packs more punch than many desktops into a very small amount of space. With more than enough power for typical home computing tasks the P100 would be a fine choice as a family computer.
Build quality is excellent and it does not get hot or loud. Its smart looks won't look out of place in your environment.
Value is a little tougher to measure. With its big screen and quality components I think the P100-J100 in particular seems to be a good value (and I have seen it at retailers for about $100 less MSRP).
Suggestions to Toshiba: I might use a slightly stronger video processor as there is a huge difference between the Go 7300 used in this model and the Go 7900 GS used in the opt of the line gamer edition of the P100. The P100's beautiful screen cries out for games.
Pricing and Availability:
The Toshiba Satellite P100 can be customized at ToshibaDirect.com for varying prices.
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