by Perry Longinotti
Today we take a look at Toshiba Canada's Qosmio G30 (specifically the PQG31C-HD202E ). The G30 closely resembles Toshiba USA's QosmioG35-AV650 in specification so this review should give you an idea of that unit's performance. Both models are priced at about $2,499.99 direct from Toshiba – street prices may be a little lower. For the remainder of this review I will refer to this notebook as the G30.
Qosmio is Toshiba's line of desktop replacement Microsft Windows XP Media Center Edition notebooks. Think entertainment center to go and you have the right idea. One thing the G30 has that your Hi-Fi system might not is an HD-DVD player - a major part of the G30's cost justification.
Out of Box Experience – Look, Feel and Ergonomics
I have never owned nor reviewed a desktop replacement before. One look at the G30's massive box and I knew what I was in for. Pulling it from the box was a struggle , the G30 is quite imposing and monolithic.
Opening the G30's lid, the solid construction and attractive materials combine to give it a really majestic appearance -the term techno-shaman's altar comes to mind . I imagined sacrificing smaller notebooks on this altar by placing them on the keyboard and shutting the lid.
Now that I have the pagan rituals out of my system, let’s take a closer look at the G30. The case's brushed metal material (it looks like black anodized aluminum), large silver volume knob and unique speaker grills give the G30 a look that would fit in nicely with any high-end audio component. The materials feel high grade to the touch. Because of this the G30 is likely to collect finger prints -- and unlike a nice HiFi system, you will frequently have your fingers all over the G30.
It looks good and seems to have a build quality to match. We all know that a solid chassise liminates flex, and flex is a bane to good keyboards. So it is no surprise that the G30's keyboard is fantastic. It has nice square keys that match the PC's chiseled looks and just the right amount of travel.
Qosmio G30 keyboard (view large image)
A series of quick-launch buttons (TV and music shortcuts) and media controls (similar to VCR controls) are situated above the keyboard. Along the right side is the volume knob. The volume knob is not programmable -- a shame because it would make a good shuttle for video editing. This volume knob is much more solid than the one found on Toshiba's Qosmio F20/F25 series.
Toshiba Qosmio Dual Mode touchpad (view large image)
Toshiba's unique Dual Mode Touch pad is featured on the G30. I have used this on the Satellite A100 and P100 series and find it to be a non-intrusive way to add some functionality to what would otherwise be a pretty boring part of your computer. It works by offering a simple toggle between normal mousing and programmable quick launch buttons. Once again, I found that it worked right out of the box without requiring me to adjust settings.
Using the term notebook to describe the G30 seems a bit silly – 'coffee-table-book' might be a better description. It weighs just over ten pounds, is two inches think, sixteen inches wide and about twelve inches long. Unless you are very large and strong, it is doubtful that you will want to travel much with something like the G30 slung under your arm.
A big chassis offers lots of room to design a good thermal system, this is an advantage that desktop replacements have over notebooks.
Qosmio G30 right side view (view large image)
Heat was not an issue under normal use and when running on batteries. Intel has devised a platform with such excellent thermal properties that smart notebook makers can easily create chassis with adequate cooling.
Qosmio G30 left side view (view large image)
Also inside the box are an assortment of cables and connectors, a Windows Media Center compatible remote control and its receiver.
Here are the quick spes on the G35-AV650 under review:
Intel's Core Duo T2500 CPU running at 2.00 GHz and a 667 FSB handles the 'thinking' in the G30. I would prefer to see the T2700 2.33 GHz CPU in a top of the line PC, but other than bragging rights and slightly higher benchmark scores the T2500 offers all features of the faster chip such as Dual Core, Virtualization Technology, Enhanced Speed Step, and Execute Disable.
The G30 completed the SuperPi CPU benchmark (calculating Pi to two million places) in 1 minute 16 seconds. This is a couple of seconds faster than I usually get from a T2500. This is about twice as fast as the comparable offering from AMD.
The T7400 Core 2 Duo (sadly, not in the G35) takes only 58 seconds to calculate PI to 2M digits!
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Toshiba Qosmio G30 (2.0 GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|HP nc8430 (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo)||0m 58s|
|Compaq V3000T(1.6GHz Core Duo)||1m 26s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|Toshiba A100(2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Acer Aspire 5102WLMi(1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-50||2m 22s|
|Gateway E-100M(1.2GHz Core Solo ULV)||2m 02s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP dv5000z(2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)||2m 02s|
Another synthetic benchmark we use is Futuremark's PCMark 05. This is a good general measure of system performance. The G30 achieved a score of 4,195. In detail, the PCMark 05 score looked like this:
|HDD -- XP Startup||5.79MB/s|
|Physics and 3D||159.28FPS|
|3D -- Pixel Shader||97.48FPS|
|Web Page Rendering||2.93Pages/s|
|Graphics Memory -- 64 Lines||1166.71FPS|
|HDD -- General Usage||4.17MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression||1982.74KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding||316.61KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit||104.05Pages/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression||23.75MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression||4.53MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption||24.06MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD -- Virus Scan||14.49MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency -- Random 16 MB||8.41 MAccesses/s|
PCMark05 Comparison Results:
|Toshiba Qosmio G30 (2.0GHz Core Duo, Nvidia Go 7600)||4,652 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|
|Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo)||3,427 PCMarks|
1 GB of DDR2 667 MHz in dual-channel mode matches the CPU's front side bus speed and avoids bottlenecks. I have noticed mid-level notebooks starting to appear on store shelves with 2 GB of RAM. A top of the line model like the G30 should also have that much RAM.
A large chassis affords the G30 enough space to include two 2.5 inch hard drives (HDD) with some underutilized (at least on the test unit) RAID capability. The operating system sees two drives. The boot drive has slightly less capacity than the second drive because of the thin media Operating System installed on the Qosmio that allows you to view TV and DVDs without booting into Windows.
Toshiba's simple RAID Console utility manages Intel's Matrix Storage RAID feature. Data from one drive can be mirrored to the other using the utility. That means that you have a perfect clone of your HDD in case something happens, but it also means that you have effectively half the storage space. None the less, this is a nice feature to insure that your data is always safe.
Although Toshiba lists that it is supported in the specifications, there does not seem to be a RAID striping option – this is a high performance form of RAID that can greatly increase I/O performance of HDDs. There is a risk of losing data if a RAID array goes awry and that probably explains its omission (advanced users can configure it themselves).
The drives in question are 100 GB models from Toshiba. If you are not familiar with these drives they each sport 5400 rpm rotation speeds, SATA interface, and Native Command Queuing. This later feature allows the drive to accept more than one read/write command at once. The hard drive then uses knowledge of its own access time and spin rate to decide which command to complete first.
Mobile Hard Drives with 200 GB capacities are on the horizon, and 120 or 160 GB models are appearing on many notebooks. Because of this, the G30's bragging rights at 200 GB total capacity will be temporary at best. Maybe a 400 GB version of the Qosmio is in store for us some day.
Optical Drive and HD-DVD
The other noteworthy storage technology making its debut on the G30 is an HD-DVD optical drive . This is one of the competing next-gen disc formats along with Blu-Ray. There is a good chance that this battle is going to be a winner take all proposition much like VHS vs. Beta was twenty years ago. I would hate to have to pick a winner this early in the war, but with solid backing from Microsoft and almost all the major electronics manufacturers other than Sony, I would bet on Toshiba's standard if I had to choose.
HD-DVD drive (view large image)
This drive also handles optical disc burning, but it does not support writing HD-DVD discs. It is a dual layer DVD burner that accepts both -/+ media. It burns regular DVD-/+R discs at 8x, RW discs at 4x, dual layer at 2.4x and DVD-RAM at 5x. This should cover most needs.
HD content that you will be playing on this drive demands a screen capable of displaying extreme detail. Thankfully Toshiba outfitted the G30 with a fantastic 1920*1080 panel with Trubrite coating. This screen will display 1080p HD content in all its glory. The screen is very bright, exhibits no ghosting and has a very good contrast level.
I watched a variety of HD content on the panel, and much like on a 1080p television, you notice every flaw or compression artifact. HD display panels are really going to push content providers to deliver much better media – you will have to look hard to find content that really takes full advantage of this screen.I have to confess that I was not too impressed by any of the content I watched - the Toshiba's excellent screen draws attention to every flaw in compression (grain and artifacts), every edge enhancement and lack of detail.
HD-DVD CPU usage (view large image)
Display and Graphics Card
Powering this display is the Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 which is based on Nvidia's current generation technology. It comes with 128 MB of dedicated video RAM (256 MB on the US model). You should be able to play newer games windowed, but this video system simply can not push enough pixels to play recent games at the panels native resolution of 1920*1080.
The Qosmio G35 has a 17" 1920*1080 display (view large image)
Nvidia claims that the Go 7600 features hardware accelerated decode of WMV, MPEG-2 and H.264, LCD sharpening and spacial-temporal de-interlacing. These accelerating technologies are relevant given the G30's HD-DVD drive, at least they would be if they worked. I tested the HD-DVD version of Martin Scorsese's 'Good Fellas' and opened up the task manager to look at the CPU activity during playback. I was very disappointed to see 65-95% CPU utilization of both CPU cores even with the hardware acceleration box checked in the software's setup menu.
I believe that you have to buy the Nvidia Pure Video utility to unlock the acceleration and enhancement technologies of the 7600. In addition to relieving the CPU of decoding work, a good de-interlacer is sorely missed when watching live or recorded TV. The omission of this single little utility compromises the core features of this Qosmio. Toshiba should include it or consider switching to ATI GPUs. ATI includes these features for free with all of their newer video chips.
In raw performance terms, the Go 7600 managed a score of 3,733 in Futuremark's 3DMark05 video system stress test. In order to play games at the G30's native LCD resolution I estimate that you would need a video system capable of scoring at least 10,000 points – rare in laptops.
3DMark05 Results and comparison:
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Toshiba Qosmio G30 / G35 (2.0GHz Core Duo, Nvidia Go 7600 128MB)||3,733 3D Marks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||2,866 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|
Video Output and TV Tuner
Video can be output via HDMI, VGA and S-Video cables.S-Video and composite can be used for capturing video.
Qosmio G30 back side ports including HDMI port (view large image)
Once again on a Toshiba notebook, DVI is missed. HDMI video output matches the quality of DVI, and integrates audio output into a single cable, but it is really only useful for connecting the G30 to television sets. It also is not very common yet and most people probably do not have one of these cables yet. You can get an HDMI to DVI adapter while shopping for an HDMI cable, the G30 includes neither.
Toshiba has included a standard definition TV tuner with the G30. I could not find an explicit mention of whether or not the tuner has integrated hardware encoding of MPEG2. I found CPU utilization of about 30% on one core when recording.
The Qosmio G30 has a coaxial cable port (view large image)
Wireless networking is handled by the Intel PRO/wireless 3945ABG chip. With the proliferation of 802.11b and g networks, it is nice that the G30 offers users the option to go with the less cluttered 802.11a standard. Antenna performance was mediocre, falling well short of my all time WiFi champ: the Acer TravelMate 2428. Where the Acer finds seven networks the G30 could only see two.
Bluetooth 2.0 with enhanced data rate is included. Backward compatible with previous versions of Bluetooth (BT), this is three times faster and consumes less power than its predecessor. The extra bandwidth makes the G30 work better when connecting to multiple Bluetooth devices – and example would be syncing a phone or PDA will using a BT mouse or keyboard.
Audio Output Quality
As you would expect from an HD-DVD capable notebook, high definition audio is present on the G30. Sigmatel's codec is used to output audio to the harmon kardon speakers. This is a 'soft audio' solution which means the CPUs do the audio mixing, not a dedicated audio chip. Normally this is OK and the vast majority of notebooks use this approach, but with the CPUs struggling to keep up with HD content decoding and the Nvidia Go 7600 offering little assistance, do we really want the CPU to handle audio decode and mixing? Decoding an HD-DVD's Dolby Digital 7.1 audio content into 2 channels and providing some 3D virtualization takes a lot of CPU cycles.
This might explain why I had difficulty getting InterVideo's HD-DVD software to actually output sound. Or it could be a bug in the software. Either way, having to spend time getting the main feature of the notebook to work was a bit of a pain. It also reinforces the notion that maybe some more time should have been spent perfecting the platform and integrating the necessary software.
Sigmatel's codec is accompanied by a nice driver control panel that gives you access to all sorts of Dolby virtualization technologies. Other than InterVideo's HD-DVD application I had no problems with sound. TV and regular DVD playback was fine.
The G30 has a 1 bit DAC and amplifier which is quite unusual in a notebook. Sound output through the audio system is powerful and loud, but as full volume the bass is muddled and high tones are flat. Headphone output is good if you use a good set of cans.
Personally, I think the Analog Devices codecs are better than Sigmatel, Realtek or CMI's products in terms of audio quality and CPU utilization, and I wish we would see those used more often in high-end notebooks. Give points to Toshiba for making an effort in the audio area, but I think they fall just a bit short.
Ports and Slots
A 5-in-1 media card reader is included that supports the smaller card formats (Secure Digital, Memory Stick™, Memory Stick PRO™, Multi Media Card, xD Picture Card). A four pin firewire port is included for connecting that DV cam you have kicking about.
The G30 also has both a Cardbus/PCMCIA and Express Card slot. This is a smart move that offers users the best of both worlds: compatibility with current and past cards and the ability to use the interesting Express Card s that are on the horizon. An HDTV tuner card would be a great choice especially for those who live where there is good Over the Air (OTA) HD programming.
Battery and Power
The G30's battery is a 4700mAh 6-cell unit. Battery life for a notebook in this class is quite good – better than I expected from a battery with this capacity. Away from a power outlet, I managed just under two hours.
Even with decent battery life, watching HD-DVD media while running under battery power is best avoided . W ith the G30's 'DVD' profile selected the reduced CPU clock speed resulted in playback that looked more like a high definition slide show than a video. Even a good film like Good Fellas is hard to enjoy at 10 frames per second.Watching the clock, 59 minutes passed by before I received the first low power warning. Four minutes later the playback stopped. Mobile HD movie watching is out.
AC power supplies can add some serious bulk to many of todays notebooks. The G30's 120 watt unit is huge and uses a proprietary connector. Perhaps the huge screen and extra HDD necessitates having a much more robust power supply than what you would see with other, smaller, T2500 based notebooks. A power supply like this will be tough to find if you lose it, but with its anchor-like weight you probably won't move it around much.
Remote and Media Options
The G30's remote uses consumer electronics grade infra red (IR). RF remotes seem like a superior technology because they do not require a direct line of sight to the product you are trying to remote control and often have much greater range, but Microsoft made a decision to push IR with the MCE platform so most manufactures stick with this familiar technology.
Included media remote (view large image)
On the front of the G30 is an IR port but it isn't designed to handle consumer electronic remotes so there is also an included USB IR receiver box. It is a shame that you need to plug in a dongle box to get the remote working. It might be incovenient, but at elast it works. The receiver box detected inputs from twenty feet away.
In addition to Windows Media Center Edition, Toshiba uses a media operating system – probably based on Linux - to allow users access to TV and DVD playback without booting into windows. I liked the DVD playback of this 'Qosmio Player.' It is nice and simple and the quality is pretty good. Sadly, HD-DVD support is not included in the Qosmio Player.
Windows software is relatively spartan on the G30. You get Windows XP MCE, which uses XP Pro as its core. You also get trial ware anti-virus software from Norton. I have said this before when reviewing other premium notebooks; but it is silly not to include the full version of a vital feature like this on a $3,000 notebook when the average person can buy the OEM copy for $15 without Toshiba's buying power.
Intervideo's WinDVD and HD-DVD software are both included. Note that you need two separate applications to play discs. You will also see separate entries for both applications on the MCE menu system as well. InterVideo also provides the content authoring software. I think a simple codec added to Windows Media player is a better approach for DVD playback (and HD-DVD if possible) then having several applications that can do the same thing.
Toshiba's configuration utilities are included. These work great but they have been stagnant for a couple of years. It is time for Toshiba to step-up and innovate again. LG in particular has caught up and in some areas passed Toshiba with their integrated utilities (in particular the auto-update).
Conclusion, is it worth the money?
The G30 is a first gen HD notebook, and it is burdened with too many compromises to fully recommend it. The only person I could recommend this to in good conscience is someone with a fat wallet and who is prepared to live with the early adopter compromises in order to be the first one on the block with an HD-DVD notebook.
Lets talk about HD-DVD for a minute. My experience with 1080p HD-DVD content was quite poor. The Good Fellas disc I used was a huge disappointment and a rip-off at double the cost of the DVD version. I suppose a bit more research would have alerted me to the poor quality of the HD-DVD, but why should a consumer bother? A standard DVD and a decent upscaling DVD player will produce output just as good as HD-DVD if the combination I tested is any indication. I would feel pretty stupid right now if all I had to show for my HD-DVD investment was a light wallet and a content of the same quality as the HD-DVD of Good Fellas. The 1080p WMV HD content I found was also of a poor quality.Content providers need to step up their game. Lack of good 1080p content should definitely enter into your buying decision.
HD-DVD is not as fully integrated into XP MCE as I would expect, Toshiba has to rely on InterVideo's WinDVD application and its software decoder. Out of the box, I had trouble getting the audio to work in this application (eventually giving up) and the nice MCE remote did not work perfectly with WinDVD HD. The playback requires two CPU cores working at full capacity to decode the content, Nvidia's decode acceleration is either absent because the Pure Video software is not included .
Regular PC performance is fine, but a similarly performing Toshiba without the HD-DVD can be had for half the cost of the G30.
Other than its novelty, there really isn't much to recommend the G30. It pains me to render such a negative verdict, but I think Toshiba has to go back to the drawing board with this concept.
This unit was a prototype, and Toshiba thinks this might have something to do with the audio problems I experienced. But the other quirks will apply to the units you can buy in stores.
What would I change?
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