by Kevin Giberson
The Toshiba A135 series notebook is offered in a wide variety of configurations, and ranges in price, at common big-box and online resellers, from under $700 to nearly $1500. The particular model under review here, an A135-S4427 provided by Toshiba, falls near the lower end of this range, and at first glance appears to be an excellent choice for the value-minded consumer looking to obtain a nicely outfitted notebook. The S4427 comes with Vista Home Premium, an Intel Core Duo T2250 processor, one gigabyte of RAM, 120 gigabytes of hard drive space, and a DVD-SuperMulti drive, all for well under $1000. Although a stripped-down Celeron configuration will generally cost the least of any A135 model notebook, the S4427, for not a whole lot more money, and provides just about everything one might hope for in a non-gaming, consumer-oriented notebook.
While comparing the prices of various A135s, I actually found myself thinking that this particular Toshiba series really is exemplary when it comes to illustrating the somewhat confusing task of pricing and purchasing a notebook. Yes, it’s possible to save some money by going with a weak CPU and minimal RAM, but unless an extra 15 or 20% cost is truly prohibitive, it almost never makes sense to purchase the weakest model in a series. Conversely, from the perspective of value, it rarely makes sense to opt for one of the most expensive models within a particular line. In the case of the A135, it’s possible to spend nearly double what an S4427 would cost, but from my perspective, an upgrade to the Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 and twice as much RAM and hard drive space is not worth the very substantial jump in price. In short, the exact review model I received, the A135-S4427, is probably the exact model I would myself purchase if I were in the market for a solid notebook that should have no trouble handling general office and multimedia tasks. My only concern, at the outset of this review, was whether or not Vista Home Premium, running the Aero interface, would be hampered by a single gigabyte of RAM. I’m glad to say, with some elaboration below, that performance was always quite good, and that the addition of an inexpensive flash drive to make use of the Vista ReadyBoost feature offered some performance improvement in certain high-stress situations.
Toshiba Satellite A135-S4427 Specs:
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My first thought upon seeing the A135-S4427 was that it’s a pretty standard consumer notebook: nothing exceptional in terms of appearance or build quality, just a lot of black and silver plastic. In all ways, the A135 occupies the middle ground and seems to be the equal of its competitors.
Design and Build
Satellite A135 lid view (view large image)
As indicated, design and build are unremarkable. I have no problem with the look, dependent as it is on offering decent form and function at a reasonable price. The build quality, like most consumer notebooks, seems fine too. I would have no concerns purchasing an A135 for myself because I travel minimally and tend to treat my computers with a care I rarely afford my other possessions. As always, an especially demanding or careless notebook user is probably better off looking at some of the more solidly built business models, though this inevitably means spending more money.
Satellite A135 front side: speaker and headphone jack, volume dial, 5-in-1 card reader, wi-fi on off switch (view large image)
Satellite A135 left side: VGA monitor out port, fant vent, USB port, S-Video, PCMCIA slot, FireWire port (view large image)
Satellite A135 right side: 2 USB 2.0 ports, optical drive, Kensington Lock slot (view large image)
Satellite A135 back view: Modem, power jack, Ethernet LAN port and USB port (view large image)
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The LG.Philips-manufactured display, a glossy TruBrite in the Toshiba lexicon, provides a resolution of 1280x800 and presented no problems at all. In fact, the screen was excellent. Had I purchased this notebook for long-term, personal use, I would have been quite happy with the LCD. There is no discernible light leakage and everything looks sharp and clear.
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Satellite A135 running Vista Aero (view large image)
My main concern with the graphics was whether the GMA 950 could adequately handle the new Vista Aero interface. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised: the look was very nice, and whatever system RAM was being utilized by graphics, this siphoning off of physical memory never seemed to cause any significant lag. Everything worked in pleasant harmony. As indicated by the 3DMark05 and 3dMark06 scores below, this is no gaming machine, but it does what it sets out to do and does it well.
Two speakers situated just above the function keys provided adequate sound that was reasonably clear and loud for a notebook. There is a volume wheel on the front of the notebook, which is handy, and overall I had no complaints about sound. I watched, and enjoyed, a lengthy DVD without benefit of external speakers or headphones.
Processor and Performance
The Intel Core Duo T2250 CPU, together with GMA 950 graphics and a gigabyte of RAM, performed surprisingly well. After reading a few articles on the demands of Windows Vista, especially when the Aero interface is enabled, I really wondered if a gig of RAM and integrated graphics would result in poor performance. In the end, performance was surprisingly strong, with and without ReadyBoost flash memory added to the hardware mix. Much of what I say here is somewhat anecdotal, though I did run Super PI and PCMark05 with and without a ReadyBoost allocation. The results didn’t vary much, but PCMark05 did indicate an overall performance increase of 3% with ReadyBoost enabled. I also noticed a difference between ReadyBoost and non-ReadyBoost performance while running Super PI in the background for an extended period of time; it seemed that various applications (Internet Explorer, Word, Notepad, Everest Home) responded and came to the fore much more quickly when flash memory was available to ReadyBoost. One final word on the CPU: some people may be put off by the inclusion of the older Core Duo in this particular model, but for most purposes, for the foreseeable future, the T2250 seems good enough and I for one wouldn’t hesitate to buy a machine with a T2250, particularly given the overall performance of this A135-S4427.
Super Pi Comparison Results
Super Pi forces the processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy and gives an idea of the processor speed and performance:
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (1.73GHz Core Duo)||1m 28s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo)||1m 22s|
|LG S1 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)||1m 11s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
Comparison results for 3DMark05
3DMark05 tests the overall graphic capabilities of a notebook, below is how the Satellite A135-4427 did compared to other notebooks:
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||519 3D Marks|
|Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)||7,078 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,092 3D Marks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536 3D Marks|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
The score obviously indicates this notebook won't do for more demanding 3D graphical needs such as gaming, but with 1GB of RAM Vista Aero still ran fine.
I used PCMark05, a general system benchmarking tool, to compare results when the notebook had a 2GB USB flash drive available for the Vista ReadyBoost feature and when it didn't. This Vista ReadyBoost feature allows the system to use a flash drive like extra memory, according to these benchmarks the flash drive did allow Vista to run faster, although marginally:
|PCMark05 Results||Without ReadyBoost||With 1.6 GB ReadyBoost Flash Memory|
|Overall PCMark05 Score||2,937||3,027|
|HDD – XP Startup||5.2 MB/s||5.9 MB/s|
|Physics and 3D||63.95 FPS||63.66 FPS|
|Transparent Windows||2965.92 Windows/s||2945.22 Windows/s|
|3D – Pixel Shader||8.56 FPS||8.51 FPS|
|Web Page Rendering||1.19 Pages/s||1.24 Pages/s|
|File Decryption||42.94 MB/s||42.31 MB/s|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||208.46 FPS||207.82 FPS|
|HDD – General Usage||3.73 MB/s||5.55 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression||1516.3 KB/s||1547.12 KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding||244.49 KB/s||220.19 KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit||72.26 Pages/s||70.5 Pages/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression||19.99 Mpixels/s||18.12 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression||3.43 MB/s||3.33 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption||20.17 MB/s||19.95 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD – Virus Scan||31.65 MB/s||39.78 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency – Random 16 MB||7.24 Maccesses/s||7.05 Maccesses/s|
You can see that with 1.6 GB flash memory allocated to ReadyBoost, the score was 3027, about 3% higher, with most of the gains appearing in areas where the hard drive would be under stress.
Hard drive performance, using HD Tune as the measure, was as follows:
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Satellite A135 keyboard view (view large image)
Of the two fairly minor complaints I had about this notebook, the keyboard was one of them, though I am admittedly rather picky about keyboards. I prefer the Windows key to be located at the bottom of the keyboard, next to the control key, but Toshiba put this key at the top of the keyboard, to the right of the function keys. Also, the tab key is narrower than I’m accustomed to, and all of these little keyboard eccentricities seem to result from the inclusion of a media button panel to the left of the keyboard (couldn't they be at the top?), though maybe it’s justified by design reasons I’m unaware of. I did notice some flex in the keyboard as well, though I never found this to be a significant problem or detraction from my overall typing experience. The touchpad was fine, but I generally used a USB mouse. On the whole, I found input devices to be okay, with no really serious problems, but the keyboard did leave a little to be desired when compared to some other notebooks I’ve used.
The 6-cell battery allowed me to watch a complete DVD, lasting 1 hour and 48 minutes, and still had 22% charge remaining. During general usage, the battery lasted for two hours and fifteen minutes, with minimal effort to reduce power consumption.
Heat and Noise
Generally the A135 did well in terms of heat and noise. The notebook was fairly quiet and stayed reasonably cool, with the bottom and palm rests never getting very warm at all. The fan did come on rather frequently, though it generally ceased spinning within a couple of seconds. But I did notice this regular, rapid cycling on and off, which often seemed to occur every few seconds. Another thing I found somewhat disconcerting was a regular blast of warm air coming out of the side vent, located on the left, whenever the fan did turn on. If it weren’t for the fact that I operate the mouse with my left hand, and I do generally use an external mouse, I might never have noticed the warm gush of air. But I found myself almost unconsciously shortening my left arm in order to avoid the warm air. I would guess that these are the sorts of issues that wouldn’t bother some users at all, but may drive a small selection of people absolutely batty.
The Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 worked without any problems, though setup took me a little longer than normal because I wasn’t used to the new Vista configuration drill.
Yes, there was a great deal of junk software on the A135, just as I’ve come to expect, and I didn’t bother uninstalling most of it. Nonetheless, performance was good, surprisingly so, as I’ve mentioned, given that I always ran the notebook with Aero enabled. Everything I tried to do I could do without any problems: general business-type tasks, DVD watching, listening to music, surfing the Internet.
As for Vista, the A135 afforded me my first extensive use of the new OS, though I’d installed a beta version of Vista on a desktop last year. Just about the first thing I did was turn off the new User Account Control (UAC) feature, which was driving me nuts. Once that was done and Windows quit asking me to confirm every other thing I tried to do, I found it took a couple of hours to get used to the differences between XP and Vista. The new interface is quite appealing, and Vista, in general, handled everything I asked of it with the same equanimity I’d become accustomed to with XP.
At the right price, and with the right configuration, the Satellite A135 offers extraordinary value. It is a fully capable notebook computer and performs better than I expected after reading various articles on the demands of Windows Vista. Toshiba has managed, at least in the S4427 incarnation of the A135, to provide a good CPU and screen, a full gig of RAM, a nice-sized hard drive, Vista Home Premium and an excellent optical drive, all for a very low price.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this notebook to someone looking to buy a notebook for general office and multimedia tasks while keeping the price low and avoiding serious sacrifices in terms of performance and components. Given that most people are capable of adjusting to a couple of keyboard eccentricities, my only real caveat would have to do with the fan cycling on and off and the blast of warm air that might bother a left-handed mouse user. Are these problems serious? I really don’t think so, but everyone’s tolerance for such things is different, as is a person’s tolerance for paying double or triple to get a computer that seems nearly perfect. As it is, at the most recent weekend’s sale prices at the usual big-box and online retailers, this notebook is as good a value as I’ve ever seen. I never felt like I was using a machine that made serious trade-offs in order to keep the price down.
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