by Trip Ericson
My grandmother's Toshiba Satellite 1805-S207 has never been a speed demon, and to say that it was slow was an understatement. This unit would crawl from one screen to another, and even my grandmother would leave a Solitare window open so she could “play a bit while the computer caught up.” When her birthday rolled around this year, I suggested purchasing her a new laptop computer. Upon checking the circulars on Easter weekend, a Toshiba Satellite A135-S4527 was on sale for $599 at Best Buy. So, with her consent, we went and purchased it.
Toshiba Satellite A135-S4527 (view large image)
I can't say that I looked up any others; I've always been a Toshiba loyalist myself. My grandmother, cousins, several friends, as well as the school system I attend and work for all have Toshibas, and all have fantastic track records. Some friends who have Dell, Acer, and HP have all had major problems. So it was only natural that I would continue to buy Toshiba.
The system has very nice specifications for the price:
The first thing that I looked at when I opened the box was the screen. I've been annoyed by the prominence of the high glare screens in most notebook computers sold today, and took the opportunity to see just how distracting my reflection and the glare would be. The “Tru-Brite” screen isn't nearly as annoying as I thought it would be, though it is more annoying than my laptop's matte screen. (I have a Toshiba Satellite A15-S157) It is certainly much brighter than mine, though that could also be explained by the fact that my system is nearing four years old and has been almost constantly used during that time. I also notice fingerprints beginning to show up on the screen, which are more distracting than the various reflections and glare.
(view large image)
The screen itself was of good build quality, seeing as it had no dead pixels that I could see. There is no leaking at the edge and the backlighting seemed very even. Even when I booted Kubuntu and had just a command line, the lighting seems to be quite even. The screen on the unit, especially with the “Tru-Brite technology,” exceeded my expectations with its quality.
The case is a thick plastic that is black on the inside and on the bottom, with a gray finish on the outer shell. It feels well-built, as there's not much “give” to it when pressed on. Pressing on the screen from the inside or from the shell causes no change in the appearance of the screen, and it feels well-protected from normal pressures, especially compared to my current Toshiba. I attempted to twist the screen and though it was definitely not flimsy, it does twist a little bit.
Top view of Satellite A135 (view large image)
The screen is held on by two hinges on the unit, and they provided a nice amount of resistance. My laptop's hinges failed after two years of heavy use and were repaired under the extended warranty, but initially felt just as sturdy as these, so only time will tell as to the quality of these hinges.
Underside view of Satellite A135 (view large image)
Speakers and Sound
One of the first things I noticed about the Toshiba is that the classic sound dial on the front of the machine was no longer a hardware control. The dial now controls the master software volume control, and for this reason was quite a bit less sensitive. It took several turns of the dial to adjust it from high volume to no volume, though I imagine this could be adjusted in software.
The speakers themselves seemed to be of moderate quality. I did not try to max them out, but after a certain point the sound did become distorted on the music I was listening to, a Q8 Ogg Vorbis recording downloaded from Jamendo.
The sound jacks are on the front of the system, which is somewhat of a mixed blessing. My current laptop has the sound jacks on the side, and this makes angled connectors favorable in all conditions. By moving them to the front, they seem more awkwardly placed. Without an angled connector, it seems that a plug could be easily pulled or leaned on, but with an angle connector the cable would then go out to the sides better. However, it seems that by putting them on the front, you gain a greater ability to reposition yourself with respect to the system without worrying about pulling too much on the cord if you pull too far to one side or the other.
Processor and Performance/Heat and Noise
The system features a Core Duo processor, a last generation chip, but for the simple tasks my grandmother will be using it for, it functions just fine. In fact, the system was quite snappy in its response compared to what I expected from a system running Windows Vista.
One thing that sticks out about this system was how cool the area under the processor fan is. Unlike my current system (Netburst Celeron 2.2GHz), which can get too hot to touch, this system never felt hot to the touch underneath, and even the air that blew out of the side never got very hot, even under stress. The processor fan is also much quieter than my own system's fan, and the palm rest stays cool.
Following are some benchmarks that were run on the Satellite A135-S4527 so you can have an idea of how it stacks up to other laptops.
SuperPi Benchmark Results
Super Pi tests the speed of a processor, in our test we force Super Pi to calculate the number Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy:
|Toshiba Satellite A135-S4527 (1.73GHz Core Duo)||1m 38s|
|HP dv9000t (1.6Ghz Core 2 Duo, nVidia Go 7600 256MB)||1m 37s|
|MSI M677 (1.8 GHz Turion X2)||1m 53s|
|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|
PCMark05 System Results
PCMark05 measures the overall system performance, here's how the Satellite A135 stacked up to other laptops:
|Toshiba Satellite A135-S4527 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,816 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,994 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
Below are the detailed results from the PCMark05 results:
|PCMark05 Detailed Results|
|HDD - XP Startup:||5.38 MB/s|
|Physics and 3D:||59.24 FPS|
|Transparent Windows:||1628.47 Windows/s|
|3D - Pixel Shader:||7.12 FPS|
|Web Page Rendering:||1.32 Pages/s|
|File Decryption:||42.42 MB/s|
|Graphics Memory:||64 Lines 188.76 FPS|
|HDD - General Usage:||3.93 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression:||1649.88 KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding:||230.99 KB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit:||68.72 Pages/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression:||19.72 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression:||3.42 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption:||20.24 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD - Virus Scan:||36.6 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency - Random 16 MB:||7.24 Maccesses/s|
HDTune Benchmark Results:
Below are the results of HDTune when run on the A135, HDTune measures the hard drive speed and performance
(view large image)
Keyboard and Touchpad
The A135 line looks to be the last line to use the classic Toshiba keyboard layout, that puts the Windows and Menu keys at the top right, and the Ins and Del keys below the right hand. I've always preferred this layout on laptops, seeing as I am primarily a Linux user and the Windows key could easily be replicated with Ctrl+Esc.
As far as the construction quality on the keyboard itself, it seems to be well-made. It has almost no flex to it, and the keys are much quieter than the keys on my current system. The keys are shifted to the right on this system to allow for the power button and four media buttons to be placed to the left of the keyboard. These keys seem to perform their purpose, though admittedly I haven't spent much time with them.
The touchpad is correctly placed so that one can easily type without touching it. As with both old systems, this unit will also scroll by sliding up and down the right edge of the touch pad. I was disappointed to find that the included software would not emulate a middle-click by clicking both buttons at once, but this is a driver issue rather than a hardware issue.
Input and Output
The system is covered in ports.
Front view (view large image)
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Left view (view large image)
Right view (view large image)
Back view (view large image)
I don't understand the logic in placing two of the USB ports on the right side right where one would be using a mouse, but it's good to at least have them.
I timed the battery on the system, and during an intense session of uninstalling default software and then installing things that were required, the battery life hit 3% after 121 minutes. This is a bit shorter than my current system's battery when new, and I wish that Toshiba could have squeezed an extra half an hour out of it. However, it is difficult to know how it would perform when merely surfing the Internet.
The wireless card included in the unit is an Atheros card. My grandmother's old laptop had no internal wireless, and thus was connected with a D-Link PCMCIA wireless card. This system works flawlessly all over her house, whereas the old system would lose signal in the Family Room where she would watch TV most often. The unit also includes a switch on the front to turn this functionality on and off.
My expectations were so low for Windows Vista that it should come as no surprise that I was mildly impressed by it.
The first thing that struck me was how slow it was to start up, given how Microsoft had claimed to speed up the boot time on Vista. After sitting on the BIOS screen for 13 seconds, Vista then took 2:01 to get to the desktop, with system tray applications still loading.
The 3D effects and translucency were all very nice, and I'm finding that I miss those now that I'm away from that system. They certainly add to the experience and make things feel smoother.
Another thing that annoyed me was the sluggishness of I/O operations. File transfers seemed to take forever and a day. I tried to move 300MB worth of files off of the hard drive and onto a USB disk and gave up after the first twenty minutes.
The system came with much less junk software than I'd expected. It came with a collection of quickly-removed Wild Tangent games as well as a McAfee Security suite that was also quickly removed. I left the Office 2007 trial on it as well as Works 8, which I have not yet tested.
I took a few minutes to boot up the Kubuntu 6.10 Live CD on it and see how it responded. Naturally, the Atheros wireless card was detected but was not in a functional state. In addition, though the 5-in-1 card slot was detected and even detected when disks were inserted, apparently the driver that actually reads the card does not exist. With those exceptions, the system seems to run Kubuntu just fine.
For the typical user who only plans to surf the Internet and use a laptop for light use, this machine seems perfect. It is no high-end monster, but it's adequate for the common non-gamer. My grandmother is very pleased with it and its capabilities, though she's still getting used to the changes that Windows Vista brings.
I would definitely recommend this machine to anyone in the category of users who aren't looking for the most powerful machine for the heaviest of tasks, but are light users and are not so demanding on a computer.
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