by Perry Longinotti
Gaming notebooks have been around for a few years now and getting a good one has been easy assuming you have heaping piles of cash. For those of us on a budget, we were stuck with mid-range GPUs and big compromises in the visual settings of our games until Gateway’s FX line came out last winter. Today we’ll be looking at Toshiba’s answer to higher performance on a budget, the Toshiba Qosmio X305/300 gaming notebook.
It’s easy to say a notebook has game and the throw some vague slides on a company website (cough, Apple) but the nice thing about this segment is that imposters are quickly uncovered. Your notebook can either play a game as the developer intended (at or near max settings) or it cannot. Sure, you can suffer through some games with all the visual settings dialled-down on mainstream notebooks but that isn’t what this segment is about. These notebooks are extreme machines – “Sharks with freakin’ laser beams!”
First the vital statistics – this model is very close to the X305-Q705 (detailed descriptions further down):
- Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 2.0GHz CPU with 25Watt TDP
- NVIDIA GeForce 9700m GTS 512MB
- 17″ Display With 1440 x 900 Resolution
- 320GB SATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
- 4GB 1066 MHz DDR3 System Memory
- Super Multi 8X DVD±R/RW with Double Layer Support
- 4.1 speakers with Dolby Home Theatre
- MSRP of $1,499.99 ($1,699.99 CDN)
Build and Design
Starting with the Satellite P30 series a few years ago, Toshiba has been easing themselves into the gaming notebook segment. Last year’s X200/205 was armed with dual GPUs in SLI and was a pretty big hit. The X305 has big shoes to fill in order to make the right impression – so Toshiba started by ramping up the looks.
While there is no accounting for taste, I think the X305′s hot rod inspired flames look appropriately hot. Its lid has multi-hued metallic red flames (Metallic Bordeaux Fire Shark according to Toshiba). Red plastics wrap around the chassis and extend around the keyboard. Near the hinge the plastic is translucent and backlit. The palm rests are black textured plastic.
It is rather busy in the dark – very disco!
When placed on a flat surface, the X305 exhibits no warped plastics or chassis. Four large rubber feet raise the notebook about a quarter inch from the surface allowing plenty of room for air circulation.
Handling the X305 the second thing you will notice is that this notebook feels quite sturdy overall although there are some weak spots. The cool-looking lid feels thin and flimsy and the right palm rest flexes. Given the X305′s weight you might expect some chassis creaking as you carry it around, but there isn’t any. With the exception of the keyboard, that we will get to in a moment, everything else is pretty firm.
Like most notebooks these days, hinge tension works in place of an LCD latch mechanism. Mechanical hinge latches are not mechanisms that I miss – those were typically the first part to fail on a notebook.
No screen latch
At 9.1 lb. and 2.5″ thick you won’t want to tote this around college campus. Width is 16.25″ and length is 12″ – a bright red manhole cover comes to mind when thinking about the X305′s portability. For its intended purpose of gaming, moving between rooms occasionally and being shown off at LAN Parties the weight won’t be an issue.
Tower of power – Toshiba Qosmio X305 on a Gateway P-6831FX
Toshiba chose the LG Philips LPLA101 LCD panel for the X305. This 17.1″ display is bright with good contrast, color saturation and a 1440 x 900 resolution. This resolution is a good match for the 9700m GTS video card. You will be able to run most games at native resolution. The screen is usable at the lowest brightness setting but most people will probably settle on 50%. Horizontal viewing angles are good with no color inversion at really sharp angles. Vertical viewing angles were typical of TN panels with inversion of colors past a certain point – but that’s no a big deal, that is what the hinge is for. Above the display are the webcam and microphone.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Reviled though it may be, Toshiba is pushing the European style keyboard layout in Canada. Weep for your poor wretched Canadian cousins. The X305′s keyboard is finish is glossy – a motif that is being extended throughout the Toshiba line up. It looks good but the keys are a little slippery. Also, the base flexes a lot and the short key travel makes this defect very noticeable. Key clicks are loud getting progressively worse as you move to the right. Next to the Acer 6920g keyboard I would rate this as the worst I have used this year. It is possible that the US keyboard is better. Here is a quick video that captures the flex.
On the right side of the keyboard where flex is most pronounced you will find a full numeric keypad. The positioning of the Del, Home, Pg Up, Pg Dn and End keys is unorthodox. Above the keyboard and centered between sharp looking Harmon/Kardon speakers are media control buttons (exactly where they belong – Acer I am talking to you). Additional speakers are situated near the palm rests as well.
Toshiba’s touchpads often need a bit of twiddling to get them setup the way I like them (fast with a light touch). The X305 was perfect right out of the box. Unlike in past years, Toshiba has elected to keep the touchpad simple and uncluttered with chotchkas – a smart choice. Buttons are firm and rattle free. There is no Apple-like two finger tapping or multi-touch. The top of the pad glows red while the notebook is on.
The installation is relatively clear of junk. Toshiba’s utilities are present, but in some cases they are redundant with Windows offering the same functionality. There is no point having two programs that do the same thing running in memory – a good example being the Wi-Fi configuration. Uninstalling these will free up some memory and remove a few unwanted background services.
A Bluetooth setup utility pops up on first boot to help you configure any keyboard mice or other peripherals you may have. I like this feature but it is a bit odd; Toshiba reminds you to setup a wireless mouse but not to create backup discs? On a related note, lack of an included Vista restore disc is a disappointment. This notebook is not a $399 door crasher – Gateway provides recovery discs with its notebooks.
A novelty is the Toshiba face recognition feature. A cynic might say that this is just a cheap way to add biometric authentication to a notebook without the added cost of a fingerprint reader. After all, even the most basic notebooks have an integrated webcam these days. I was not able to get this working but there was an update on the Toshiba site and are many reports of people using this successfully.
Toshiba also includes a voice recognition and command utility and it works incredibly well. This is a very good accessibility feature. You launch programs, perform tasks and navigate the web. It does a good job of isolating out background noise, but watch out if you have a talkative 5 year old in the room because the results can be pretty funny (or scary if you are working on anything important).
A Norton 360 three-month trial is included. This is a pretty resource intensive antivirus solution – I prefer the Windows firewall, defender, malicious code updates and a freebee like Avira.
First let’s look at the CPU. Toshiba uses Intel’s Core 2 Duo P7350 CPU. This is a Penryn-3M medium voltage chip. What does this mean?
- It’s made using 45 nm process making it smaller and cooler running.
- It has 3 MB of level two cache versus 2 MB in last year’s value processors.
- Benefiting from the Penryn architectural advancements makes it about 15% faster than last year’s Merom-based budget CPUs clock for clock.
- The latest front side bus speed of 1066 MHz is used.
- Medium voltage means that it consumes less power, improving battery life.
- Miserly power consumption produces less heat, about 25% less than last year (25 Watt TDP versus 35).
Next up is the chipset, in this case Intel’s PM45 (Cantiga) north bridge and ICH9-M south bridge. First the PM45; In addition to supporting the faster Front Side Bus speeds it also bring support for DDR3 which is both faster and uses lower voltage. Although not relevant in this particular review, PM45 also adds AMD CrossfireX support. Perhaps Toshiba could change things up a bit in the future with a Crossfire offering – two mobile 4850 GPUs would be pretty amazing.
DRR3 memory is not easy to find in stores and comparatively expensive (although this will change rapidly). Toshiba equips the X305 with 4 GB of DDR3 operating at 1066 MHz – nearly double last year’s 667 MHz standard. This notebook should be able to handle a total of 8 GB when the 4 GB modules begin to ship. When comparing gaming notebooks be weary of models that skimp by using the older DDR2 RAM.
Underneath the X305 there is a depressing lack of access panels. You will need to completely tear down the notebook to access its socketed CPU and MXM 3.0 module. If anyone from Toshiba reads this consider the following:
- Most people keep their notebooks for 2-3 years.
- During this time Toshiba probably makes zero dollars off its existing clients.
- A simple-to-install MXM module for a notebook would provide a revenue opportunity.
- Gaming notebooks owners might buy a $300 GPU upgrade or two during the 2-3 year life of their notebook.
Seems pretty simple to me – and the future proofing and novelty of this would be worth a press release and some juicy marketing bullet points. It would be nice if one of the big brand notebook makers would support this (Dell’s upgradable XPS line was rather half-hearted). A company like OCZ will probably beat them too it though with their D.I.Y. notebook line.
NVIDIA’s GeForce 9700m GTS GPU powers the X305. Many people will consider this the most important part. The 9700m GTS is based on the G94 GPU – a significantly more powerful part that is used in the 9800m series. Really, this should be considered part of the 9800m series. It delivers excellent gaming performance. Here are some of the salient points:
- 48 unified shader units (versus 64 units in the 8800m GTS and the 9800m GS)
- 512 MB of 256-bit GDDR3 memory running at 799 MHz – 51.1 GB/s bandwidth
- 530 MHz Core, 1325 MHz shaders
- Pixel fillrate 8.5 GPixel/s, Texture fillrate 17 GTexel/s
- General Purpose GPU support: CUDA applications and NVIDIA PhysX
- PureVideo HD including HDCP HDTV output.
- PowerMizer power management technology to reduce temps and power use.
What do these bullet points mean? The core and shader speeds are faster than the 8800m GTS, but the 9700m GTS only has 48 unified shader units. This means (everything else being equal) the video system in the X305 delivers about 75-80% of the performance of an 8800m GTS or 9800m GS.
You probably want to know how it plays games right? First the synthetic results – the X305 scores 7,325 points in 3DMark06. This is good score that puts the X305 in the same ballpark as rivals like the Gateway P-6860FX. 3DMark is easy to optimize for and does not really stress the GPUs as much as games do so let’s see how the X305 fares in the following games:
- Call of Duty 4 – engine used in the Quantum of Solace game
- Crysis: Warhead – Cry Engine, the most demanding game engine
- Gears of War – Unreal Engine 3, licensed for use in many games
All games were tested at the X305′s native LCD resolution 1440×900. Games were tested using FRAPs while playing through the first ten minutes to arrive at the minimum, average and maximum frame rates measured in frames per second. This will give you a good idea of what playing demanding games on the X305 will be like.
Call of Duty 4 uses the DX9 graphics API and doesn’t require the 9700m GTS’s DX10 support. It is still a demanding game and is a staple of LAN Parties. As you can see from the following chart, the game is fully playable at maximum settings and 4xAA. The only hiccup was when audio seemed to be loading – a second of two of stuttering. You can see how that affects performance below:
Call of Duty 4 – 40 fps maxed out
Anyone familiar with Crysis: Warhead will not be expecting to play it on very high settings on a 2008 notebook. It is simply too demanding. But the game is playable on medium settings. Here are the details:
Mainstream/Medium setting is just barely playable
Gamer/High setting is simply too much – and there is a level above this!
Gears of War uses Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, this is one of the more popular and more demanding game engines. It is used in many current games like Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Rainbow Six: Vegas. Upcoming titles include Borderlands, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Mirror’s Edge. The X305 aced Gears of War, running fully maxed out in DX 10 mode with anti-aliasing turned off. Results looked like this:
Gears of War – 43 fps maxed out DX 10, no AA
As you can see, the X305 delivers a very good gaming experience. To put this in perspective the detail levels, resolution and frame rate of these games easily eclipses what is possible on a console. These results are very good and place the X305 in the rank of the Gateway P-7811FX. If you are lucky enough to live in the USA, you can buy the SLI version of the X305 for $1,999.99 for significantly better performance (probably very close to double). The dual GPU X305 is a category leader in terms of power and bang for buck.
Speakers and Audio
Audio performance is excellent. The speakers are worth every bit of the Harmon/Kardon and Dolby labelling on them. With four speakers and a sub woofer the Dolby software has a lot to work with and the results are great. Games sound much better on the X305 than on the Gateway 6831FX, but the 4.1 speaker arrangement only ‘expands’ the sound rather than delivering true positional effects.
Audio is a very important part of playing online games as audible clues can help you find your opponent faster. In order to really isolate sounds, many players use high quality headphones. I was hoping that the 4.1 audio output of the X305 might eliminate the need for headphones. Sadly, the positional effect is probably not strong enough to play competitive first person shooters without headphones.
For home theatre purposes the X305′s HDMI output of audio is excellent and Toshiba even includes a utility to configure this output. Realtek’s codec features mini jack autosensing, so when you plug in a set of headphones or line-out a pop up helps configure things.
Heat and Noise
After playing games for an hour I was struck by the lack of heat. So I ran Gear of War for 10 hours, still no heat issues. Toshiba has put some thought into the X305′s cooling system. There are two fans that suck cool air in from beneath the notebook blowing it over the CPU, GPU and venting out the rear. Temps on the exhaust can reach 65oC but the palm rests remain nice and cool. In other words the heat is kept away from where you would notice it. Fan noise is not noticeable unless you flip the X305 and listen to them.
Keeping it in the family, this X305 uses Toshiba’s MK3252 GSX 320 GB hard drive. It has a spindle speed of 5400 rpm, 8 MB buffer and SATA-II 3.0Gb/s interface. Temperatures during normal use hovered around 40oC. HD Tune performance was in-line with the ubiquitous Western Digital drives. Here is a screenshot:
Battery and Power Adapter
The included battery has a unique tacky plastic finish and it does not move or rattle when installed. It is rated for 4000 mAh, 14.4 Volts and 57.6 Wh. On a big power gobbling rig like this I was not expecting much away from an outlet and I was right. Surfing the Internet with only a small bit of streaming video netting exactly 90 minutes from a full charge before the X305 shut itself off. Expect to get about an hour into a DVD before it shuts down.
The massive 180 Watt power adapter adds about 1.9 lbs to the travel weight. If other PSUs are bricks, this is a paving stone. It is easily the biggest power brick that I have come across. Toshiba uses a non-standard plug so make sure that you don’t forget it when you head out to the LAN Party, it is not likely that anyone will have a spare that will actually fit your X305.
The power brick is aptly named, almost the size of an Acer Aspire One!
Ports and Features
Ports on the X305 are as follows; three USB 2.0, mini Firewire, VGA, HDMI, USB 2.0/eSATA, microphone, headphone/digital and Ethernet. Inside a small compartment on the right side of the notebook are the Kensington lock port, modem/fax jack, and a memory card slot that accepts SD/MMC/MS and xD flash formats.
Toshiba designed the X305 with a front loading tray-style DVD drive. Optical recording is robust and the LG GSA-T50N covers all but the most exotic formats (CD-R 24x, CD-RW 4x, DVD-R 8x, DVD-R DL 4x, DVD-RW 4x, DVD+R 8x, DVD+R DL 4x DVD+RW 4x, DVD-RAM 5x). An 8x dual-layer multi-DVD burner is exactly what you would expect at this price point although Blu-Ray is starting to pop-up.
Toshiba has made some large strides from last year’s X205. The X305 looks much better – they have committed to the concept of the gaming notebook and have produced something bold. Chances are people will either love or hate the design but Toshiba has plenty of staid conservative notebooks to choose from; they need something like this.
In terms of performance the X305 does very well. The CPU and GPU are well balanced and it seems to be within 10% of last year’s value gaming champ, the Gateway P-6831FX. The Toshiba wins in synthetic benchmarks but falls a bit short in actual games. The cooling and audio systems are significantly better though. Less heat equals peace of mind to many people (myself included).
Toshiba’s offering also has the upside of being upgradable – but that is not officially supported nor will it be easy. CPU swaps are straightforward, simply buy a new P8400/8600/9500-series Intel CPU and take the case apart to install (easier said than done). Tracking down the 9800m GTX SLI MXM 3.0 module is going to tough and you may have to count on some eBay mercenaries unless Toshiba allows you to order the part direct from them. A quick scan of eBay shows the 8800m GTX SLI card selling for about $1,000.00.
If you can buy the Gateway P-7811FX or ASUS G50Vt-X1 – both of which regularly sell for $1,250.00 – I think they are better choices. They will be 15-20% faster than the 9700m GTS-equipped X305 and a couple of hundred dollars less. All three are brands that I would trust. If the price comes down on the X305 to make it more competitive with its rivals, or if you can find one on sale, then I think you will be happy with any of these three notebooks.
This configuration of the X305 is Toshiba’s way of throwing a bone to people on a budget. I appreciate that. But if you have a bit more cash and access to the Toshiba online store then the X305-Q706 for $1,999.99 is a great value. It is the same notebook as the X305 reviewed here beefed up with two 9800m GTX cards in SLI, a higher resolution screen and 7200 RPM HDD. An additional $500 seems like a small price to pay for all the extra power. Two grand for a notebook may seem steep but comparable models from other manufacturers are common at $3,500-4,000.
- Very good gaming performance
- Solid construction
- Available as an SLI equipped giant killer for $500 more.
- Viable alternative to Gateway and ASUS gaming notebooks available in same price range
- Bad keyboard in Canada (don’t know about USA version)
- User serviceability compromised
- You know you really want the SLI version
You won’t be disappointed, but you may want to spring for the more expensive configuration – it’s a killer.