Toshiba Satellite A100 / Satellite A105 Review (pics, specs)

by NotebookReview Staff Reads (532,949)
  • Pros

    • Very fast at all tasks
    • Excellent video system
    • Good build quality
    • Clean Windows install
    • Toshiba value added software
    • You may be able to get MS Office with this notebook

  • Cons

    • Should have a DVI port with VGA adapter
    • Bigger battery please
    • Squishy keyboard


by Perry Longinotti, Canada

A notebook for all seasons: Toshiba’s Satellite A100 / A105

This is a review of the Toshiba Satellite A105 and A100 notebook offerings.  For a few weeks now the Toshiba Satellite A100/A105 has topped the NotebookReview.com most popular notebooks ranking. Approximately eight percent of all visitors to this site come here looking for information on this particular A105 laptop. So when Toshiba Canada offered us a review unit we jumped at the chance to have a look!

In Canada, this line of notebooks is strictly called the Satellite A100. In the USA it’s called either the Satellite A100 or Satellite A105 (for our review purposes we’ll call these notebooks the same).  It makes an apples to apples comparison a little trickier, but that should not be a problem with this particular model because it is available in a seemingly endless array of configurations on both sides of the border. US residents get the added advantage of being able to order custom configurations through Toshibadirect.com.  In both countries there are a number of skus of this notebook sold in retail stores and online.


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The exact model number we were sent is the Canadian A100-SK900E, the quick specs on that are:

  • Intel T2500 2.0GHz Core Duo processor
  • Nvidia Go 7600 256MB Graphics card
  • 15.4″ widescreen TruBrite glossy display
  • 120GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • DVD Super Multi Burner optical drive

Out of Box Experience — Look and Feel

Toshiba’s box is all business. No fancy artwork or decals here, just an understated brown box.


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Inside the box the A100 and accessories are packed in cardboard and there is a minimum of plastics. Some might call this boring, but I respect a company that uses easily biodegradable materials in their packaging.


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Removing the laptop from its cardboard cocoon there is some plastic to protect the unit’s cover which is finished in a ‘Mist Grey’ color (Peacock Blue and Copper can also be ordered if you use Toshibadirect.com). Overall, it is an understated looking notebook, but it certainly does not look generic.


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The chassis construction bears a family resemblance to Toshiba’s other Satellites. In fact, this one looks like a smaller Satellite P100 17″ screen notebook. It feels just as solid in the hands and it resists torsion and flexing.

Open the A100 up and several features jump out immediately. First, the A100′s 15.4″ wide screen display with TruBrite coating. Second, the harman/kardon speakers (situated above the keyboard in this case). The other item of note is the Dual Mode touchpad.


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Toshiba has built a nice little chassis here. The Satellite A100 and A105 range from the ultra-low price ($550.00) value end to the mid-stream price points in the $1,300.00 range depending on the specs. It certainly feels like a $1,300.00 model, so value shoppers are getting a really good deal.

Our model retails for $1,599.00 Canadian (about $1,425.00 US) and some retailers are including the Student and Teacher edition of Microsoft Office with this, or any, Toshiba notebook over $999.00. I am not sure if this is a Toshiba promotion but I recall seeing a similar promo in Canada for Toshiba notebooks last year. So the bundle and the price point indicate that this unit is aimed straight at the back to school buyer, how does it measure up?

Specifications: Schoolwork or Games?

This is pretty much the top dog on the A100/A105 chart in terms of specifications and Toshiba has outfitted this with some very nice components.

Processor and Chipset

The A100 gets top marks by using the Intel Core Duo T2500 CPU running at 2.00 Ghz and a 667 Front Side Bus (FSB). This dual core chip excels at everything a student is likely to throw at it. The chip’s big advantage over last year’s models is the ability to handle multiple workloads more efficiently. There are faster chips in Intel’s lineup, but the T2500 hits the price/performance sweet-spot. It completed our SuperPi CPU benchmark (calculating Pi to two million places) in 1 minute 18 seconds. That is very respectable.

What makes Intel’s Centrino platform nearly invincible is the integration of Intel’s CPU, memory, input/output and networking technologies. The glue that binds all these components together is the chipset — in this case Intel’s 945 PM. The ‘Northbridge’ component of the chipset is where the memory controller resides and it also governs the video system’s PCI-Express interface. This chip allows the CPU, memory and video system to communicate.

The ‘Southbridge’ component of the chipset governs general input/output capabilities. In this case the part used is Intel’s 82801 (also known as ICH7). This chip gives the A100 its SATA connection for its Hard Drive, USB 2.0 support, High Definition audio, and links the networking components.

Memory


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1 GB of DDR2 667 MHz in dual-channel mode matches the CPU’s front side bus speed and avoids bottlenecks. It also insures that the A100 will be able to keep up with the T2500′s multitasking ability. The quality of the A100′s RAM gives it 4GB per second memory bandwidth according to SiSoft Sandra’s memory benchmark.

Hard Drive

With a 120 GB Hard Drive there is a lot of storage in the A100 (likely to be filled with MP3s, video files and games in no time). The Drive is a Toshiba MK1234GSX and features an SATA interface and Native Command Queuing (NCQ). This later feature allows the drive to accept more than one read/write command at once, it then uses knowledge of its own access time and spin rate to decide which command to complete first. The drive’s 5400 RPM rotational speed and NCQ provide solid input/output performance.


HDTune hard drive performance measurement (view large image)

Optical Drive

Optical storage comes in the form of a Super Multi DVD Burner. This is a dual layer DVD burner that accepts both -/+ media. It burns regular DVD-/+R discs at 8x, re-writable discs at 4x, dual layer at 2.4x and DVD-RAM at 5x. This should cover most needs.

Graphics

As unlikely as it is for a student to play games on a computer, Toshiba has generously included one of the better mobile video chips in the A100. The GeForce Go 7600 is based on Nvidia’s latest generation technology and it comes with 256 MB of dedicated video RAM. In addition to handling most current generation games at the A100′s native resolution, the Go 7600 features some solid media accelerating technologies that should allow you to fully enjoy the screen. These include hardware accelerated decode of WMV, MPEG-2 and H.264, LCD sharpening and spatial-temporal de-interlacing. I am not sure to what degree the Go 7600′s Pure Video feature helped, but I was very pleased with the quality of the DVD playback.

In raw performance terms, the Go 7600 managed a score of 3370 in 3DMark05. That puts it just below an ATI X1600 in synthetic benchmarks, but in real game play there will likely be little choosing between the two parts. There is a faster clocked version of this same chip called the Go 7600 GT — other than clock speeds the two parts appear to be identical.

Screen

As I mentioned in the first impression part of this review, the A100′s LCD panel features TruBrite. This type screen coating is becoming a universal feature on consumer notebooks because it accentuates contrast. You really notice this when watching video or playing games. This screen is quite bright and seems to have a fast enough response rate for playing games. There is a bit of light bleeding along the bottom of the screen when viewed in the dark — so if viewing movies in pitch dark conditions is your cup of tea, keep this fact in mind. I tried to capture this with my digital camera, but its sensitivity to light exaggerated the effect so much that I did not use the photos.

Wireless

Wireless networking is handled by the Intel PRO/wireless 3945ABG chip. Other than lacking some of the interesting bandwidth doubling technologies of other vendors, this chip is as good as it gets. I should point out that often those 2x network technologies require matching wireless routers. Personally I prefer to stick to standards. With the proliferation of 802.11b and g networks, it is nice that the A100 offers users the option to go with the less cluttered 802.11a standard. Antenna performance was not quite up to the level of my current WiFi champ, but the A100 was certainly able to hold a signal in my house with no problems at all.

Audio


Top right hand side harman/kardon audio speaker on the A105 (view large image)

High Definition audio is present on the A100. What is this you ask? The vast majority of notebooks use the ‘host audio’ capabilities of their chipsets. This is then output via a codec chip. What this means is that rather than having a dedicated hardware based mixer and signal processor (like an Audigy for example), the work is handled by the ‘host’ (read CPU). There is nothing wrong with this approach and the powerful CPUs of the last few years have allayed any concerns people might have had about the CPU being tied up with audio tasks. In the A100, this ‘soft audio’ is output through a Realtek ALC861 codec chip. This is a pretty good chip that supports 24bit resolution at 96 kHz. It is certainly a step-up from the AC’97 codecs standard on a lot of notebooks. It is important to have a good codec because the most crystal clear and perfect audio could be ruined by a codec chip that only supports low resolution and sampling rates.

Toshiba outfits the A100 with harman/kardon speakers so it is a good thing that they did not skimp on the codec. These are pretty good for laptop speakers — suitable for filling a small room with sound. Bass is on the weak side, but this is true of almost every notebook that I have tested.

Ports


Front side view of Satellite A105 (view large image)

A 5-in-1 media card reader is included that supports the smaller card formats. A four pin firewire port is included for connecting that DV cam you have kicking about.

Toshiba has outfitted the A100 with 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 cards that are on the horizon. HDTV tuner cards come to mind as examples of Express Card technology that would appeal to the A100′s target market.


Back side view of Toshiba Satellite A100 (view large image)


Left side view of Toshiba Satellite A105 (view large image)


Right side view of Toshiba Satellite A105 (view large image)

This was the third notebook in a row that I have tested that lacked a DVI out port. The A100 only comes with VGA and S-Video out.

Battery and Power


Included battery (view large image)

Battery Eater Pro gobbled up every last trace of power in the A100′s battery in just over 67 minutes. With a 4000mAh 6-cell battery, I was not too surprised by the A100′s result. A 9-cell 5600mAh unit would be a better fit in my opinion.


Under side view of A105 notebook with battery removed (view large image)

Battery Eater Pro is a good tool for getting absolute quantifiable results, but I still like to get a sense for how long you can use a laptop on battery power in real world conditions. Once again I turned to my trusty Lord of the Rings battery torture routine. How far into the Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) could the A100 get before failing?

The A100′s default DVD watching power profile set the LCD panel to a perfect brightness. With volume on full blast, I managed to get 1:37:55 into the first disk before WinDVD stopped playback (there was 5% battery left).

I then tried wireless surfing until the A100′s battery ran out of juice and got a respectable 2:20 from it. I noticed the display was pretty bright on the ‘word processing’ power profile and I could have turned it down a bit for a minute or two of extra time.

AC power supplies can add some serious bulk to many of today’s notebooks. The A100 power adapter is reasonably sized. It could be smaller but that would likely add expense and raise the price.

Included Software and Disks

Restore disks for the Operating System and Utilities are included. Toshiba provides a relatively clean install of Windows XP Home Edition. Their own utilities for power management and networking are included. I have said this before, but I really like Toshiba’s application suite and other makers are following suit with good applications of their own. LG in particular has raised the ante a bit by providing their own update service along the lines of Windows Update. This is great for insuring that you always have the latest utilities and drivers.

Bundled software includes the usual assortment of DVD burning and playback utilities. Among these, Intervideo’s WinDVD is included. This is a shame because it looks as though it has not been updated in years and lags behind PowerDVD in terms of user interface and usability.

Toshiba also bundles Microsoft Office One Note, something that students might find useful. As I mentioned before, certain Canadian retailers are offering a free Student and Teacher Edition of Office with this notebook — that is going to be much more useful in the long run. If you are in Canada and shopping for a notebook I would strongly encourage you to look into this offer.

Performance

Once again, Intel’s Core Duo impresses. Only the most demanding games will cause problems for the A100 and the bottleneck with the video system (as good as it is). For other computational tasks the T2500 won’t disappoint. Frankly, Intel’s platform will crush anything that AMD can offer this back to school season so I would avoid Turion X2 unless the price is very low.

Another synthetic benchmark we use is PCMark 05. In this test the A100 delivered a score of 4,092. In detail, the PCMark 05 score looked like this:

PCMark05

HDD — XP Startup

5.65 MB/s

Physics and 3D

156.79 FPS

Transparent Windows

623.45 Windows/s

3D — Pixel Shader

89.76 FPS

Web Page Rendering

3.11 Pages/s

File Decryption

49.74 MB/s

Graphics Memory — 64 Lines

981.98.93 FPS

HDD — General Usage

3.77 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression

2028.42 KB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding

308.74 KB/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit

106.23 Pages/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression

23.51 MPixels/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression

7.86 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption

17.59 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD — Virus Scan

11.66 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency — Random 16 MB

8.01 MAccesses/s

 

 

 

Super Pi Comparison Results

Notebook

Time

Toshiba Satellite A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)

1m 33s

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

Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 41s

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 53s

IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 45s

 

PCMark05 Comparison Results

 

 

Notebook PCMark05 Score

Toshiba Satellite A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo

4,092 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
Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300) 2,879 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz) 1,877 PCMarks

 

Ergonomics

Keyboard and Touchpad


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The A100′s keyboard is a bit spongy and the keys offer long travel. I personally prefer a stiff keyboard that does not flex when I hammer on it. I did not find that it slowed me down at all, but if you are picky about keyboards you might like to try the A100 out in a store beforehand. Most students are probably not too picky about their keyboards so this keyboard is probably not an issue for the target audience of the A100.


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Toshiba’s unique Dual Mode Touchpad is featured on the A100. This offers a simple toggle between normal mousing and programmable quick launch buttons. I found that it worked well and did not interfere with basic use, and that can not be said of all touchpad solutions. I also liked the way it worked perfectly out of the box without any tweaking of sensitivity settings.

Build and Durability

With a weight of about 6.1 lbs the A100 is about average in terms of portability and heft, but good when you consider its solid-feeling construction. Most of the A100′s dimensions are typical of 15 inch notebooks, but the thickness (over and inch at its widest) could be improved.

Overall, the A100′s feel suggests that it will easily survive the average three year notebook lifespan. Even though I cannot imagine living with a single notebook that long — friendships and marriages are meant to last, gadgets should be changed as often as possible! Seriously though, Toshiba’s Satellite line has a long history of being dependable notebooks and I don’t see the A100 being any different.

Heat and Fans

Heat was not an issue under normal use. Intel has devised a platform with such excellent thermal properties that notebook makers can quite easily create chassis with adequate cooling.

What often throws a spanner into a maker’s thermal plan is the heat generated by the video system. Both Nvidia and ATI offer power saving solutions and I have tested both, but the combination of the Go 7600 and this chassis really impressed me. The A100 palm rests, keyboard and touch pad are all cool to the touch even when the notebook has been on for hours. Watching a DVD when on AC power did not generate heat or fan noise. The only hint of heat comes from the gentle flow of exhaust on the left hand side of the A100 — very nice!

When powered by battery the A100 was silent and cool.

Conclusion, is it worth the money?

The A100 is a great value in the configuration that I tested. It offers performance that will be significantly faster than units in this price range with either shared memory video systems or lower-end dedicated video systems such as the GeForce Go 7300 and 7400 or ATI X1400. With the A100′s excellent hardware specifications and the current promotion in Canada offering free Student/Teacher Microsoft Office with this notebook the only other thing a student will need is a carrying bag. Props to Toshiba for making this so easy.

Nothing is perfect, and the A100 does have a couple of areas that could be improved. I think the battery should be a 9-cell unit. Not being able to complete an average length DVD on a single battery charge is a bummer. I also think the keyboard could be stiffer, but that is coming from a confessed keyboard snob.

This is a competitive price range but the A100 is pretty tough to beat. I was not able to configure a comparable Dell Inspiron (slower RAM and less powerful video system). It might seem like I am picking on Apple lately, but the MacBook stands out as a machine designed for students:

Toshiba A100

Apple MacBook

CPU

2.00 GHz

2.00 GHz

RAM

1 GB DDR2 667

1 GB DDR2 667

HDD

120 GB 5400 RPM

120 GB 5400 RPM

Video

256 MB GeForce Go 7600

Intel GMA 950

Networking

Intel 3945ABG

Airport BG

Bluetooth 2.0 EDR

Display

15.4″ WXGA+ (1280*800), VGA, S-Video

13.3″ WXGA+ (1280*800), DVI

Optical

DVDR 8x Dual Layer

DVDR 4x

Slot

Cardbus, Expresscard/54

Expresscard/34

Wired Networking

10/100, 56k Modem

Gigabit Ethernet

Portability

6.1 lbs, 11.8″ * 10.5″ * 1.4″

5.2 lbs, 12.8″ * 8.9″ * 1.1″

Extras

Microsft Office Student and Teacher Ed.

OSX, iLife, Front Row, iSight Cam, Mag Safe PSU

Price (CDN)

$1599

$1869 (less with student discount)

I think this is a pretty interesting comparison in which the A100 looks really good. You can opt out of the dedicated video system in the A100 we tested and that drops the price considerably.

Personally I wish this notebook was out last fall when I bought my Acer Ferrari.

Pros

  • Very fast at all tasks
  • Excellent video system
  • Good build quality
  • Clean Windows install
  • Toshiba value added software
  • You may be able to get MS Office with this notebook

Cons

  • Should have a DVI port with VGA adapter
  • Bigger battery please
  • Squishy keyboard

 

Note to Readers

Remember, the Satellite A105 / A100 notebook can be configured in vastly different ways, so performance specificataions will be suited to the processor and video solution you choose.  They will not match exactly to those numbers presented in this review.  Lower price and lower spec components will mean lower performance numbers.  However, the build quality, screen and audio carries across the entire line Satellite A100 line no matter what internal components you configure.


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