Toshiba Satellite A215 Review

by ZaZ Reads (313,543)

by Ted Lynch

The Satellite A215 series is a new line of consumer notebooks being offered by Toshiba.  They sport variations of the AMD Turion64 X2 CPUs.  The A215 is a being positioned as a multimedia notebook with its large 15.4” glossy screen, large hard drives, card reader and webcam.  The A215 definitely has some hits and misses. All of which we will take a more in-depth look at in the following review of the A215-S4757.

Specs

  • Here are the specifications of the model under review:
  • Model: A215-S4757
  • Operating System: Vista Home Premium 32 Bit
  • CPU: AMD Turion64 X2 TL-56 1.8GHz 512KB x2 L2 Cache 1600MHz FSB
  • Chipset: RS690
  • Screen: 15.4” Glossy WXGA 1280×800
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2 PC5300 2 Slots, 0 Open 4GB Max
  • Hard Drive: 250 GB Fujitsu 4200RPM (MHX2250BT)
  • Optical Drive:  Pioneer DVR-K17LF
    • 8x DVD+/-R
    • 8x DVD+RW, 6x DVD-RW
    • 4x DVD+/-R DL
    • 5x DVD-RAM
    • 24x CD-R/W
  • Graphics Card: 128-319MB Shared Mobility Radeon X1200
  • Wireless: Atheros AR5007EG B/G
  • WebCam: 1.3MP
  • Inputs: 86 Key Keyboard, TrackPad with Mouse Buttons
  • Buttons: Power, Internet, Media,Play, Stop, FF, RW
  • Ports:
    • FourUSB Ports – Two Left Side, Two Right Side
    • Four Pin FireWire
    • Ethernet and Modem
    • VGA and S-Video Outs
    • Headphone and Microphone Jacks
  • Slots:
    • 5-in-1 Card Reader
    • ExpressCard Slot
  • Battery: Six Cell
  • Dimensions:  
    • Width – 14.2”
    • Depth – 10.5”
    • Height – 1.4”
  • Weight: 6.3 Lbs.
  • Warranty: One Year
  • M.S.R.P. – $999.99


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Build & Design

According to Toshiba, the A215 is Onyx Blue in color, but it looks black to me.  Perhaps when you’re outside in the sun there’s a blue hue to it.  The A215 weighs in a bit over six pounds and is about an inch and a half thick.  That puts it squarely on average for the class.  Given its weight and size, it’s not a notebook that should travel daily.  The back and forth to the office or the occasional night out seem reasonable.  I personally like designs that are simple and understated.  I think the A215 fits into that category.   The A215 has rounded edges and a dark tone except for the keyboard which is white/silver.  There’s nothing about the A215 that really makes you say, "Wow!" The design is sort of plain jane if you will.  There’s nothing wrong with the design … it just looks like a big multimedia notebook.


The thickness of the lid on the A215. (view large image)

The case on the A215 is made of smooth plastic.  It reminded me a lot of HP’s Imprint Finish, but without the pattern printed on it.  It also like attracted fingerprints like bears to honey, but they are easily wiped away.  Unlike the HPs, the A215 was a little more scratch prone.  I’ve put a few marks on it during its stay with me. Instead of having two screen hinges like most notebooks, the A215 has one large hinge in the center between base and the screen.  When you open the it, the bottom of the screen sits behind the base.  It made me think of the Asus W2 which has a similar setup.  I don’t know that it helps make the screen more sturdy long term, but it looked kind of cool.  On the whole the A215 felt solid.  The screen held fairly firm during use.  The base of the the A215 felt pretty rigid.  It didn’t creak when picked up the side.  The plastic lid cover doesn’t offer the best protection.  The screen ripples when force is applied to the lid.  I don’t think anyone else is offering better for the money at least on the consumer side.


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Screen

A multimedia notebook usually means getting a glossy screen.  The A215 is no exception to this rule.  Every time I see one of these newfangled glossy screens, it reminds me how I wished the screen on my ThinkPad were a bit brighter.


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The screen on the A215 is a WXGA(1280×800).  A bit higher resolution would have been nice, but other than Dell, no one else is offering a higher resolution screen on budget consumer notebooks of this size.  The screen has seven brightness levels which can be adjusted via the keyboard controls.  Overall, the screen on the A215 is very good in my opinion.  It strikes a nice balance between being bright without having too much glare that can often be associated with glossy screens.  Colors were rich and vibrant.  Web pages and movies look great.  There were no dead/stuck pixels.  There was some leakage at the bottom of the screen, but it did not seem outside of the acceptable range.  Glare on the screen was pretty minimal unless you were outside or there was a light source directly behind.  It’s really a shame cause quite frankly I look pretty good being NBR’s resident Super Model. 


The R60 on the left and the A215 on the right. (view large image)

You can’t tell it from the picture, but the screen on the A215 is brighter with and looks better than the screen on my R60. 

CPU & Performance

When I first saw the Toshiba was using a 4200RPM drive, my first thought was yuk.  I thought 4200RPM drives had been banned from all but ultraportable notebooks.  I think I understand Toshiba’s reasoning behind the move.  The A215 is a multimedia notebook and as such buyers of it are going to throw tons of movies and music on it.  Those usually take a lot of space.  If they had used the biggest 300GB 4200RPM drive, I think the logic would have followed better.  Due to the fact the drive is huge, larger drives have better density which allows for faster read and access times, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.  When I first started using the A215, performance was a bit of sluggish.  It wasn’t horrible, but when you went to do something it would hang a bit.  The touchpad would occasionally become unresponsive for 5-10 seconds particularly when doing something hard drive intense like installing software.  At first I chalked it up to bloatware and Vista being slower than XP.  I went about the process of cleaning out the bloatware.  After I finished clearing it out, it still moving at a moderate pace.  Again it’s not horrible, but I would think the marginal cost of going with a 5400RPM drive isn’t more than a few bucks.  Going with a faster hard drive would seem like a smart move on Toshiba’s part.

I’ve used and worked on many notebooks with AMD CPUs.  I know they sometimes get a bad rap in the mobile arena compared to Intel processors, but for probably 95% of users out there they are more than adequate. 

CPU-Z

AMD processors don’t get quite as much battery life as Intel chips, but for a lot people (especially on a notebook like this which isn’t likely to stray from the the couch often) that’s not that a huge issue.  They’re also usually easier on the wallet too. 

As I alluded to earlier, the slow hard drive hampered performance on the A215 some.  I had just upgraded the hard drive on my ThinkPad.  I had a spare 7200RPM drive laying around.  I decided to throw it in the A215 just to see well it performed in relation to my R60.  Perhaps that’s not a valid test since most buyers of this notebook are going to run out and upgrade the drive when they get it.  After I upgraded the drive, performance was quite good.  I think the extra generous 2GB helped offset some of Vista’s slowness.  There are no XP drivers on Toshiba’s site for those looking to downgrade.  Without the upgrade, performance was acceptable, but could be better.  All of this points out, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Benchmarks

Super Pi

SuperPi gages relative CPU performance.  SuperPi loves L2 cache which is why the Intel CPUs always score better in this benchmark.  It makes it a bit unfair to AMD CPUs.  The PCMark05 score below is probably a better indicator of overall performance

Notebook Time
Toshiba A215-S4757 (1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-60) 1m 55s
Vostro 1400 (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo T5470) 1m 10s
MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7700) 53s
HP 6515b (1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-52) 2m 05s
ThinkPad T42 (1.8GHz Pentium M 745) 1m 58s
HP 8710w (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500) 55s
Dell D830 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300) 59s
Toshiba X205 (1.8GHz Core 2 Duo T7100) 1m 07s
HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+) 2m 02s
ThinkPad R60 (1.66GHz Core Duo T2300e) 1m 26s
Lenovo C100 (1.5GHz Celeron M) 2m 19s
VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M 740) 1m 45s

HD Tune

There’s really no contest here.  While it’s a bit faster than other 4200RPM drives I’ve seen, it’s still a 4200RPM drive.


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The 4200RPM Fujitsu vs the 7200RPM Seagate.

PCMark05

The Turion’s performance looks pretty decent.  If all you are doing is office and internet, you probably don’t need more.  The A215′s 3DMark05 score was 877 if you wanted to know.  It’s not really a gaming machine so I opted not to include a chart.

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Satellite A215-S4757(1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-56, Radeon x1200 ) 2,760 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio F45 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5450, Intel X3100) 3,261 PCMarks
ThinkPad R60 (1.66 GHz Core Duo T2300, Intel 950) 2,975 PCMarks
Fujitsu A6030 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,111 PCMarks
MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, Nvidia 8600M) 5,536 PCMarks
Vaio SZ-110B (1.83GHz Core Duo T5600, Nvidia 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
ThinkPad T61 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,084 PCMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI x1700) 4,555 PCMarks
Asus G1J (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, Nvidia 7700) 3,427 PCMarks
HP dv2500t (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, T7300 Intel X3100) 3,376 PCMarks

Drives & Storage

Optical Drive

The A215 has the Pioneer DVR-K17LF DVD burning optical drive.  It burns all types of CDs and DVDs including dual layer and has support for DVD-RAM as well.  I burned some DVDs and CDs.  I didn’t have any issues with any of the discs.  Burn times for a full CD was about 5.5 minutes and DVDs clocked in at a little over 13 minutes, both about average for laptop optical drives.

The Pioneer drive on the A215 supports Labelflash.  It is a method of printing on a disc using the laser on your optical drive.  You must use LabelFlash discs.  Just flip the disc over in the tray to print on  it.  It is very similar to LightScribe.  One LabelFlash disc was included with the A215.  I printed one label on it and gave it to a friend.  I wasn’t very impressed with the quality. With the background being blue, the images didn’t stand out as nearly much as the LightScribe discs I’ve seen.  Since I only had one disc, there was no chance to see if I could improve the quality

Hard Drive

The drive on the A215 is huge.  You get tons of space for you to throw on a lot of music and movies.  The drive ran cool and quiet.  The drive was quite a bit thicker than the Seagate 7200RPM drive I put in there … most likely to accommodate the extra platter needed to give you 250GB.  If you prefer to upgrade the drive, Toshiba has made access to the drive and memory modules a painless process.  Just take a few screws and you’re ready to have at it. The process can’t take more than ten minutes, even for the most technically phobic.


The hard drive and memory slot access panels on the A215. (view large image)

Memory

This particular A215 has 2GB of PC5300 memory.  Both sticks are located on the underside of the notebook for easy upgrade.

Keyboard Area

The keyboard on the A215 is full sized.  The keyboard is fairly firm with a little more give in the center of the keyboard.  Spongy keyboards can often times be a problem spot for consumer notebooks.  It was nice to see Toshiba give it a firm feel.  The keyboard has a nice light touch if you really want to fly on it.  It was also quiet during use.  The key depth is a shade shallower than my Thinkpad, the notebook keyboard gold standard.  There are few multimedia keys between the screen and the keyboard.  The A215 does not support play without booting the machine.  There was no volume control included which I thought odd until I found the wheel on the front.


The A215 Keyboard. (view large image)

The trackpad on the A215 is rectangular befitting its wide screen.  There is a scroll zone located on the right side which is not marked and I personally prefer it to be.  The trackpad worked fine.  I didn’t have any issues with it.  The buttons were another matter.  The mouse buttons on the A215 were a bit stiff and noisy.  While I don’t mind the stiffness, noisy buttons are a personal dislike of mine which may or may not bother others.  The noise and stiffness was worse on the outside of the buttons.  Staying to the center helps a bit.  I did see other A215s at OfficeMax and Wal-Mark whose buttons weren’t quite so noisy.  The clickiness may vary from one machine to the next.  The buttons on occasion would fail to work for a minute, but if you pushed some of the keys on the keyboard, the problem would cure itself.

The A215 has a microphone and webcam integrated into the LCD housing.  The camera is 1.3MP.  It takes photos up to 1280×1024.  The picture quality seemed pretty good, at least good enough for web or office use.

Battery & AC

The A215 has a six-cell battery.  Setting the screen to four of seven and with WiFi on, I was able to get two hours and thirty-five minutes of battery life.  I was doing stuff like working on the review, surfing the net and listening to some music. While not the best I’ve seen, entertainment notebooks like the A215 don’t travel often.  I don’t see battery life as being a big problem.


The power brick on the A215 next to the R60′s adapter. (view large image)

The AC adapter on the A215 was a bit chunky if you are planning on toting this around.

Heat & Noise

The A215 ran pretty cool and quiet.  There are two vents on the the A215, one on the left side and one underneath.  The underside of the notebook only got warm during use.  The one place where I noticed any heat was on the left side where the vent was located, but even that is hardly worth mentioning.  If the fan came on which I am sure it did because I could feel it pushing out hot air, it remained unheard.  The hard drive was quiet as well.

Wireless & Networking

The A215 has an Athernos WiFi card.  I did not have any problems with the card.  Signal strength was good wherever I used it at home, in the park or library.  The A215 also has a Ethernet port if you more of a wired kind of person. 

Ports & Connections

The A215 has all the ports most people will use on a regular basis.  On the right side of the A215 are two USB ports, a modem jack, optical drive, power connector and lock slot.


The right side of the A215. (view large image)

On the front of the notebook is the WiFi On/Off switch, 5-in-1 card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, and volume wheel.


The front of the A215. (view large image)

The left side has a four pin firewire connector, ExpressCard slot, two USB ports, Ethernet jack, S-Video and VGA out.


The left side of the A215. (view large image)

Sound

The speakers on the A215 are located beneath the screen which on a notebook of this size is probably where they ought to be.  Placing the speakers on the front of the notebook can muffle the sound while typing.  I liked the quality sound on the A215.  They did not get particularly loud, my R60′s speakers were louder, but the sound quality was better.  They’re certainly good enough to watch a movie or listen to some tunes.

Software

The A215 comes with Vista Home Premium.  Like most consumer notebooks there was a fair amount of bloatware on the machine, things like Vongo, Microsoft Office Trial, and MacAfee to name a few.  It took some time to get rid of, but once I did get rid of it, there was a noticeable up tick in performance.  I don’t mind bloatware.  It helps keep the cost down and it is usually easily removed.  Toshiba does include a Vista Anytime Upgrade disc.  I’m sure one could do clean install if one wished.  One caveat is none of the applications were included on the machine or available on Toshiba’s website other than the Toshiba ones.  You’ll have to find new ones if you want to do a clean install. 

Instead of giving you trialware, Toshiba does include some of their own applications for the basics like burning discs or viewing DVDs.  They won’t give you any in-depth options, but were simple and easy to use.


Toshiba’s Disc Creator. (view large image)

One neat feature of the software aspect of the A215 is the recovery discs.  When I upgraded the hard drive, I had to use the Recovery Discs to restore it.  The recovery discs have a partitioning tool.  It allows you to partition the drive, then install Windows on a separate drive from your data.  This is the way I like to install an Operating System.  Should the Operating System ever become corrupted or otherwise unusable, you can just wipe the system partition and re-install Windows without losing all your data on the other partition.  Most recovery programs I’ve seen just wipe the drive and start fresh.  You still get the bloatware, but that’s easily removed.

Warranty & Support

The A215 comes with a one year parts and labor warranty standard which would include software support while the machine is under warranty.  There are upgrades available if you would like to have a longer warranty.  I didn’t have the opportunity to call upon Toshiba’s support, so no help there.

Conclusion

There’s definitely some pluses and minuses to the A215.  The pluses would include the nice glossy screen, good keyboard, and pleasant sound.  The minuses would be the slow hard drive, and the stiff and clicky touchpad buttons.  If you are just looking for a basic at home notebook to do web browsing, office applications, maybe some movies and music, the A215 can fill that role with aplomb.  Like most things in life, it all boils down to value.  If you are paying close to M.S.R.P., you probably have better choices.  If you can find a decent deal like the A215-S4697 I spied at Circuit City for $600 (It has the Turion64 X2 TL-52 and 1GB of memory, but more importantly has a 160GB 5400RPM drive), the A215 offers a lot of value.

Pros

  • Bright Vibrant Screen
  • Good Sound
  • Cool and Quiet Operation
  • Firm and Light Touch Keyboard
  • Easy to Upgrade
  • Simple Toshiba Applications
  • Partitionable Recovery Discs

Cons

  • Slow 4200RPM Hard Drive
  • Stiff and Clicky Touchpad Buttons
  • Poor Screen Protection


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