Toshiba Satellite A355 Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (60,511)

The A350 series notebook is the latest 16″ notebook from Toshiba and the successor to the 15.4” A305. This new model offers the same look and feel of its smaller brother as well as the same system configuration. In this review we take a look at the Intel configuration of the A355 and find out if it performs as well as its smaller brother.

Toshiba Satellite A355-S6943 Specifications:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 64-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P7450 (2.13GHz, 3MB L2, 1066MHz FSB)
  • 16.0″ diagonal widescreen TruBrite TFT LCD display at 1366×768 (WXGA)
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 with 512MB video memory
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 5100AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • 4GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
  • 500GB+250GB Serial ATA hard disk drive (5400RPM)
  • DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive with Labelflash
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • Harmon/Kardon stereo speakers
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 15.1″ x 10.5″ x 1.6″
  • Weight: 6 lbs 11.6oz with six-cell battery
  • 90W (19V x 6.3A) 100-240V AC Adapter
  • 6-cell 10.8v 44Wh Lithium Ion battery
  • 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty
  • Price as configured: $1,149.99

Build and Design
The A355 is nearly identical to the older A305 notebook, even sharing the same overall design and paint job. The plastics are glossy or even mirror-like over much of the notebook. The cover has a pinstripe metallic silver and chrome pattern, changing to a chrome and black pattern on the inside. The keyboard shares the same high gloss look with black paint and white lettering. The lower half of the chassis is standard plastic with a matte finish, with removable covers for each user-replaceable part.

The Toshiba A355 feels very durable through the use of good plastics and the scratch-resistant Fusion finish. Chassis flex is minimal if you are holding the notebook from a side corner. Screen protection is pretty good with only mild screen distortions when pressing on the back of the display cover. The glossy Fusion finish holds up well against day to day abrasions … which might include slipping it in and out of your backpack as you take it to class.

Access to system components is easy through three panels on the bottom of the notebook. None of the panels have “warranty void if removed” stickers to inhibit upgrades. Two panels give access to the dual hard drives and the third panel allows you to swap out the RAM and wireless card.

Display   
The 16” TruBrite display features a 16:9 ratio and has good color saturation and contrast thanks in part to the glossy polarizer layer. Compared to other notebooks this panel falls into the middle of the ground with average viewing angles. Vertical viewing angles are limited to a sweet spot that ranges about 15 degrees up or down before colors start to invert or wash out. Horizontal viewing angles are better, staying accurate at steep angles from both sides. Backlight levels are great for viewing in bright conditions, but aren’t bright enough for outdoor viewing.


Keyboard and Touchpad
The glossy keyboard is comfortable to type on, but not the easiest to read in bright rooms. The keyboard surface is firm with minimal flex under hard typing and individual key action is smooth with a mild click when pressed. The glossy surface reflects glare from overhead lights, which depending on the angle completely wash out the white lettering on each key. Smudges are another problem with the glossy surface which needs to be wiped down frequently to keep its clean fingerprint-free look.

Toshiba included an ALPS touchpad on the A355, which after some tweaking became very usable. Out of the box the cursor was very twitchy until I ramped up the sensitivity and lowered the speed. The touchpad surface is a matte overlay on the palmrest with the color scheme slightly showing through. The surface was easy to move across under most conditions, but the flush surface made it hard to stay within the boundaries. Scrolling took a while to get used to since I kept moving off of the touchpad surface.

The A355 also supports disabling the lights for the media keys and around the touchpad. This can help reduce all the distracting illumination “features” when watching a movie with the lights out.

Ports and Features
Port selection on the A355 is great, with four USB ports, FireWire, eSATA through a USB combo port, S-Video, HDMI, VGA, LAN, and audio jacks. This notebook also features a 5-in-1 multicard reader, ExpressCard/54 slot, and a FM Tuner. In this day and age the S-Video port is somewhat of a mystery, but at least they didn’t take away something else to fit that on the side. The FM Tuner is great if you don’t want to be connected to the internet to listen to streaming music, but it does require a whip antenna attached to the side to function.

Performance
System performance is excellent with the 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and ATI Radeon 3650 dedicated graphics. The system can handle most modern games, Crysis not-included, at detail high settings. Standard day-to-day performance is very good with minimal lag when opening programs and having quick boot or shutdown times. The dual hard drives allow you to separate file storage from installed software, even speeding up certain applications that are disk intensive by not causing the other drive to lag out when you are multitasking. We did not see any significant gains between the two systems in our benchmarking and any gains we did see could be explained by newer drivers or the 64-bit operating system.

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Toshiba Satellite A355 (Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.16GHz) 35.848s
Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (Core 2 Duo P8700 @ 2.53GHz) 30.126s
Dell Studio XPS 16 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz) 31.827s
Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 38.455s
Dell Studio 15 (Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2.0GHz)
41.246s
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745s
Dell Vostro 1510 (Core 2 Duo T5670 @ 1.8GHz) 51.875s
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s

 

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance based on processor, hard drive, operating system, RAM, and graphics (higher scores are better):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Toshiba Satellite A355 (2.16GHz Intel P7450, ATI Radeon HD 3650 512MB) 5,842 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (2.53GHz Intel P8700, NVIDIA GeForce G 105M 256MB) 5,575 PCMarks
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 6,303 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, Nvidia 9300M 256MB) 4,844 PCMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100)
3,998 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
3,994 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 3,568 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks


3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Toshiba Satellite A355 (2.16GHz Intel P7450, ATI Radeon HD 3650 512MB) 4,084 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y650 (2.53GHz Intel P8700, NVIDIA GeForce G 105M 256MB) 2,472 3DMarks
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 4,855 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, Nvidia 9300M 256MB) 1,833 3DMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 493 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 519 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks

 

All of the 3DMark06 scores for all of the systems listed above were run at 1280 x 800 or 1280×768 based on the available screen resolutions for use with the built-in screen. 

HDTune storage drive performance results:

 

Speakers and Audio
Toshiba uses Harmon/Kardon speakers on the A300 and A350 series notebooks, which sound very good at lower volume levels. As you start to crank the volume up there is noticeable distortion. Bass and midrange are much better than average, with clear high notes. The speakers are located above the keyboard instead of the crotch-firing speakers we have seen on some recent models. This location prevents clothing from muffling the speakers with it on your lap. The A355 with HDMI out supports digital audio out through the HDMI port for watching a on a bigger screen with only using a single cable.

Battery
Power consumption improved over the previous A305, but since Toshiba decreased the capacity of the battery it is hard to notice any gains. The old model with the 9-cell battery managed 2 hours and 50 minutes of runtime. The A355 with its 6-cell battery, brightness set to 70%, Vista set to the Balanced profile, and wireless active managed 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Heat and Noise
Toshiba designed the A355 to handle heavy GPU and CPU loads without drastically increasing the temperature of the chassis. Fan noise is just above a whisper with the fans chugging along at full speed with the system under load and inaudible under normal circumstances. As the temperatures drop the fan either stops entirely or barely spins to draw air through the notebook.

Conclusion
The newly refreshed 16” A350 series notebook from Toshiba is a solid performer, keeping all that we loved about the first generation notebook and improving in a couple of areas. Power consumption technically improved, but since Toshiba went with a smaller capacity battery, battery life actually decreased. The glossy Fusion surface is still as scratch-resistant as it ever was, but still very smudge prone as noted before. System performance is great when compared against non-gaming notebooks, and the dual hard drives open up a ton of potential for a lot of storage. One thing Toshiba should have changed with this newer model is the starting price. Since the time the A305 was released last year many gaming notebooks have started to appear in the $1,000-$1,300 price segment. This means consumers who are shopping based on price and specifications will lean towards the “better” gaming machines if they are so near in cost.

Pros:

  • Scratch resistant Fusion finish
  • Dual hard drives
  • Good performance and heat management
  • Great speaker system

Cons:

  • Glossy surfaces attract fingerprints
  • Lackluster battery life


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