Toshiba Satellite A55 Review (pics, specs)

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by Tim, Hawaii USA

The Toshiba Satellite A55 is a 15-inch screen Pentium M based notebook designed for consumer oriented buyers, such as students and families.  With a simple no frills design and built-in wireless and DVD burner this notebook is certainly a useful machine, but at the end of the day the price you pay for the features you get and lack of a dedicated graphics card makes the A55 a bit of a lackluster in its class.

Toshiba Satellite A55 System Specs

  • Intel PentiumM 1.5GHz
  • PC2700 512MB DDR SDRAM (512×1)
  • Toshiba 80GB EIDE hard drive 4,200 RPM
  • Matsushita DVD-SuperMulti Drive: Max Speed – CD-ROM (24x); CD-R (16x write); CD-RW (8x write); DVD-ROM (8x); DVD-R (4x write); DVD-RW (2x write); DVD+R (2.4x write); DVD+RW (2.4x write); DVD-RAM (2x write)
  • 15″ XGA TFT LCD display 1024×768 resolution
  • Integrated V.92/56K modem
  • Realtek 10/100 Ethernet LAN
  • Atheros 802.11b/g  Wireless LAN
  • Realtek ALC259 Sound Controller

Design

Toshiba Satellite A55 Top View (view larger image)

The Toshiba Satellite A55 comes with a silver top, black keyboard, and silver interior. The design is different from most Satellite notebooks and is quite attractive. The interior is very plain with a single power button on the top. The plastic is very flimsy feeling. It almost feels like a toy, maybe to keep the weight down, but I’d rather sacrifice a few ounces for a better quality feel. A little bending and you can actually hear the creaking. Cooling comes from a heat pipe cooling system with a tiny 40mm fan. The fan is almost always active but inaudible unless you tip the laptop to cause vibrations. The laptop weighs 5.8 pounds and the AC adapter adds another pound to overall weight, so travel weight is 6.8 pounds.

Screen

The screen is quite a disappointment. Everything screams mediocre. Viewing angle, brightness, and color saturation are all below average. Brightness is especially atrocious and at full brightness is only half as bright as say a Sony XBrite screen. Toshiba laptops usually come with pretty decent screens, but this model really skimped in this department.

Toshiba Satellite A55 Keyboard and Screen View (view larger image)

Speakers

Speakers are tinny sounding. They don’t get very loud. The highs are harsh, the mids and lows are barely audible. You get a lot of distortion in the sound when going past 75% volume. I don’t recommend listening to any music on these speakers. They are located at the top and will be totally muffled if the lid is closed. As with most laptops, get a pair of headsets!

Performance

Intel did a very good job with the Centrino platform. The Pentium M is very efficient and performance in everyday tasks is silk. Even with multiple programs open (I usually have about 20) everything was snappy just like my desktop which runs at twice the frequency. I even installed a total MacOS X interface overhaul screen, and noticed no slowdowns in overall performance. As a side note, I covered up the Toshiba logo with an Apple sticker and was able to fool a few people that this was a new secret iBook. Regarding battery life, with light activity I was about to squeeze nearly 4 hours of life out of the battery. This is good for a Centrino notebook.

Gaming

With integrated Intel Extreme graphics, you will not be doing any intense 3D gaming on this system. In 3DMark 2001SE I got a score of 2021. I was pretty amazed it ran at all. I also tried some more light hearted games non gamers might play like The Sims 2 and Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. They ran, but it was pretty slow averaging in the 10-15 fps, and dipping lower when a lot is happening. It’s probably best to stick to web based games, which are always fun nevertheless. You don’t always need Half Life 2 for incredible fun, for all the poor souls who don’t have fancy GeForce Ultras or Radeon Platinums, here is a list of great games for the Bawls Independent Games Competition: http://slamdance.com/games/ and some free 3D games developed by students: http://www.digipen.edu/programs/gallery/games/2003.games.html

I/O Ports

The left side consists of a PCMCIA slot, Wi-Fi switch, USB2, mini Firewire, VGA out port and vent. Read/write speeds are very good. The back of the Satellite A55 is quite barren except for the corners which have an additional USB, S-Video, and the standard LAN and Modem ports

Toshiba uses a pot switch style volume control which I really like. It allows more precise adjustments and you can make sure the volume is off when you turn on the laptop as not to disturb others.

The laptop comes with the Matsushita Multi Super drive found in most Toshiba laptops. It can read and write to every format currently including DVD-RAM

Input

The keyboard uses the custom Toshiba layout. It’s not bad if you get used to it, but it’s different from pretty much all the keyboards out there.  I don’t understand why Toshiba goes with such a non standard layout, there really isn’t any point. The most annoying thing about the keyboard is the bottom left where the CTRL and MENU key are replaced by INS and DEL keys, and the ALAT key is moved to the right. The keys are very springy and have a cheap feel compared to other Toshiba Satellites and suffer from some flex. While they do feel different, I like how they feel when I type.

The touchpad is very small, but this seems more of an advantage as it is hard to accidentally trip when typing.

Wireless

The A55 comes with the Atheros chip which supports 802.11b/g. Range is on the average side. I would generally get 10-20db less than my Orinoco Gold PCMCIA card when firing up netstumbler. However it is still very reliable, and I never get any disconnects that my friends sometimes do with their laptops.

Toshiba Satellite A55 Pictures

Toshiba Satellite A55 right side view open (view larger image)

Toshiba Satellite A55 right side view closed (view larger image)

Toshiba Satellite A55 left side view (view larger image)

Conclusion

Overall the A55 is a disappointing laptop from Toshiba. There are no areas where this laptop truly shines when compared to others in its class. Size and weight are slightly more than offerings from Dell and Sony. The price was also sky high when I got it for $1700 at Costco. You can get something nearly twice as good for that price. Overall I would stay clear of this laptop and look for offerings from other companies.

Pros

  • Nice simple design
  • Super Multi Drive

Cons

  • Cheap build quality for a Toshiba
  • Horrid display
  • Dainty speakers
  • No Media Reader

Pricing and Availability


 


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