Toshiba Satellite A70 Review Part 2

by Reads (10,259)

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Media Card Reader

The 5 in 1 card reader on this system is capable of reading Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Smart Media, MMC, and xD cards. Strangely, it cannot accept Compact Flash cards. This is an important note as this is one of the popular formats for digital camera cards. If you own a digital camera and want to use it with this system, make sure you have one of these formats. Otherwise, you will have to plug in the cable that came with your camera to download photos.

Memory card reader slot on the A70

The logos for each of the supported formats are also molded into the plastic, in case you forget what cards your system supports. This is handy if a friend wants to put pictures from their memory card on your system but you don’t know if the format is supported. There is also a molded rubber cover that pops into the card reader when not in use to keep debris out. A similar plastic insert for the PC card slot is also present.

Wireless

The wireless system in this notebook is made by Atheros. Using the wireless router I got when I purchased my computer, I had no problems setting up a wireless network and transferring all my files from my old system. Since I only have dial-up internet, I decided to try “wardriving” to download my Windows and anti-virus updates. (For those unfamiliar with the term, wardriving basically involves driving around town with a wireless-enabled laptop searching for a network with a high-speed internet connection.) I quickly found a network and was able to easily download my updates.

One thing I really like about the wireless on this computer is the ability to turn it off via a physical switch on the right side of the case. A handy LED indicator next to the switch also lets you know when your wireless antenna is enabled. This prevents you from needlessly draining your battery searching for WiFi and minimizes your exposure to extraneous radio waves.

Software

The only difference I have noticed between the American and Canadian models of the A70 is the preinstalled software. In Canada, Toshiba is notorious for including very little software, and this system is no different. The Canadian version includes only Windows XP Home Edition, Microsoft OneNote (note taking software), CD burning software, Intervideo Win DVD, a 90-day subscription to Norton antivirus, and Toshiba utilities. It’s important to note that there is no real word processor (unless you count Wordpad) so students should definitely check out their campus bookstore for one. (Campus bookstores usually get cheap software through academic pricing deals). There are also various freeware word processors available for download, but I haven’t tried any.

In addition to the software included on the Canadian model, the American model also includes:

  • Microsoft Works
  • Microsoft Office 2003 Student / Teacher Edition (60 day trial)
  • ArcSoft ShowBix DVD
  • Quicken
  • AT&T Worldnet Service – 1 Month Free
  • Quicktime Player
  • RealOne Player 8 Basic
  • Napster Download Trial

Full details on the American model can be found in the datasheet (PDF).

American Model Spec Sheet PDF

Although it hardly makes up for the lack of a word processor and other software, Toshiba does include some neat utilities, such as Touch and Launch. With this utility, a user can briefly touch a corner of the touchpad to get a translucent screen similar to this:

Touch and Launch Application Included with the A70

This allows quick access to programs, desktop icons, recent documents, or a slew of other user configurable “locations.”

Other utilities Toshiba includes are:

  • ConfigFree – Although I haven’t used this utility, it apparently can store profiles for various locations (ie: school, work, home) to configure your internet and network connections. It can also diagnose problems with your connections and tell you how to fix them. I found it easy enough to configure settings through Windows before I realized this utility was available.
  • DVD silencer – Slows down the DVD drive when enabled so it doesn’t disturb you when you are watching a movie.
  • Modem On Hold – Quoting Toshiba, “This is an application that manages incoming/outgoing voice calls on a single phone line while being connected to the Internet. ” I haven’t used this utility either as it requires Call Waiting which I don’t have.
  • Power Management – See the section below on “battery life.”
  • Speech System – Includes a voice recognition system that will accept your commands to launch programs, and perform tasks within them. It doesn’t appear to type for you, however. I haven’t used this feature because I don’t have a microphone. There is also a text-to-speech system to compliment the voice commands, but it only works within Internet Explorer and Outlook.

Satellite A70 Performance

With a speedy 3.06Ghz Pentium 4 processor and 512mb of RAM, this machine can handle almost all applications. Windows boots to my desktop in about one minute and 30 seconds, and everything feels quick and responsive. The only time things move slow in Windows is when I copy large files, which I suspect is because of the slow 4200 RPM hard drive. CDs are burned quickly, DVDs easily played, and multitasking is accomplished with ease. I can easily run Windows Media player, a few Explorer windows, Wordpad, and MSN messenger all at the same time. I’m sure I could also burn a CD while doing all these tasks, but I haven’t tried yet. I have an old habit from my last system of closing everything before burning a CD.

To test the 3D gaming capabilities, I downloaded the Far Cry demo. After upping the graphics card memory to 128mb from the default 64mb, I was able to get the game to run. However, it is only playable for me when all the graphics options except “texture filters” are set to low. (Far Cry is one of the more demanding games on the market today. Considering the shared graphics card, it is impressive that it is playable at all!) I have also played other 3D games, such as Enter the Matrix (it was cheap, please don’t laugh!) and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, both at max settings. I am quite satisfied with the 3D capabilities of this computer despite it’s shared memory graphics card.

Battery Life

For a notebook with such a high-speed processor, battery life is surprisingly long. I had been expecting something less than 2 hours for battery life while playing turn-based strategy games. I was pleasantly surprised to get  2 -1/2 hours (long life power profile) while playing Sid Meier s Alpha Centauri and 2 hours while watching a DVD. (modified DVD playback power profile)

These power profiles are part of Toshiba’s power management utility. This utility allows the user to configure various power profiles exactly how they want them, right down to processor speed.

Toshiba Satellite A70 Power Management application

I find the icons included with this utility lacking in that they don’t show how much battery is remaining when they sit on the taskbar: you must hover your mouse over the icon to find out.

In Long Life mode, the CPU’s speed is clocked down to 1.59Ghz, just over half the normal speed. This is the profile I used when testing battery life while playing games. When I was testing while playing a DVD, I modified the default DVD playback profile to the lowest possible brightness setting. Normally, this profile features a middle brightness.

Operating the wireless card seems to reduce the battery life significantly.

Customer Support / Warranty

The A70 comes with a 1 year parts and labor limited warranty. As I have not had any problems with this model, I haven’t had to make use of tech support or the warranty. However, when I purchased my computer from Future Shop, the salesman was somewhat pushy on adding their in-house warranty service for a few hundred dollars. Since I couldn’t afford the added expense, I declined.

Conclusion

Featuring a 3.06Ghz Pentium 4 processor, 512mb of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive for $2000C (as of this writing), this notebook is powerful and has plenty of room for the user to grow into it. The graphics card is also sufficient for moderate 3D gaming. However, if you plan on doing a lot of 3D gaming or heavy graphics work, you may want to look for a notebook with a more powerful graphics card. If you don’t plan on doing much graphics work or gaming, you can probably save yourself a lot of money and look at systems with slower processors, less RAM, and smaller graphics cards. If you are in a situation like me where you want a powerful computer to get you through the next few years of university and play a few games along the way, the Toshiba A70 may be right for you.

Pros

  • Powerful notebook
  • Reasonable battery life (2 1/2 hours)
  • Sturdy construction from a reputable manufacturer

Cons

  • Shared graphics card prohibits playing newer games at high settings
  • Lack of software on Canadian model (no word processor)
  • Memory card reader doesn’t support Compact Flash

Links from Article

Toshiba Canada Info:  http://www.toshiba.ca/web/specifications.grp?lg=en ion=1&group=1&product=3150&part=2370

American Datasheet: http://cdgenp01.csd.toshiba.com/content/product/pdf_files/detailed_specs/satellite_A70-S256.pdf

Toshiba Satellite A70 Pricing and Availability:

The Toshiba Satellite A70 is available from Toshiba.com or Various merchants with competitive pricing.

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