Toshiba Satellite L25 Review (pics, specs)

by Dustin Sklavos Reads (96,927)

by Dustin Sklavos, California USA

Overview

The Toshiba L25-S119 is a budget notebook – from Toshiba of all companies – and has the following specifications:

  • Intel Celeron M 1.5 GHz Processor (1MB L2 Cache, 400MHz Front Side Bus)
  • 256MB DDR2-533 PC4200 RAM (one DIMM, one slot free; max 2GB)
  • ATI Radeon Xpress 200M Motherboard Chipset
  • ATI Radeon Xpress 200M Graphics (32MB-128MB Dynamically Shared Memory)
  • Toshiba 60GB 5400rpm (MK-6026GAX) Hard Disk
  • CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combination Drive (CD-ROM Read 24x, DVD-ROM Read 8x, CD-R Write 24x, CD-RW Write 24x)
  • 15″ XGA TruBrite Screen
  • ATI SB400 AC’97 Audio Controller
  • Atheros 802.11b/g Wireless LAN
  • 56K Software Modem, 10/100 Ethernet
  • Ports: VGA Port, S-Video Out, 3x USB 2.0, Microphone Jack, Headphone Jack, RJ-45 LAN Port, RJ-11 Modem Port, PCMCIA Type II Port
  • Windows XP Home Edition

Toshiba has been one of the more respected notebook manufacturers for a while now; I’ve personally owned one of their notebooks and have known others who have owned them and had very good experiences with them. Their Satellite L25-S119 retails for $799; a little pricier than comparable notebooks, but as you’ll discover, still a solid investment.

Reasons for Buying and Where We Purchased It

My father and I needed to replace my grandmother’s aging ThinkPad; she was upset because it was running AOL very slowly, was having trouble opening and closing applications. And of course it was – the thing was a Pentium. Not a Pentium II or III, a Pentium. To say it was tired would be understatement of the year.

So we shopped around for a budget notebook that would be appropriate to her needs. At first we picked up a Compaq M2000 series with a Mobile Sempron 2800+ and 512MB of DDR memory, and I was sorely disappointed with it. I found the screen quality to be subpar, and worse, it wound up having power system issues. In two days the battery only charged up to 72%; when I was trying to run it on the mains, it randomly switched to the battery. I’ve never been a fan of Compaq notebooks and this experience didn’t help.

We returned it to Circuit City and wanted a refund, since it was defective and we needed to pick up a budget notebook elsewhere (I was championing the Gateway MX6027). Circuit City, apparently not wanting business from my father, myself, or the people reading this article, refused to take it back without charging a 15% restocking fee, regardless of the notebook being defective. Since it would have cost us an extra $100 either way, we traded up for the Toshiba L25-S119. Neither one of us will shop there again, and I discourage anyone else from shopping there.

My grandmother doesn’t need a notebook that does a whole lot; she usually just uses it for AOL and saving recipes, etc. We picked this one up for her as a Christmas present, and I have been diligently configuring it and streamlining it for her uses.

Build and Design

The Toshiba Satellite L25-S119 (view larger image)

The L25-S119 has a sturdy build for a notebook of its size and budget. It has a very attractive black hood on the screen panel and the interior has a black rim around the screen and a metallic silver design around the keyboard. The whole of the build seems to be hard plastic.

Unfortunately, the screen has a bit of wobble to it. It doesn’t wobble while being used, but it does have some wobble. Mercifully, while there is some flex to it, it’s minimal.

The only true grievance I have with the rest of the build of the notebook is the design of the optical drive, which tends to squeeze up into the notebook’s shell.

Given the target market of this notebook, the build quality is solid enough, suitably attractive and utilitarian. It’s also respectably thin, but again, this is coming from someone used to having a fat notebook.

Screen

The adequate if unexciting budget XGA screen (view larger image)

The screen is a 1024×768 XGA glossy featuring Toshiba’s TruBrite coating. It’s a bit disappointing for a Toshiba screen – they’re usually much better – and the backlight spills some at the bottom and is a bit washed out, at least on a black screen. In regular use, however, it’s attractive enough to look at and plenty serviceable. I don’t think it’s on par with the glossy screens found on Gateway’s budget notebooks (which are surprisingly respectable), but as I said, it’s serviceable. It’s very bright, and has good contrast.

It came with no dead pixels that I could see, mercifully, just a stuck blue subpixel, but it’s very hard to spot.

Speakers

Sound quality is tinnier than usual and while most notebooks tend to be very weak in the low range, this one just has none at all. The speakers don’t really have a whole lot of kick to them and the nature of the sound is uncomfortable to the ears at higher volumes, despite not being terribly loud.

But again, as every review of every notebook ever mentions: these are notebook speakers. As always, if sound is important to you, you may want to pick up external speakers.

Processor and Performance

The notebook is fairly snappy and I have to be honest, I find the 1.5 GHz Celeron M’s performance to be quite adequate. I think a lot of users get hung up on raw horsepower without thinking about how smooth a computing experience can be, but I also think that this by and large accounts for the growing popularity of dual core processors, which do provide that smooth experience.

While the 256MB of RAM is minimal, the 5400rpm hard drive is unusual for the price bracket and helps to improve performance and make the unit livable. I’m planning on picking up another 256MB stick of memory to bring performance up to par, but it remains adequate as is.

The unit has an X200M and a 1.5 GHz Celeron M; I don’t have to tell you this isn’t a gaming machine. However, surprisingly enough, it delivered playable performance in Unreal Tournament 2004 at 800×600 Medium settings, and I think with an extra 256MB of memory it would smooth out a lot. If you’re a World of Warcraft player on a budget, this might be a good choice for you, and another 256MB stick of RAM is only $30 online. I did find performance to be hanging here and there when I was running Unreal Tournament 2004, though.

I’m continually amazed by the performance of the Radeon Xpress 200 GPU; I’ve seen its limits, but it’s surprisingly capable.

One piece of information that a lot of consumers aren’t aware of is that the current generation of Celeron Ms are basically first generation Pentium Ms without their power-saving technology, and those first generation Pentium Ms still offer VERY solid performance.

Benchmarks

Below is a table of results from HDTune (www.hdtune.com), a benchmark program used to generate hard drive performance results:

 HD Tune Results  
 Minimum Transfer Rate  8.5 MB/sec
 Maximum Transfer Rate  30.8 MB/sec
 Average Transfer Rate  26.2 MB/sec
 Access Time  16.7 ms
 Burst Rate  64.9 MB/sec
 CPU Usage  19.8%
 Temperature  39 Celsius

Below are results from Super Pi, a program used to test performance of the processor by forcing it to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy:

Notebook Time to Calculate Pi
Toshiba Satellite L25 (1.5 GHz Intel Celeron M)  2m 55s
Compaq Presario v2000z (AMD Turion 64 ML-30)  2m 14s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

I attempted to run 3DMark05 but I believe the system’s minimal RAM is preventing it from running properly!

Again, the performance isn’t stellar, but it’s plenty livable, and like I said, the system is good for some very mild gaming.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The smallish touchpad and the firm keyboard (view larger image)

The keyboard is remarkably comfortable and firm with almost no flex. I’ve always been a fan of Toshiba keyboards and while this one lacks the unusual layout I remember seeing years ago, it’s still a very solid, responsive keyboard. I always wish for keyboards to have an extra column along the right side like mine does, but it’s very livable.

The touchpad, on the other hand, really needs some work. It feels undersized and a little too recessed. That’s not the main problem, as it’s still quite responsive and easy to use. But the mouse buttons are very soft and have little travel; they’re not very clicky and are actually uncomfortable to use and not very responsive. They’re tolerable – and they do their job – but they could be a lot better.

Input and Output Ports

Being a budget notebook means the L25-S119 has only the necessities in terms of connectivity.

Front view of Toshiba Satellite L25

On the front are the speakers and a button to enable and disable the wireless; no ports otherwise.

Left side view of the Toshiba Satellite L25

On the left are the PCMCIA slot, they headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 2.0 ports, and the VGA port.

Back side view of the Toshiba Satellite L25

On the back is the S-Video port, a third USB 2.0 port, and the ethernet and modem jacks.

Right side view of the Toshiba Satellite L25

And finally on the right is just the optical drive.

Wireless

The included Atheros wireless card is satisfactory and the connection quality is enough. Because it’s a budget notebook, no Bluetooth is included.

Battery

With the wireless disabled and the screen set to full brightness, while watching a DVD the L25-S119 lasts a miserable 45 minutes. In regular use you’ll get about 1:30, which is close to what Toshiba rates it.

I can’t understand why the battery life is so abysmal, why it’s on par with a boutique notebook running full bore. The battery itself isn’t really that small and the components don’t draw that much power (though the more experience I have with it, the more I come to believe the Radeon Xpress 200M is a very power inefficient chipset).

But there you have it. Hope you weren’t planning on going wireless with this bad boy, I’ve seen Pentium 4s with better battery life. Desktop Pentium 4s.

Operating System and Software

The L25-S119 comes with Windows XP Home Edition, like you’d expect a notebook in its class would. Before I get into the pack-in software, though, I’d like to mention that I really like how they handle their on-screen displays for brightness and volume. I’m disappointed this notebook doesn’t include their usual quality power management software.

All that said, however, I’m disappointed by the sheer amount of crap Toshiba does pack in to their notebooks. The system tray has four icons from Toshiba alone.

The software included with the system is as follows:

  • Office 2003 60-Day Trial
  • EZFirewall Trial
  • InterVideo WinDVD
  • McAfee Virus Scan 90-Day Trial
  • McAfee Security Center
  • Quicken 2005
  • ArcSoft Software Suite Trial
  • Microsoft Works
  • RealPlayer
  • Sonic RecordNow!

Hooray! A whole lot of nothing! I hate trial software.

Remember when they used to give you full fledged applications? Those were the days!

I do appreciate Toshiba including an actual honest-to-goodness Restore CD instead of making you write your own recovery media or eating up valuable hard disk space. The CD is a little confusing, and the BIOS doesn’t default to booting to CD and then hard disk, but it works.

Complaints

The mouse buttons are uncomfortable to use and aren’t terribly responsive, but my major complaints are the sheer amount of useless crap packed into the unit and the awful battery life.

I can’t figure out why the battery life is as dreadful as it is; it’s criminally bad. It’s not like this thing’s drawing that much current, the AC adaptor’s only rated for 65W. If anything should be a dealbreaker for the potential buyer, that would be it.

Praises

Decent build quality and a passable screen. Performance is actually pretty decent despite the low memory. It’s an attractive system and for average use should be plenty.

More than that, with some more memory, it could even be pretty decent for some light gaming. The X200M is capable enough and does the job.

The AC adaptor is also small and the plug is two prong. That doesn’t necessarily seem that important, but in practice becomes much more convenient. The cord for the main adaptor also has a velcro wrap, which is very nice.

Including an honest-to-goodness restore CD was also a classy thing to do.

Conclusion

While this laptop is certainly just fine for my grandmother’s usage, I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend it just because of how dismal the battery is and how sluggish it can get because of the low memory. After the cost of the proper memory upgrade, you’d be more likely to go and buy a notebook built to order from HP that would probably be more cost effective and offer better performance.

Pricing and Availability: Toshiba Satellite L25-S119




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