Toshiba Satellite M45 Full Review (pics, specs)

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by Peter Carter, Toronto Canada

The Toshiba Satellite M45 was recently released by Toshiba, in Canada this notebook is sold as the Toshiba Satellite M40.  This notebook features a 15.4″ XGA widescreen TruBrite display.  But most importantly, it houses the latest Centrino platform from Intel, Sonoma, meaning the 1.60GHz Pentium M chip equipped with the M45-S331 has a 533MHz Front Side Bus (FSB), 2MB L2 Cache and the Intel 915GM chipset for better processor and graphics performance.  The Canadian version of this laptop contains a dedicated 128MB NVidia GeForce Go 6600 card while the U.S. version has Intel integrated graphics.

This review contains the main body written by the primary author, Peter, who is from Canada and purchased the Satellite M40.  Comments have been added by a secondary author, Andrew, who purchased the Satellite M45 in the US..  Comments by Andrew are marked as such.

Toshiba Satellite M45 (view larger image)

Toshiba M40-JM3 Review Specs

  • Processor: Intel Pentium M Processor 730 (1.6GHz, 533MHz FSB, L1 Cache 32KB/32KB, L2 Cache 2MB)
  • Memory: Standard Memory: 512MB PC2700 DDR (512MB x 1)
    Maximum Memory: 2GB PC2700 DDR
  • Hard Drive: Toshiba MK6025GAS 60GB UDMA/100 4200RPM 2.5-In 9.5mm NBB HDD
  • Screen: 15.4 inch WXGA with TruBright
  • Graphics:  NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 with 128MB DDR dedicated video memory (United States M45 model has 128MB shared Intel graphics media accelerator and no dedicated graphics card option)
  • Wireless:  Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG
  • Operating System:  Windows XP Home Edition
  • Optical Drive: Built-in DVD Super-Multi Double Layer Drive
  • Sound:  Harman Kardon Stereo speakers. Realtek AD1981 B Software Sound 16-bit stereo; Built-in stereo speakers, Direct 3D Sound, DirectSound, DirectMusic, MIDI(playback).  Also SRS TruSurround XT.
  • Keyboard: Full sized keyboard
  • Expansion:  One type II PC card slot, 5 in 1 Multimedia Port, 3 USB 2.0, RJ11, RJ45, IEEE1394, FIR, external microphone port, headphone port, RGB, S-Video Out.
  • Battery:  Rechargeable 6-cell Lithium Ion (Li-ion) 10.8V x 4300mAh capacity
  • Physical Dimensions:  (WxDxH) 360 x 268 x 29(Front)/36.2(Back) mm
    Weight: 2.72kg (6.00lbs)

Reasons For Buying:

I bought this notebook to use mainly for school purposes.  As an architecture student I needed a notebook that could handle some quite demanding 3D applications such as Autocad, 3Dmax, Rhino, Maya, as well as a whole host of other graphics programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator etc.  I spent a long time shopping around however, because I wanted a laptop that would also be portable as I will have to carry it to class almost every day of the school year.

Other models I considered were:

  • Dell inspiron 8600 — this is the standard notebook for people at my school, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a Dell.  Every time I thought about it that commercial with “Dude you’re getting a Dell!” came to mind and I thought…no.
  • Toshiba M30 — The Predecessor to the model I now have.  Unfortunately they were more expensive and so kept me from buying one till this new model came out.
  • Sony VGN-S260 — I was really close to buying one when they came on sale at a store near me, but when I tried one of the 3D programs on it I quickly realized it didn’t have the power I needed

Toshiba Satellite M40 just out of the box (view larger image)

Place of Purchase
 
Futureshop in Toronto Canada.  A pretty good deal I would say at $1999 CDN. before taxes.  I see just today that they have an extra hundred dollars off so $1899 CDN. if you hurry.  (I’ll have to go and see about getting that extra hundred dollars back via their price guarantee)

Andrew

I purchased the Satellite M45-S331 notebook online at Amazon.com, it was one of the few places offering it at the time and had a good price of $1,399.99 USD.  Shipping was superfast, even though I requested standard shipping it arrived within a couple of days.

Form and Design:
 
The design overall is very sleek and slim looking.  The color is predominantly a painted silver finish over a plastic casing.  Around the screen it is black which provides a nice contrast to the TruBright screen.  The casing seems pretty sturdy overall, although I did notice a bit of flex on the screen.  If you apply pressure on the back of the lid you can see ripples on the display.  The lid has a simple Toshiba logo, pretty standard there.

Total weight of the unit is listed as about 6 pounds.  I don’t have a scale to measure it with but that seems about right.  It’s definitely not to hard to carry around compared to some of the behemoths that I’ve seen for multimedia work.

Andrew

The look is nice on this notebook, a good amount of LED lights and the hardware buttons look nice.  You can’t really go wrong with a silver and black design, it’s tasteful and stylish.  I am used to carrying around a 5lb IBM ThinkPad T40 that has a more durable feel and is lighter to carry.  The Satellite M45 weighs about 6.2 lbs so although it is fine for carrying, you won’t want to be lugging it for miles and it’s not going to take a beating as well as an IBM ThinkPad or Panasonic Toughbook might.  Basically, the M45 can serve well as a desktop replacement with its 15.4″ widescreen, but if need be you can move it from one location to the next.

Screen:
 
The screen is one of the best features of this notebook.  The Satellite M40 has the same screen as the previous model, the Satellite M30, it features Toshiba’s TruBrite screen at 1280×800 resolution.  I’m sure by now most people have seen these types of screens, Sony, Fujitsu, HP and Dell are now sporting the glossy style extra bright screens on certain laptops, and so far I’m all for this type of display.  I haven’t noticed any undue glare from the glossy finish although I’ve heard some people find it quite annoying.  No dead pixels exist on my screen either, so that’s a bonus.

Andrew

I am a big fan of the Toshiba Satellite M45 display.  It’s just plain nice.  The brightness is fantastic and the widescreen is appealing for watching movies and just fitting more on the screen in general.  I am also a fan of the TruBrite display, colors and contrast are more vivid and the display brightness makes it very easy to view from a distance.  You definitely get some reflections appearing on the screen if you’re in a brightly lit room.  The reflections don’t bother me if they appear, others can’t stand this though.  Just know your likes and dislikes in regards to screens before you buy this notebook and find you don’t like the TruBrite style of display.

Speakers:

The Satellite M40 has Harman/Kardon speakers, can’t go wrong there.  For a notebook they are surprisingly good, they are more than ample on volume and surprisingly don’t distort till they get quite loud.  Admittedly they sound a little tinny once they get over half volume or so but, hey, what can you expect from speakers the size of quarters?  Oh I almost forgot, the TruSurround:  I can’t say I’ve really noticed it as an outstanding feature but then again I haven’t really played around with it yet.  Nice to know it is there if you so wish to use it however.

Andrew

The Satellite M45 speakers are actually above par for a notebook computer.  I’ve dealt with so many laptops in which the speakers are unbearable to listen to, but with the Harman/Kardon speakers built into the M45 you’ll experience no torturing of the ears.  The sound is good unless you crank up the volume all the way.  But overall, a thumbs up on the speakers.

Processor and Performance:
 
Sporting the new Intel Sonoma platform with a Pentium M 730 (1.60 GHz) processor with 533mhz Front Side Bus, paired with the shiny new, not even advertised yet Nvidia GeForce Go 6600 128MB video card, the performance of this machine leaves little to be desired.

The 1.60 GHz processor is not as fast as some of the other Sonoma processors that are available, but I think the 1.60 GHz does a fair job of standing up to probably a 1.70 GHz processor from the last generation of processors.  I let the processor have a go at some easy math and in the Super Pi program it got a time of 2:01 for calculation to 2 million.  That’s faster than my desktop!  Running the same program on battery ups the time only 2:03?   Hmm maybe that’s why the battery doesn’t seem to last very long, it appears the power scheme is not throttling back the processor a whole lot.

Unfortunately the one thing that this model doesn’t have is the newest and fastest RAM, DDR2, it just has the pc2700 type memory.  On the plus side, Toshiba nicely puts the whole 512MB in one stick, leaving another slot entirely free for expansion!  This is good because two 256MB sticks are cheaper than one 512MB stick and usually manufacturers will go cheap on you and put in two 256MB chips, thereby forcing you to scrap one of them if you want to bump up the memory amount.

And finally the graphics performance.  So far this new Nvidia card has proved to be pretty nice, especially for my needs.  I wanted the Nvidia card over ATI for better compatibility with the various programs I will have to use and for the kind of notebook I was looking at this is as good as it gets.  Most things that you can throw at this card it will handle easily.  I have some benchmarks to give an idea: 

  • 3Dmark01 — 13314
  • 3Dmark03 — 5134
  • 3Dmark05- 1951

(Admittedly those numbers mean less than a pile of beans to me but the system seemed to handle anything up to the newest stuff on highest settings just fine.  I wasn’t even sure if the 3Dmark05 would work but it did even though the 6600 wasn’t listed as a supported card yet.  I wonder if it might get better support and better results in the future?)

Andrew

Similar to Peter I’ve experienced good performance with this notebook, but not quite as good as his in terms of gaming as my notebook does not have a 128MB dedicated graphics processor, but rather a 128MB shared memory  Intel integrated graphics media accelerator.  Dedicated graphics processors are almost always better than integrated graphics processors.

The new Pentium M architecture certainly does seem to be paying dividends in the performance arena.  Multitasking with several applications at once was nevert a problem., playing games or burning DVDs will not bog this machine down to the point of crawling unless you’re running games that require lots of polygon and shading calculations — and that’s where the Intel integrated graphics card might choke. 

If the Satellite M45 had a faster hard drive it would be nice, bootup is slightly slow and a faster hard drive would help this.  Why did Toshiba skimp on the memory and give us old PC2700 DDR RAM?  Who knows, but they did include a 1-512MB stick which is good (better than 2-256MB sticks), but they should have included DDR2 Fast RAM to take advantage of the fact the new Intel Processor actually supports this.  Buying a stick of DDR2 type RAM will speed things up further for you, boosting the RAM to 1GB will get things humming.

I suggest disabling a lot of the startup programs you’ll see in your system tray when you first get this notebook to help with performance.  View our optimizing notebook performance article to learn a few tweaks for getting even better performance: http://www.notebookreveiw.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=5787

Keyboard and Touchpad:
 
The Layout of the keyboard is very good in my opinion.  On the left is a few select quick buttons including a web launcher, a media launcher and your standard VCR type controls: play, pause, stop, rewind, fast-forward.  And at the top of that side panel is a large power button backlit with a blue LED. 

Toshiba Satellite M40 (view larger image)

The keyboard itself I also find quite nice.  I have never used a laptop very much before but had no problems using this keyboard.  Things are pretty much exactly where you would expect them to be with the exception of the DEL and Windows keys having mysteriously switched places.  Why this is, I have no idea.  The function keys along the top also have little icons in an unobtrusive grey for people like me who don’t know what they are programmed to do.  There is a little flex in the middle of the keyboard if you really mash the keys but it is reasonably solid.

The touchpad seems very good and well designed.  I bought a mouse to use in addition but have no complaints about using the touchpad if need be, especially with the synaptics features.  The buttons are nicely recessed and have a much sturdier feel than the ones I had seen on the previous M-30.

Andrew

The full size keyboard is certainly a nice thing to have.  But I am also confused as to why Toshiba moves away from the standard key placement in regards to the DEL key and also removes the CTRL key on the right-hand side, I use that key a lot for the “CTRL-C” Copy function and “CTRL-V” paste function and feel a little lost without it.  The TAB key is also shrunk on the left side.  There’s certainly not a benefit with the configuration Toshiba went with.

The touchpad is fine, but in my opinion there’s no such thing as a great touchpad.  It’s also kind of on the small side in regards to the size of the notebook.  You’ll likely have this machine on a desk during use, so get a mouse for easier navigation.

Input and Output Ports:

On the front we find the volume control, mic. and earphones, the multicard reader, and a switch for the internal wireless.

Toshiba Satellite M45 Front-side with buttons (show larger image)

Toshiba Satellite M45 right-side view (view larger image)

Right side has: DVD-ROM, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a Firewire port.

Left side of Toshiba Satellite M45 (view larger image)

Left side has: one more USB port, output for an external monitor, the two card slots (although it must be idiot proof, cause I feel like an idiot while I can’t get the Express Card slot to open, may have to open the manual… bah) Also on the left side is a very large heat vent.

Toshiba Satellite M45 back view (view larger image)

The back of the notebook has: S-video out, modem and Ethernet, AC power and a lock slot.

Andrew

Peter indicated that he was experiencing some frustration trying to figure out how to access the Express Card slot.  Well, I had the same, but it turns out that the slot is non-functional.  Toshiba stuck a plastic dummy in there and they apparently at one time were going to have this slot available, but then changed their minds.  The bad thing is that on their website in places they indicate this slot as being available, but it is not.

Aside from that hiccup, I’m happy with the rest of the ports available.  Having a multimedia card reader is such a nice thing when you want to move around memory cards between a PDA, Camera and notebook.

Wireless:

Wireless on this notebook consists of the Intel Pro/Wireless 2915ABG integrated wireless.  Also included is a fast Infrared Port.  There is also a Bluetooth manager installed although as far as I can tell there is no actual Bluetooth device for it to manage.   The wireless reception has been pretty good usually picking up multiple signals and with a, b, and g it certainly has options for wherever you are. 

Battery:

Well if there is one letdown on this notebook, the battery life would be it.  On Battery watching a DVD, I only got about 2 hours of battery time before I had to plug it back in.  There is however the above observation that the default battery settings have little effect on performance, maybe there are adjustments to the power settings that can extend that life out at least a bit longer.  One can only hope.

The website states that the battery takes up to 4 hours to recharge while off and up to 12 while on.  This is absurd and quite inaccurate, I didn’t time it but mine recharged from just about empty to full in probably less than 2 hours while being in continual use.

Andrew

I echo what Peter says here.  Battery life on this notebook is terrible, I actually got worse results.  With screen brightness all the way up and Wi-Fi on and while basically doing nothing on the computer, the battery ran out after 1 hour and 17 minutes.  That’s awful.  A similar machine, the Inspiron 6000, gave me more than twice as much battery life.

Operating System and Software:

This unit comes with Windows XP Home Edition preinstalled as well as Microsoft Office Onenote, InterVideo WinDVD, and a trial version of Norton Antivirus.  Pretty basic setup and exactly how I would want it.

Also included in the box is a recovery CD.

Customer Support:

So far I haven’t dealt with customer support and hopefully won’t have to any time soon.  The M-40 comes with a standard 1 year warranty, although I am considering upgrading it to the 3 year plan with accidental coverage in case I drop it, spill it, kick it down the stairs etc.  It would be an extra $425 for the 3 year accidental coverage option.

Conclusion:

If you are in the market for a standard sized notebook that acts like a desktop replacement in terms of performance and can serve as a basic multimedia entertainment center as well, then this could very well be the model for you.  If you can live with a short battery life then there’s not many other models out there that can touch this one in terms of price to performance ratio.  I paid $1899 CDN for the newest processor and graphics… Not too shabby.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these notebooks popping up at my school in the near future!

Andrew

The Satellite M45 certainly has features to like.  It offers good performance, looks nice and stylish, it’s better than the competing Dell Inspiron 6000, has DVD burning capabilities, generous sized hard drive and the screen is excellent.  The battery life is horrible and is a major drawback.  The keyboard is okay, the weird key configuration bothers me.  The 15.4″ screen sized notebook has a lot of options as far as buying, the new Fujitsu N3500 release might be a tough competitor and the HP Pavilion zt3000 series is still a favorite of mine (even though the processor is slightly behind at this point).  The U.S. Satellite M45 is the same as the Canadian Satellite M40 except the M40 has a dedicated graphics processor in the form of the 128MB Nvidia 6600.  The dedicated graphics card adds a definite boost, so I miss the fact this is not available in the U.S. and makes the notebook not quite as attractive, but still worth a look.

Pros:

This category is much easier:

  • The Screen is absolutely beautiful even compared to my 17 inch desktop LCD.
  • The graphics card is a great asset for future 3D work (and maybe games)
  • The processor although not as high powered as some of the new ones is still up there
  • Speakers are good for a notebook
  • Overall a well laid out design that seems quite functional
  • A, B, and G wireless is a big plus for me as the studio I am in has all of those as options
    (I’ll leave it at that although I’m sure there are more good things I could talk about!)

Cons:

Not too many complaints at all about this notebook but if I had to be picky:

  • The battery life could definitely be better than it is.  ( I don’t know if there is an option for a larger 12 cell batter or not)
  • The DVD ROM is louder than I would have expected at least compared to the silence of the rest of the machine.
  • The case and lid could be a little stiffer to prevent any flexing

Andrew

Pros:

  • Fantastically bright 15.4″ widescreen, just a pleasure for viewing
  • Has latest Intel Pentium M 1.60 GHz processor
  • Multimedia card reader and Firewire combined with various multimedia hardware buttons make this a good basic multimedia machine

Cons

  • Battery life of well under two hours is terrible
  • Express Card slot that’s blocked off?  This is confusing and misleading
  • Integrated graphics for the U.S. version and older memory type instead of new DDR2 RAM is kind of a downer

Pricing and Availability


 

 


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