Toshiba Satellite M55 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (185,098)

by Mike Walter,  Wisconsin USA


A front view of the Toshiba Satellite M55-325

For the past number of years, I’ve owned a Compaq Armada V300.  With its blazing 450MHz Celeron processor and bland black case it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s been a surprisingly adequate workhorse and well worth the money.  Despite this, the laptop is starting to show it’s age and the battery no longer holds a charge, which is the reason I needed to buy a new laptop.

Knowing I’ll own this laptop for a long time to come, my expectations were relatively high.  Since I’ll mostly use it in my living room, I wanted something that is still somewhat mobile although it doesn’t have to be ultra-portable.  I’m not a gamer either and my main uses are office functions and Internet surfing.  For this reason, I focused in on 14″ laptops for their ample screen size and relatively low weight.  I initially looked at some desktop replacements like the Dell Inspiron 6000, but they were just too big and heavy for me.

Where and How Purchased

For a long time I considered the HP DV1000 and the Dell Latitude D610.  The DV1000 impressed me with it’s features, however after evaluating them numerous times in stores I noticed that the bottom always seems to be white-hot just sitting on the store shelf.  This generated visions of it burning a hole right through my shorts, which was the main reason I kept looking.  The Dell I found difficult to evaluate since I can’t just walk into a store and work with it or pick it up.  I suppose if you know someone that has one it might be easier, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a laptop sight unseen.

Then Toshiba released the Satellite M55.  Since the major big-box retailers started stocking it soon after it’s release, I had the opportunity to evaluate it on several occasions.  While it had most of the features of the HP DV1000, the big thing I noticed is that it didn’t seem to run nearly as hot as the DV1000.  In the end I decided to purchase my M55 from the local CompUSA primarily because of their 21-day return policy with no restocking fee.  This really impressed me because lately it seems that everyone has a restocking fee.  Personally I think this only makes sense since brick and mortar stores have to compete with the direct online sales where often-times a buyer can get up to 30 days to return their purchase for refund.

Note:  As of the submission date of this review, a CompUSA manager has informed me that CompUSA has recently changed their return policy to only allow in-store credit on laptop returns.

Toshiba Satellite M55 Configuration as Purchased:

  • Toshiba Satellite M55-325 Model Number
  • Intel Pentium M 740 processor (1.73 GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533Mhz FSB)
  • 512 MB RAM (max. 1.5GB) PC2700 DDR (333MHz)
  • 100 GB 5400 RPM hard drive
  • 14″ WXGA TruBright screen
  • 8x Dual Layer DVD+/-RW
  • 6-in-1 Memory Card Reader
  • Intel GMA 900 graphics card
  • Windows XP Home
  • $1199.00 USD

Form and Design



The construction of this laptop is all plastic, however that can be expected from most laptops in this price range.  There is a little bit of flex on the back of the screen if I push on it, but I would characterize it as an average amount.  When picking the M55 up it is incredibly light and although I didn’t weigh it I can believe Toshiba’s claim of around 5.3 pounds.  The size is nicely portable checking in at 13.5″W x 9.53″L x 1.53″D.  All this makes for a very attractive combination of portability, nice screen size and a ton of features.

When Toshiba released the M55, it announced that the laptop would be available in 3 colors (copper, gray and blue); mine has a peacock-blue screen-back that I found to be a nice departure from the institutional black and gray laptops.  The rest of the laptop is the same silver and black design as all other recent Toshiba Satellite models.  One of the more unique things I noticed about this model is that it seems Toshiba has shortened the palm-rest size slightly from what other manufactures are offering on similar models.  At first this seemed like a good way to decrease the overall size of the laptop, but in practice it wasn’t comfortable when typing.

The overall build quality on this laptop is quite poor in my opinion.  As noted above, there is some flex in the screen-back and the palm-rest area has some flex to it as well.  Perhaps the worst part about the construction is the keyboard.  There is a large amount of flex to the keyboard that makes it very annoying to type.

Screen

The “TruBright” screen on the M55 is just beautiful to use in my opinion.  It is a glare-type screen so I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but it was easier to see in high light situations where my old laptop screen would simply have washed out.  Using the M55 outside on a sunny July morning I was still able to read the screen although it was decidedly harder to see.
On the technical side, the screen has a maximum resolution of 1280×768.  This is fairly typical of the 14″ widescreen laptops I’ve seen however I would like to see the ability to step up to at least one higher resolution.  Under normal usage I wasn’t able to notice any dead pixels, but using Dead Pixel Buddy software I was able to find 4 dead pixels.  Not exactly perfect, but since I can’t find them during normal usage I consider this acceptable.
This laptop uses the integrated Intel GMA 900 graphics card with up to 128 MB of shared video RAM.  In general use for me this seemed to provide very acceptable performance, however if you are planning on playing games, you may want to pay particular attention that at this time the M55 is only offered with integrated graphics.

Speakers

At first glance the speakers on this laptop really stand out.  A pair of harmon/kardon speakers sit directly below the screen providing a very interesting and rather slick look to the screen area.  However these speakers aren’t there just to look pretty and they don’t disappoint.  While not having a lot of bass to the sound, I found the sound quality good with ample volume.  These are much better than the average tinny-sounding laptop speakers, but if you are an audiophile or looking for a lot of base you will still want external speakers.

Processor and Performance

The Toshiba Satellite M55-325 comes with an Intel Pentium M 740 (1.73GHz) processor.  Add to that 512 MB of RAM and a 100 GB hard drive spinning at 5400 RPM and you would expect that this laptop should put up reasonably fast numbers for a thin and light laptop.  Unfortunately at least from my perception this laptop was far from fast and I was slightly disappointed with the performance.  However to be as objective as possible, I’ve included several benchmarks so everyone can evaluate the performance themselves.

Benchmarks

We use Super Pi (Super Pi download) to get a benchmark of processor speed.  The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy.  Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark, below is how the Toshiba Satellite M55 stacked up against other laptops:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Toshiba Satellite M55 (1.73GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 59s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 45s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Toshiba Satellite M60 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 38s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

PCMark04 Scores:

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  IBM T43 (1.86GHz) Toshiba Satellite M55 (1.73GHz)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.33 MB/s 3.233 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 27.19 MB/s 25.295 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.4 MB/s 21.915 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.88 MPixels/s 10.116 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1914.17 MB/s 1743.79 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.82 KB/s 2.695 KB/s
 File Decryption 54.11 MB/s 50.683 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2496.87 KB/s 2346.307 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.27 Pages/s 4.350 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 51.71 FPS 41.645 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 159.19 FPS 84.263 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 868.44 FPS 364.855 FPS

 HD Tune Benchmarks Asus Z33a (5400 RPM) Toshiba Satellite M55 (5400 RPM)
 Minimum Transfer Rate 4.5 MB/sec 20 MB/sec
 Maximum Transfer Rate 30.2MB/sec 34.5 MB/sec
 Average Transfer Rate 23.4 MB/sec 26.9 MB/sec
 Acess Time 24.1 ms 17.1 ms
 Burst Rate 62.8 MB/sec 68.6 MB/sec
 CPU Usage 3.7%

All benchmarks were run on A/C power so as not to be stepped down by the Intel Centrino power management.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad are two of my main disappointments regarding this laptop.  Upon the initial inspection of the keyboard I noticed the CTRL key was not fastened to the keyboard correctly and instead was tilted up on one side quite a bit.  Attempts to snap it back flat to the keyboard were unsuccessful.  When typing, the amount of flex exhibited by the keyboard resulted in uncomfortable typing and more importantly a large amount of noise.  While my old laptop was barely audible when typing, this keyboard was so noisy that it prompted several complaints from across the room on the first evening of use.

My first impression of the touchpad was that it seems a bit undersized compared to most; the buttons appeared very small as well.  When using the touchpad, it seems very temperamental.  Sometimes it won’t pick up my movement but then all of a sudden the pointer will shoot across the screen.  I tried making adjustments to the pointer speed, but the behavior didn’t improve.  During general use, I found it frustrating to perform even the simplest tasks like moving to an icon on the desktop.

Ports and Inputs



Front:  The front of the laptop has a volume dial, microphone and headphone jack, screen latch and wireless on/off switch and status lights.




The left side of the laptop contains a PCMCIA Type II slot, multi-card reader (Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Smart Media, SD/MMC, and XD), S-video, i-Link (IEEE 1394), fan exhaust vent and VGA connection.




The right side of the laptop has a DVD+/- DL burner and 2 USB ports.




The back of the laptop has from left to right 2 USB ports, an Ethernet port, battery, AC connector, a security cable slot and the modem jack.





The bottom view of the Toshiba Satellite M55.

Wireless

This laptop comes equipped with the Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 b/g wireless integrated, but no bluetooth.  Almost all comparable laptops seem to offer at least the option of a Bluetooth configuration and I would have liked to have seen that option.  The integrated wireless picked up my home wireless network instantly and easily with no configuration needed.  It maintained a strong signal everywhere inside our house as well as on the outside patio.

Battery

The battery included with the Toshiba M55-325 is a 6-cell lithium ion battery.  The fact that this is only a 6-cell battery is sure to somewhat limit the battery life compared to a larger heavier battery, but the benefit is that it keeps the overall weight down.  With wireless on and surfing the Internet, I got 3 hours from the battery.  For my usage pattern I consider this to be a nice compromise between battery life and weight.  Battery Eater Pro results included below provide an independent evaluation of the battery life.  (Toshiba states battery life is up to 3.52 hours)

Battery Eater Pro Results:

  • Classic Mode 800 x 600 x 32 1h 36m
  • Idle Mode N/A 2h 49m

Operating System and Software provided

The laptop came with Windows XP Home pre-loaded.  As seems to be normal operating procedure the laptop came fully loaded — with programs trying to get me to sign up for AOL, MSN, Napster and every other program or service you can think of.  To restore all of this advertising if something should happen to your hard drive, Toshiba provides a recovery CD but not the original Windows disks.  This was a disappointment to me but not a surprise, as very few manufacturers seem to provide more than a recovery disk.

Customer Support

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to utilize the Toshiba customer support, so I can’t speak to how easy they are to work with.  The sales people at CompUSA were very nice and helpful, although I wish they were slightly more knowledgeable about the products.  I always find it humorous when I know more about the products than the people trying to sell them to me, but it’s to be expected from most of the big-box retailers.

Toshiba provides a fairly standard 1-year limited warranty on the M55.  I also purchased an additional 2 years of accidental damage warranty from CompUSA.  The $250.00 price tag for this again seems fairly normal.  I’m not sure if the cost is necessarily worth it, but in any case if I spill my coffee on the keyboard I don’t have to worry quite as much.

Pros

  • Light-weight
  • Nice compact size
  • Great screen
  • Runs relatively cool for a small(ish) laptop

Cons

  • General build quality (thin plastic construction)
  • Sub-par keyboard
  • Touchpad and buttons

Conclusion

This laptop begins by offering everything I was looking for in a laptop: a great compromise between portability and screen size, a large hard drive, Pentium M processor, integrated wireless, cool temperatures and a DVD burner at well under 1500 USD.  However it’s the things that I wasn’t looking for that plague this laptop.  Poor construction shows up in numerous parts of the laptop, but none more noticeable than the keyboard.  There are definitely enough positives that if Toshiba can correct the basic quality problems I experienced, this laptop would be a very nice thin and light laptop.

Pricing and Availability



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