by Jeremy Mroch, Canada
Toshiba Satellite M60 (view larger image)
Sometimes a brand new Ford Taurus is better than a tricked out Porsche Turbo. If you had made that suggestion to me when I was a car-crazy teenager, I would have thought you were out of your mind. But now, I know it’s true. Not always, but in a snowstorm, or when more than one other person wants to ride with you, it is. Even more likely, the Taurus is better because that’s just the sort of car you are driving to scour the city for some obscure but necessary part that has failed in your lovingly hand tuned, high performance machine. As a matter of fact, nine times out of ten, the sedan will be as good or better for what we really use our cars for; going to the beer store, soccer practice, stuck in traffic.
Recently, I have come to some similar and long overdue conclusions about technology.
First, the excitement of being a so-called “early adopter” of new technology and brands has left in it’s path a legacy of 3DO consoles, Cyrix processors, mini disc players, obscure motherboards and video cards with even more obscure chipsets, plus other sundry unsupported and obsolete technology collecting dust in my closet.
Secondly, I just don’t have the time to research, locate and assemble components into home brewed, benchmark busting overclocked machines the way I once did. No more running around to discount component retailers or buying memory out of the back door of a pharmacy in Chinatown. Further, I don’t have the energy or interest anymore to patch and flash until my LAN card decides it can live with 8x AGP or such other nonsense.
Third, much like the sedan, I’m using my machine for surfing, email, and Office 90% of the time, but running benchmarks less than .05% of the time. Building a machine for pure performance and using it like that is, well, like using your Porsche to go to the beer store, soccer practice and of course, sitting in traffic…
So, I have parked the Porsche, and I have purchased my first brand-name computer for my personal use since my old Apple IIc over 20 years ago. Yes, I let someone else build my computer. It’s a big step for me, and one I swore I would never take, but I did it. And how much more conservative can you go than a venerable Toshiba Satellite? Or is it?
Toshiba Satellite M60 Specs as Purchased:
- Toshiba Satellite M60-BK3
- Intel Pentium M 750 @1.86 Ghz
- 1 gigabyte of PC 4200 RAM (Samsung)
- Intel 915 PM Chipset 533 MHz front side bus speed
- Nvidia GeForce Go 6600 with 128 megabytes of RAM
- Toshiba ML1032GAS hard drive, 100 gigabytes 4,200 rpm
- Panasonic UJ-840B Super Multi double layer DVD drive/writer
- Windows XP Home, SP2
- TruBrite 17.0″ wide-screen Native 1440×900 resolution
- Harman/Kardon integrated speakers and SRS TruSurround XT
- V.92 56K Data/Fax Modem
- 10/100 integrated Realtec Ethernet LAN
- Intel PRO 2915 A/B/G Wireless LAN
- 5-in-1 integrated solid state media reader
- Full size 103 key keyboard with numeric keypad
- 8 cell lithium ion battery, 14.8v, 4300mAh
- mic, headphone, 3xUSB 2.0, VGA, S-Video, 10/100, Firewire, Modem I/O ports
Deciding what to Purchase:
Having previously had the use of a laptop for a business I was involved in (a humble Acer TravelMate 2203Lci), I began to get over my fear of mass produced machines, and the benefits of computing on the move started to grow on me. When I sold back my interest in that business venture this spring, I turned over the Acer and immediately began to miss it.
I was convinced I needed a simple little four-door sedan of a laptop.
Initially, I had my heart set on the HP Pavilion DV1240. It was lighter and more powerful than the TravelMate, and had all the battery life, memory and hard disc space I would ever need. I had some reservations about paying so much for a 1st generation Centrino machine, but on the flipside, lower operating temperatures and a format approaching “thin and light” had me sold. However, when I returned to actually buy, I began to rethink what I wanted to use the machine for. The keyboard and screen were getting pretty small for day-to-day general use. I’m no road warrior, so the potential benefits of fitting the thing on an economy-class tray table the two or three times a year I might need to do this were minimal, and did not outweigh the comfort benefit of upsizing.
Weight is still a factor for me, as I often walk or take the bus to work when I can. This means that 6.5 to 7.5 pounds is all I am willing to carry. Looking at the 10 pound Toshiba P30 had me previously convinced that a desktop replacement type machine was not going to be an option. While browsing for ideas, a heavily discounted Qosimo F10 caught my attention in the store, and sitting next to it was a machine I had never seen or heard of, but would wind up buying: the Toshiba Satellite M60.
Impressive keyboard (view larger image)
To be honest, the thing that appealed to me most about the M60 was the 103-key keyboard. I often use Excel, and find top-row numbers a pain as I can touch type a numeric keypad, but can’t touch type on a QWERTY. A discrete GPU and memory is always a bonus. Construction looked good, and a 7.2 pound weight was a bit heavy, but still acceptable, given the size of the thing. Further poking and prodding and a quick trip home to check out info or reviews (none) on the net had me sold. I had a suspicion that the M60 might be a bit more than the “sedan of a laptop” I was looking for, but was willing to give this monster a try!
I paid $2,148 Canadian Dollars ($1,749 US Dollars) for my rig at the local big box electronics centre with some negotiating. Since the model is pretty new, and lists at $2,399 with only 512 MB of ram on Toshiba’s Canadian site, I think I did pretty well. This is roughly equal to the current price of a Dell Inspiron 9300 with similar specs, is and some $1150 less than the LG LW70 with the Dothan 1.86mHz and 128 meg X600 discrete graphics solution.
The deal is even better if you consider the price of reasonably comparable machine configured on Toshiba’s US sales site. The exact processor and GPU I have are not offered in the US market but swapping the Go 6600 for an X600, and choosing the weaker Pentium M 740 still yields a price of $2,222 US with rebate, which is $2,727 Canadian.
Appearance and Construction
When it comes to design and build quality, the Toshiba Satellite M60 has, quite literally a split personality. Open or closed, there is no mistaking the menacing “OS/2 forever!” look of a ThinkPad, or the cheerful “Space, 1999″ look of a Powerbook. No, unlike those icons, the M60 looks quite different open and closed, and varies in apparent build quality top vs. bottom.
Closed, the M60 is very unassuming (view larger image)
Closed, the M60 looks pretty uninspired from a design point of view. This is a shame, because the lines are actually quite pretty, but they are disguised by the black plastic body of the machine, and the drab grey of the cover moulding. What’s even worse, the grey colour (ethereally titled: “mist grey”) is actually a $30 US option on the M60. Save your money and take the no-cost blue or order the orange. As my computer is configured, it looks like it’s wearing an old, used cookie sheet for a hat. Who wants that? And speaking of cookie sheets, that’s about how flexible the lid is from the top. Pressing on the Toshiba logo with the machine closed will allow about a inch dip to be formed. I’m going to have to be careful transporting or placing objects on top of it. A hefty curved lip along the top and bottom of the screen limits flex and deflection in the screen assembly itself, however, which is reassuring.
Retro Chic inside! (view larger image)
Opening the machine up reveals a far more stylish, almost retro chic look. It’s low, sleek and linear with a deep-sparkle silver colour and bold black accents. When I brought it home I decided it reminded me of an old B&O BeoSound, but now it reminds me of my first computer, a TI 99/4A. Unlike the top, the rest of this machine is pretty flex free, especially given its width. I don’t know if it has a cast metal chassis, but it sure feels like it does.
The hinges are nice and tight, and the locking mechanism has a reassuringly beefy action.
As mentioned earlier, the computer is a fairly reasonable 7.2 pounds and can be used on your lap. Be warned of two things though. The offset keyboard can make balancing it a chore, and be prepared for intermittent blasts of hot air on your right kneecap when the CPU needs to exhale. Otherwise, the machine stays reasonably cool and quiet, with no risk of slow cooking your legs Crock-Pot style.
The keyboard is generous in size and has a nice, snappy electric typewriter feel to it. The right hand shift key could be bigger, though. The touchpad has no scroll key, and that means I won’t be using it, even though Toshiba has included a nifty touchpad/hotkey utility.
One disappointment is the placement and count of I/O ports. A somewhat stingy helping of three USB ports is further hampered by sticking two of them in the middle of the back of the box and only one on the right. Who plugs anything but power and monitor into the back of their machine anymore? I’m using a wireless mouse, so the transmitter is in the right hand port. Hooking up my camera, bluetooth transmitter or a jump drive means reaching around to the back. This also means I can’t use a USB light for those bedtime stories, and rules out the use of one of those cute USB fans altogether. Come on Toshiba, give us two on the left and two on the right. Stick the 10/100 and S-video on the sides too.
Right side and back showing PCMCIA1xUSB, Firewire, WiFi switch, modem port 10/100, CPU cooling duct, AC power, S-Video, VGA, 2xUSB. D-Cell flashlight battery for scale (view larger image)
Nothing on the left but a DVD writer (view larger image)
This machine is configured with a 17″ TruBrite screen with a native 1440×900 pixel resolution. All pixels are firing, the screen is filled out to the frame, leakage and distortion-free. I have still not formed an opinion about the Trubrite coating. It appears best suited to DVD playback as it seems to increase the viewing angle measurably over other LCDs I have used. Of course, this is only good if you want to share, and may not be suitable for a business or academic machine used in public places.
The Nvidia Go 6600 does an impressive job of pumping out the frames. Doom III timedemo1 yields a 67fps frame rate with no optimization and all the preloaded Toshiba software running in the background. 3Dmark’05 scores the machine a strong 2367 under similar conditions.
I do, however, have some problems with the 6600 drivers. First, they won’t allow the second monitor as the primary monitor, and the 1280×720 resolution of my LCD TV is not supported. On the first issue, I don’t know why that is, but may be specific to this type of laptop. On the second issue I have been able to force the resolution with Powerstrip, but I have got to work on my timings a bit more to get a satisfactory result. ATI’s latest drivers support Plug and Play 1280×720, why not Nvidia?
The M60 also runs as a DVD or CD player without booting into Windows. This may have value for some, but it seems to be a trendy feature designed solely for the purpose of being able to add the phrase “multimedia powerhouse” to advertising copy. It’s not like you are going to be strutting down the street with it on your shoulder pumping out the Whitesnake or anything. For me, this feature represents nothing more than future salvage value for the laptop as a backseat baby pacifier when the machine is obsolete.
Toshiba, on the other hand, has such a high opinion of this feature that on the very first page of the manual they advise you that charging people to watch movies on your laptop in such places as coffee houses or hotels likely represents copyright infringement and may be against the law. I can’t count how many times I get hit up at coffee shops by hucksters offering to show me “Donny Darko” or “Pulp Fiction” on their Presarios at three bucks a pop. These guys are worse than panhandlers. And hotels? How does anyone get any rest these days? At least someone is sticking up for the artists.
Multi-Media Powerhouse! (view larger image)
The Panasonic dual-layer DVD “super multi drive” is quick and quiet, and seems to be robustly constructed. No complaints there.
A pair of Harman/Kardon speakers perform the audio duty on the M60. They have reasonable sound with especially sweet highs, but very little in the way of bass. That is, unless you hang your head about 2 inches over the keyboard. Doing this gives you major low frequency boost. Maybe that’s what SRS TruSurround does, but regardless, you look like an idiot doing it when you could use earphones, and get a better effect. At maximum volume the speakers are distortion free, which is not saying much as I would estimate the maximum sound pressure around the 45-55db range. This is sufficient for personal use, but hardly up to even small size presentation duty. Media Player sounds especially weak for some reason. One nice feature is a thumbwheel volume control. Again, sometimes simpler and even mechanical is better than electronic and over-designed. How about a thumbwheel for LCD brightness too?
The Toshiba Satellite M60 delivers solid benchmarks right in the neighbourhood of similarly equipped units we have tested recently. Again, with no optimization, and all of the preloaded Toshiba utilities running in the background, I was able to grind out a respectable 1m 38s in Super Pi (Super Pi download) to two million iterations. Comparisons with other laptops is below.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Toshiba Satellite M60 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 38s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 28s|
The results for PCmark’04 were less impressive with a high score of 3807.
The M60’s weak showing in PCmark is likely due to bottlenecking around the 4200 rpm hard drive, which is this machine’s main performance weakness, in my opinion. But to meet a price point, corners are sometimes cut, and here’s where they do it on the M60. I would have liked a 5,400 rpm drive, but this was supposed to be a family sedan purchase, right? Who cares about 0-60 times on the way to the babysitter?
(Just as an aside, the overall feel of the machine is not as quick as the benchmarks might suggest. The odd time, the machine will hang momentarily in simple tasks like scrolling through a web page. I doubt there is a major fault in the machine. I suspect that too many pre-loaded utilities are competing for the same resources when the Dothan is idling, and when processing power demands go up briefly, sometimes processes are halted or otherwise thrown off in some fashion. The simple cure is to clean out the system tray, but for now I’m reviewing the computer in an “out-of-the-box” configuration.)
As a Centrino machine, my M60 features the full Intel Blue Man Group Trinity of chipset, processor and Wi-Fi card. In this case it’s the dual frequency PRO/Wireless 2915 a/b/g card. I have only used the machine in wireless-“g”, but since I live in a dense, yuppie neighbourhood, I can sometimes see five or six networks in 2.4 gHz from my kitchen table. That’s getting pretty crowded, and the ability to go 5 mHz in the future with just a router seems like cheap insurance against further congestion.
On board as well is the standard 10/100 LAN, as well as a V.92 modem for rural areas and those who like to “kick it old school”.
I have not run any battery benchmarks as I have been “conditioning” the battery. I have no idea if Lithium batteries benefit from a 3x charge 3x discharge cycle, but sometimes, old habits are hard to break.
I can tell you what I got on my discharge cycles though. The first one was a solid session of encoding .vro files on mini DVD-RAM from my camcorder into MPEG files from the multidrive to the hard drive. Two and 1/2 hours of reading, writing, encoding and fan blowing. The heat blowing out of the CPU duct was pretty impressive, almost hair dryer-like. Next, we had three hours of light-duty gaming in Civilization III Conquests. Finally, I had an afternoon of surfing, Office and e-mail. Not continuous use, and some periods of hibernation, took some calls, went for a walk, too. Just over five hours. All were done with a fairly bright screen. This seems to support or even beat Toshiba’s claim of 3.33 hours battery life under normal use.
Software and Other Features
One of the reasons I liked building machines was that you determined what software and utilities were installed and when. As has been my experience in the past with brand-name machines, Toshiba has not spared the consumer one piece of nice sounding, but ultimately questionable utilities, of questionable utility. Do I really need a utility to set up power profiles when I can do it in Windows already? Do I need an optical drive throttling utility that slows down the multidrive so I can hear movies better? I don’t know, but I’d wish they’d let you decide and install what you wanted yourself.
Toshiba does include a neat utility for finding wireless LANs in your area, and displays them with full architecture and channel information in a GUI that looks like planets orbiting your laptop. Again, it’s nothing you could not do in windows already, but the way the information is presented is kinda cool.
In other features, on the front of the machine, there is a 5-in-1 card reader that supports everything but Compact Flash. I use SD and Memory Stick and the action is positive, and transfer speed seems faster than my USB multi-reader.
Bringing up the rear, well, the right, is a surprisingly well constructed PCMCIA slot, featuring a real spring loaded door, rather than the current trend of filling the slot with a cheap polyethylene dummy card.
- Lack of 5,400 RPM or faster drive.
- Strange USB port placement.
- Great value.
- Stunning video performance.
- Light weight, and robust design.
For a machine I knew very little about that I bought and took a chance on, the Toshiba Satellite M60 not only met, but also exceeded my expectations for the price I paid. Are there some nits to pick? There always are. Are they deal breakers? Not by a long shot.
As stated earlier, I wanted a machine that could do a little bit of everything for a reasonable price. What I wound up with in the Toshiba Satellite M60 was a machine that could do almost everything, and do it very, very, well at a price that I consider a tremendous bargain.
If you are in the market for a computer that can do, and there is no hyperbole here, everything, plus be portable and have excellent battery life you have found your match. As a matter of fact, at the price I paid, this may well represent the ultimate price/performance sweet spot in PC computing period in the second/third quarter of ’05. It manages to do this while being supported by one of the most extensive dealer networks, and most well known and respected brands in laptop computing. No risk of being abandoned when some off-brand manufacturer decides to leave the market; drivers, repairs and support will always be available for a Toshiba Satellite.
So, what ever happened to that car-crazy kid who grew up and needed a Taurus? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to trading in the Porsche at the Ford store. He seems to have bought a new Corvette.
Pricing and Availability