Toshiba Satellite P205 Review

by Greg Ross Reads (75,694)
  • Pros

    • Wide range of configuration options including HD-DVD, dual HDDs, IGPs and powerful GPUs.
    • Surprisingly strong exterior build for this price point, and very light construction for this behemoth.
    • Really strong screen hinge.
    • Very nice keyboard and excellent speakers.
    • HD and Multimedia software included (Media Center and HD-DVD player).
    • Beautiful screen.
    • Runs cool and quiet.

  • Cons

    • WAAAAY too much bloatware.  You will want to reformat and reinstall Vista.
    • Just a little flex in the palm rests.
    • Too many blue LEDs.
    • Average to below average viewing angles.
    • 4200RPM Drive (configuration to order has faster options though).
    • 6-Cell battery is to be avoided unless you do not travel with the notebook.


by Greg Ross

The Toshiba P200/P205 notebook is the latest 17″ offering from Toshiba that can be equipped with a variety of options at great prices.  So come on in and read our thoughts and the review of the P205!

Review Model Specification

The P205 can be ordered in several configurations.  We received the P205-S6347, which has the following specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 Processor (Santa Rosa, 1.66GHz, 2MB Cache, 667MHz FSB)
  • Microsoft Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 17″ TruBrite LCD with WXGA+ Resolution (1440×900)
  • Integrated 1.3 MP Webcam
  • Intel X3100 Integrated Graphics Card with up to 256MB Shared Memory
  • 2GB DDR2-667MHz RAM (2x1GB Configuration)
  • Toshiba 200GB 4200RPM SATA 1.5 Hard Drive
  • Integrated HD-DVD Drive with DVD+/-RW, DVD-RAM, and CD-RW Support
  • Modem, 10/100 Ethernet, and Intel  4965AGN (802.11a/b/g/n) WiFi
  • 5-in-1 Media Card Reader (Supports SD, MS, MS Pro, MMC, and xD Cards)
  • Fingerprint Reader
  • 6-Cell 4000mAh Lithium-Ion Battery and 90W External AC Adapter
  • 1-Year Warranty

This model can be found on Toshiba’s website for $1,449.99 before shipping and taxes.  Pricing for the Santa Rosa based P200/P205 starts at $949 and the Merom version at $799.

Build and Design

Structurally, the exterior of the laptop consists entirely of plastic.  The bottom half of the case is built from a solid black plastic that is very strong and produces little to no flex regardless of how much I torture the notebook or carry it around.  On the top half is a glossy, dark blue plastic that serves mostly as a fingerprint magnet but is not quite as strong as I can get the panel to flex under a little bit of pressure.  However, the top panel does still protect the LCD screen well as I could never produce any ripples or otherwise affect the LCD screen.


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A pleasant surprise awaits anyone who opens up this notebook because the one giant hinge for the screen is very strong.  Even though this laptop weighs in at over 8lbs, if you open it up without keeping a hand on the base the laptop will come up a little bit with the screen at first!  The hinge itself is one big, long hinge that stretches across most of that edge of the notebook that is very similar to the one seen on Apple notebooks.  As a consequence of both the design and the strength of the hinge, the screen barely wobbles.

The interior of the notebook is built from medium weight plastic that feels about as strong as the plastic seen on the LCD back.  During general use and typing, one can notice the keyboard palm rest’s flex…especially when pressing against the surface.  The plastic does not bend too far in but less flex would be appreciated.  It only happens on and immediately around the palm rest.  The areas above and to the side of the keyboard do not flex like the palm rests, and the keyboard itself is similarly strong and firm.  Overall, the laptop is sturdy enough for general and multimedia use.


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The screen housing itself, which is made of plastic as mentioned earlier, does a very good job of protecting the screen. Even though the plastic does flex, I could never produce any ripples on the screen when pressing against the back.  The screen housing itself almost always refuses to twist.  When pressing hard against only one side of the screen, the hinge starts moving backwards rather than the screen twisting.  But when holding both sides of the notebook and twisting, I do have to apply a generous amount of force to get the housing to bend.  Again, the screen never shows any signs of distress when doing this!

The optical drive, found on the right side of the notebook, fits snugly into the case but when opening it up the tray does have a little give as I can move the drive train around a little bit.  In my experience all laptop drive trays move a little…but this one moves just a little bit further than I am used to.  However, during normal operation and usage this never was a problem for me so I would not worry about it.

Cosmetically, on the outside it is black and dark blue…but in all reality the Onyx Blue just looks like black anyway.  The keyboard deck is mostly silver with black on top where the media and operation buttons and speakers reside

The bottom of the notebook and interior of the screen bezel has a matte finish, but the black plastic areas on the keyboard deck and top of the LCD are glossy fingerprint magnets. The front edge of the keyboard deck, where the status lights are found, is also similarly glossy.  Nothing really speaks out about the appearance of the notebook, but it certainly does not look bad.  It just looks average.  However, the only real complaint I have about the design of the notebooks is that there are way too many bright blue LEDs.  They are supposed to look stylistically futuristic, but Toshiba really over-did it with them!

The notebook itself is fairly light for a 17″ notebook (at 8.8 lbs), but is rather bulky with a 1.8″ thickness.  Overall dimensions are15.7″ x 11.3″ x 1.8″, but at first glance it only looks like a thick 15.4″ laptop.  I actually double checked the model number and size when I received the notebook as I thought a 15.4″ notebook was accidentally shipped to me!

Screen and Speakers

Normally, I do not have much to say about speaker quality but I was pleasantly surprised by these speakers.  While playing music and DVDs, they were clear and crisp at all volume levels even though I felt the system was a little lacking in bass.  There was no distortion in the audio, and they did not sound tinny whatsoever.  Toshiba made a good choice in using the Harman/Kardon speakers.  No external speakers required!

The screen is big and very bright.  Makes me wish my personal laptop’s screen was as good as this!  It features a somewhat below average resolution for a 17″ screen (1440 x 900) which is perfect for HDTV viewing at 720p but is too low for 1080i or 1080p.  Considering the laptop comes with an integrated HD-DVD drive with an HD-DVD player, I’d like to see a true (as in higher resolution) HD screen in this model!  Higher screen resolution options are found on the P200, which is the customized version of this notebook.


Front and Center (view large image)

When viewing the screen head on, colors are vibrant and beautiful.  Even at the lowest brightness setting, the screen is fairly bright.  Once you get at about 50% brightness the screen would definitely be adequate for just about any environment, and at full brightness you would almost have no problems watching the screen outside on a bright and sunny day.


Left horizontal view. (view large image)


Right horizontal view. (view large image)

Horizontal viewing is fairly good even up to about 70-80 degrees off center, which is quite good.  After that, darks become rather distorted and weird looking but bright colors are still okay.  Even viewing the screen as far off left or right as possible the bright colors always seem fine – but darks are not.


The view from above. (view large image)


The view from below. (view large image)

As usual for laptops, the vertical viewing angles for this screen are horrible.  Even as little as 10 degrees above center, the colors all wash out.  At 30 degrees, you really cannot see the picture at all.  When viewing from below center, the screen is basically useless as it gets much darker instantaneously.  Again, I emphasize that all laptop screens are really bad in this aspect of the design so there is nothing negative to say specifically about the P205.

Processor and Performance

The P205 features a budget Santa Rosa processor that clocks in at 1.66GHz, with only 2MB of L2 Cache and a 667MHz FSB.  Other preconfigured and customizable models have options for higher end processors, but choosing the T5450 keeps the battery life up and the heat down and can surprisingly hold its own with respect to performance.  The Santa Rosa platform is a refresh for the Core 2 Duo lineup, and features support for Intel Robson memory (not an option for this laptop) and other next-gen features like draft-N Wi-Fi, EFI support, and integrated DX10 capable GPUs.

Before running any benchmarks, a lengthy scrubbing of the hard drive was performed to get rid of all bloatware.  Additionally, the laptop was placed in the “Performance” power profile and plugged into the AC Adapter.

At 1.66GHz with a lower FSB than most Santa Rosa processors, one would think this chip is crippled.  However, the T5450 does manage to clock in a PCMark05 score of 3400 which is about on par with the previous generation 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor.  There is no doubt that Vista does hog some of the CPU power while testing.  Additionally, with several Toshiba “utilities” running in the background I’m sure the processor could have scored a little bit higher had I optimized the system a bit further.


3400 PCMarks is fairly good. (view large image)

What I should note right here though is that the processor is definitely more capable than I thought it would be.  Even with the resource hogging Vista and a slow hard drive, the T5450 keeps the system fairly snappy and responsive.  I never had any complains with regards to the overall performance of the laptop, and it will serve all but the most power hungry users well.

Additionally, we use SuperPI to give us a rough idea of how powerful each individual core is in modern processors.  It is a somewhat simple benchmark that forces the processor to calculate a specific number of digits of PI, and when finding 2M digits of PI the T5450 does a rather good job clocking in at 1 minute and 17 seconds.


This is also similarly average. (view large image)

The hard drive is another budget part for the P205, as it is a very slow 4200RPM drive with a 200GB storage capacity.   I understand the desire to use slower and quieter parts in laptops, but 4200RPM drives are ancient and should be abolished from all but the most ultraportable of notebooks.  For general multimedia use I did not really see a performance problem, but I did not transfer large files or watch large movies from the drive during my time with the laptop.  No doubt the 2GB of RAM helps to alleviate the pain of having such a slow drive, but at the price point for this specific notebook I would have expected a faster drive.


Here the 4200RPM drive really shows its lack of speed. (view large image)

Access times are definitely too long, but again the hard drive slowness was not as bad as I would have expected.  The higher density of the disc at 200GB definitely helped performance but please do not use 4200RPM drives anymore!  Do keep in mind however that faster drives and also dual drive configurations are available online.  For instance, on the custom order P200 the 160GB@5400RPM drive is less than the 200GB@4200RPM drive so the better choice would probably be to sacrifice 40GB, save $50, and get better performance without running louder or hotter.

The Intel X3100 is the latest generation of integrated graphics cards offered by Intel.  The IGP does a good job when playing movies, watching music, or doing other office and multimedia tasks.  But it is not a gamer’s card by any means.  A game at least 3 years old should do okay on this machine, but anything newer and you will probably have issues.  On the bright side, the Vista games that come with the laptop (Chess, Solitaire, etc) are definitely responsive enough.  As a final note, the X3100 scored 851 under 3DMark05 but there are options for an ATI HD 2400 or 2600 on the customizable models.  Keep in mind that faster GPUs will run hotter and louder and drain more battery life though, which would partially spoil some of the strengths of this laptop.


Well, what do you expect!  It is an Intel IGP! (view large image)

The Windows Experience Index is the least favorite of my benchmarks, but I include it to be fair.  It is not an industry standard benchmarking suite, but it does afford you some idea of how well your laptop is performing.  The WEI for the P205 clocked in a 3.5 with the graphics card as the limiting factor.


(view large image)

Heat and Noise

One thing this notebook has going for it is that during general usage the laptop is very, very quiet.  You can only hear a somewhat deep humming sound that is barely perceptible outside of a two foot range away from the laptop.

When doing any kind of processor, hard drive, or IGP intensive task the notebook fan does rev up some…but it is still rather quiet!  Any amount of music or background noise will be enough to drown out the notebook even at its loudest – if you can call it loud at all.

The laptop stays remarkably cool, in part thanks to the slow hard drive, budget processor, and integrated graphics card.  The fan exhaust is slow moving and not very warm at all regardless of what kind of benchmarking I did.  The bottom of the notebook did get a little warm on my lap, but not uncomfortably warm at all.

When measuring temperatures, I used Notebook Hardware Control to get the hard drive and processor temperatures.  GPU temps could not be obtained as it is an Intel IGP.  But temperature readings were taken about 10 minutes after the start of any heat test.  Also, Vista seems to hate down clocking the CPU so even on battery the temperatures were about the same as the general usage temps at the “Performance Profile.”


(view large image)

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard and touchpad feel as good as they look.  The keyboard itself took a little getting used to as I have not used a 17″ notebook in a while, but I was definitely impressed with the keyboard quality for a notebook at this price range.  Travel distance was about right at a few millimeters, and the keys did not feel mushy or bouncy at all.  They were firm but flexible to the touch for a very high quality feeling.  My only complaints about the keyboard after typing the entire review on this notebook is that I just cannot accurately hit the space bar and the keys made an ever-so-slightly loud clicking sound as I typed.  The space key just is not wide enough, or the keyboard is not registering when I hit it.  But overall, I do enjoy using this keyboard and after a little time I’m sure my reservations about the space bar and the clicks would be overcome.


(view large image)

The mouse pad was also a pleasure to use with its glossy but not slick feeling.  It was responsive enough for my needs at the default settings in the touchpad driver, and with a little adjustment on the sensitivity scale just about anyone should be happy with the touchpad.  The mouse buttons were a slightly different story though, as they felt a little clunky and sounded loud.

Input and Output Ports, Wireless, and Battery

The P205 has a good number of ports along the notebook, so let us take a tour!


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At the front of the notebook we see the WiFi switch (excellently placed and built switch), Audio-In Jack, Headphone Audio-Out Jack, Volume Control Wheel, 5-in-1 Media Card Reader, and the status light indicators.


(view large image)

On the right is a massive bank of 4 USB Ports, Modem (RJ-45), HD-DVD Drive, and Security Lock Slot.


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There is nothing but the extra large hinge on the back of the laptop.


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Here are the AC Adapter ports, VGA-out, heatsink vent, 10/100 Ethernet, 2 USB Ports, S-Video out, ExpressCard/54 slot, and one FireWire 400 port.


(view large image)

Finally, on the bottom we see two fans, a subwoofer, the battery, and several access bays.

The only really odd thing to report here is that the location of the USB ports is rather a pain.  While having 6 USB ports is very nice, putting 4 of them in front of the optical drive was a poor choice.  Connecting a lot of things will only leave you with too many cords blocking the DVD tray.

The Intel 4965a/b/g/n WiFi card worked without any problems and during my time with the notebook there were no issues connecting to any network.

Battery life on the P205 however was not a happy story.  With full brightness, WiFi On, a “Power Saver” power profile, and minimal activity like typing this review and browsing NBR, the laptop clocked in at 1 hour 45 minutes before it forced itself into hibernation at 10% of the remaining battery life.  By those numbers, one could reasonably expect the laptop to achieve about 2 hours of runtime under average working conditions.  One might extend the life to 2:30 or 2:45 by toning down the screen brightness and turning WiFi off, but the fact of the matter is that despite the power saving T5450, 4200RPM drive, and the X3100 IGP the battery life is really poor.  Of course, that is what happens when you use a small 6-Cell 4000mAh battery!  However a larger battery is available for a price.

Operating System and Software

The P205 comes equipped with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system Vista Home Premium.   This is the ideal version of the new OS for home office and multimedia users.

The P205 came filled to the top with various trial packages and bloatware crap, which is to be expected in a consumer laptop.  All in all, it took me quite a few restarts and over an hour and a half to clean Vista out from all the bloatware which included McAfee Trial edition, MS Office 60-day trial, Napster, WildTangent (spyware) games, etc, etc.  After cleaning the computer it really was much faster.  I wonder why Toshiba (and other companies) think they can save money by including all this crap as some consumers are just going to think the laptop is too slow by design (rather than by software) and return it.  Seriously, get with the game and allow options to get a Vista installation without all the crapware like consumers have been asking for years!

However, during my time with the laptop even the lowest end of specifications provided a very nice experience with Vista.  Aero was snappy as could be, and nothing (other than gaming) seems to slow down this PC…no doubt partially thanks to the 2GB of RAM included with the laptop that hides how slow the 4200RPM drive can be.

Conclusion

The Toshiba P205 is definitely a nice notebook with many nifty features and no extra crap that consumers do not want (except for bloatware).  Options for the laptop are virtually endless and allow for anything in between budget offerings all the way up to a gamer laptop, and most of the upgrade options are fairly priced.

The build quality is a little above average for a laptop in this price range but I would recommend that stronger materials be used in the keyboard deck in the next refresh model to earn an excellent rating from me.  The screen is big and bright, and should be excellent for any multimedia use.  HD capabilities can be had for cheap in this laptop, with all the hardware needed built right in to decode and play your videos (recommend a 2.0GHz T7300 processor though).  The keyboard and speakers were a welcome surprise with regards to quality, and the hard drive and processor were responsive enough even though they are low end and low speed parts.  Battery life with the 9-Cell should be adequate, but avoid the 6-Cell as I really did not like the battery life it offered.  The laptop runs surprisingly cool and quiet, no doubt thanks to the T5450 and the X3100 IGP.

Overall, the P205 definitely leaves a positive impression with me as there are some great configuration choices and excellent performance that can be found at a low price.

Pros

  • Wide range of configuration options including HD-DVD, dual HDDs, IGPs and powerful GPUs.
  • Surprisingly strong exterior build for this price point, and very light construction for this behemoth.
  • Really strong screen hinge.
  • Very nice keyboard and excellent speakers.
  • HD and Multimedia software included (Media Center and HD-DVD player).
  • Beautiful screen.
  • Runs cool and quiet.

Cons

  • WAAAAY too much bloatware.  You will want to reformat and reinstall Vista.
  • Just a little flex in the palm rests.
  • Too many blue LEDs.
  • Average to below average viewing angles.
  • 4200RPM Drive (configuration to order has faster options though).
  • 6-Cell battery is to be avoided unless you do not travel with the notebook.




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