Toshiba Satellite Pro L100 Review

by moon angel Reads (106,626)

by Jessica Gardner, England

The Toshiba Satellite Pro L100 is a dual-purpose notebook from Toshiba. At the low end configuration the L100 is a 15” XGA budget notebook solution, while at the high-end configuration the L100 can be a power home/business laptop, utilising Intel’s Centrino Duo technology. The L100 line is the replacement for the L20 series of notebooks sold in Europe (as of now this laptop is not sold by Toshiba in North America).


Toshiba Satellite Pro L100 (view large image)

The notebook being reviewed here is the PSLA4 version of the L100. The graphics are based on ATi’s Xpress 200 chipset, featuring the very rare 256MB version of this integrated graphics solution, and the processor is an Intel Celeron-M CPU.

Specs for this review:

  • Intel Celeron-M 380 1.6GHz processor (400MHz fsb, 1Mb L2 cache)
  • 1Gb (2x512mb sodimms) 533MHz DDR2 ram
  • 60Gb Fujitsu SATA Hard Disk Drive
  • 256mb Ati Radeon Xpress 200m IGP
  • LG 8x Dual Layer DVD re-writer
  • 15” XGA matte panel at 1024*768 maximum resolution
  • Built-in 802.11a/b/g wireless LAN, Gigabit wired LAN and 56k modem
  • Windows XP Professional

Reasons for Buying

Being a University student, I was on a strict budget with this laptop. The laptop had to cost no more that 400, not including delivery. I wanted something powerful enough to handle basic tasks such as browsing the internet and email, using Microsoft office applications such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, Adobe Photoshop and Sibelius. It should also be able to handle some basic 3D games if possible, such as Battlefield 1942 and the 3D Grand Theft Auto series, so a good IGP was important. Another important requirement was the ability to write its own CDs and DVDs without having to use an external drive. As it would stay plugged in 98% of the time the battery life was not a concern.

With such high requirements and such a small budget, special offers were a must. As my previous laptop had suffered a backlight related screen failure I had to make a quick purchase. I had been looking at the L100 over the summer on and off when I saw that it was on offer at laptopsdirect.co.uk I jumped at the opportunity. This particular model which usually retailed at 500- 550 was down to 400. The impressive IGP and non-widescreen matte display swung it over the other offer, which was a Turion powered Acer with a SiS IGP.

Build and Design


Toshiba Satellite Pro L100 with screen on (view large image)

Pleasing laptop design is as individual as the user, however I think the L100 looks very good. It has a simple black and silver scheme, the lid also being black, which makes a difference from past laptops I have had. The overall design is very reminiscent of the Satellite Pro P100 and as such the laptop does not feel like a budget machine. The overall build is sturdy for a plastic laptop, with no flex at all and it can easily be carried by the palm-rest with one hand without any worries. The screen hinges are sturdy and the screen returns back to place quickly when pushed with little wobble. Overall the laptop feels surprisingly sturdy, but I do have two concerns. Firstly, the screen assembly has more flex in it than one would hope for. Secondly, the Toshiba logo on the top of the lid is not fitted in its space properly and has come away at the edges before.


Top view of Toshiba L100 (view large image)


Bottom view of Toshiba L100 (view large image)

Screen


Screen on at full brightness (view large image)

When the laptop arrived I noticed a pixel at the top mid-left of the screen that shined bright green whenever the screen was moved. A gentle rub of the screen over the affected area cured this. Otherwise the screen is pleasingly bright for a matte screen, almost being too harsh on the eyes in a dim environment. Toshiba’s Power management software controls the screen very well, allowing it to be brighter and dimmer at both ends of the scale, it’s better than Windows’ own power utility. Being an XGA the screen can only display 1024*768 maximum resolution, which I feel is a slightly low resolution for a 15” panel in these times, however one cannot expect everything to be perfect with a budget laptop. The only concern here is lack of desktop space, as the picture remains sharp with good bright colours and excellent contrast.

Sound and Speakers

When using the laptop’s own speakers the sound is of adequate volume and decent quality for such small speakers. There are even eventualities where the speakers are too loud and this brings to light the laptop’s biggest problem. There is no external sound control for this laptop and as such the user has to rely solely on software to change the volume such as Windows’ own volume control or in-game or media player volume controls. I find this aspect extremely annoying in general use. Another problem with the sound is that when one is using a particularly high quality sound system with the laptop the internal components such as the hard drive make perceptible noise, which makes things like sound editing and music writing difficult. An external or PCMCIA sound card would really be required for complicated music and sound-related tasks on this laptop.

Performance

Budget CPUs are not the under-performing items they once were. AMD’s Sempron series are now running 1600MHz fsb and Celerons are now based on Intel’s mainstream chips with some of the more expensive features removed to reduce costs. The Celeron-M 300 series found in this notebook is based on the Dothan Pentium-M. The only differences in fact are that the Celeron-M has half the level 2 cache of the Pentium-M (1Mb as opposed to 2Mb) and the Celeron lacks Speedstep, the Pentium-M’s version of Dynamic Switching that reduces the CPU speed when it’s not being used to conserve battery power. As such the Celeron is always running at it’s full 1600MHz and this can affect battery life and also mean the CPU runs hotter while idle. Having said this, CPU temperatures are perfectly within safe limits, with an idle of around 47-51 degrees C and a maximum of 64 degrees C under load such as 3DMark or a game.

From a point of view of raw power, the CPU performs impressively being roughly equivalent to a 1.5GHz Pentium-M or 2.8GHz Pentium 4. It never feels laggy or underpowered and can handle a good amount of multitasking, a typical usage for me being Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera, Microsoft Live Messenger, Google Talk, Sibelius, Microsoft Word and Windows Media Player 10 all open at once with no noticeable slowdown.

The 5400rpm SATA hard disk feels quick, rarely holding up the user in the course of normal operations. Frequent defragmenting is necessary however as it can get bogged down when retrieving from a few different areas of the disk at once.

The DVD writer performs well, allowing 8x DVD writing. However, the laptop is not capable at writing at it’s full potential without a significant amount of RAM, 1.5GB is really needed for the full 11Mb per second of 8x DVD writing.

The 256Mb ATi Radeon Xpress 200m Integrated Graphics also perform better than one might expect. This version of the x200m has no dedicated memory and automatically takes memory from the main system memory, the amount taken depending on the total amount of system RAM installed. The amount of memory used for graphics is not controllable by the user and is taken at the rate of 64mb for 512mb installed ram and 128mb for 1Gb installed ram. At what point the IGP takes 256mb of ram I do not know as I have not been able to install more than 1Gb of system ram up to this point.

This IGP is very capable of playing 3D games. War Rock is playable at maximum settings but achieves slightly higher frames per second at medium settings. Grand Theft Auto Vice City performs well at nearly the highest settings while Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is very playable but only on low settings.

This is not a powerful gaming card however and it shows. The x200m has trouble with more graphically intensive games such as Battlefield 2. This game is unplayable on an x200m even on lowest settings, giving frame rates of 10-15 frames per second during regular play. It also struggles with City of Heroes, having a wildly fluctuating frame rate and only allowing for low settings.

Strangely FEAR combat is very playable at 800*600 resolution at low settings, however the bottleneck here is not the GPU but the 1Gb of system ram which is reduced to 896Mb after the IGP takes it’s share.

Toshiba Satellite L100 Page 2 >>

 




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