Toshiba Satellite U405 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (146,910)

by Jerry Jackson

The Toshiba Satellite U400/U405 series is a new 13.3" widescreen notebook that weighs in at just 4.85 pounds and packs solid Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn performance and a big hard drive with plenty of storage space. Add to that a stylish chassis covered in Toshiba’s new "Fusion" finish, 3GB of RAM, a webcam, and fingerprint reader and this notebook starts looking even better. Toshiba calls this notebook a "compact hero [that] balances working room with carrying comfort." Let’s take a look and see if this laptop is as good as it sounds.

The Toshiba Satellite U400/U405 series is available with a range of Intel processors (from the 1.73GHz Pentium Dual-Core T2370 up to the T8300 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Penryn). There is only one 13.3" screen offering, a 1280×800 WXGA "TruBrite" glossy display. The notebook can take up to 4GB of RAM and Toshiba offers 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista SP1. The system is priced starting at $767.20 at the time of this writing.

Our review unit of the Toshiba Satellite U405-S2830 is equipped with the following specs:

  • Windows Vista Home Premium (SP1, 32-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T8100 (2.10GHz, 3MB L2, 800MHz FSB)
  • Mobile Intel GM965 Express Chipset
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • 3GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
  • 250GB Serial ATA hard disk drive (5400RPM)
  • DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive with Labelflash
  • 13.3" diagonal widescreen TruBrite TFT LCD display at 1280×800 (WXGA)
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 with 128MB-358MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • Bluetooth version 2.1 plus Enhanced Data Rate (EDR)
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 12.4" x 9.02" x 1.08" /1.38"
  • Weight: 4.85 lbs with six-cell battery
  • 75W (19V x 3.95A) 100-240V AC Adapter (5.0" x 1.20" x 2.01" and weighs 0.77 lb)
  • 6-cell (4800mAh) Lithium Ion battery
  • 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty
  • Price as configured: $1,149.99


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Build and Design

Like most notebooks with a 13.3" widescreen display the U405 is on the border of the thin-and-light and ultra-portable categories. With a weight of more than four and a half pounds it isn’t the lightest notebook in its class. Likewise, since the notebook is 1 inch thick at its thinnest point the U405 falls in the "middle of the pack" among recent 13.3" systems. While the U405 might be a little thicker and heavier than Apple’s MacBook Air or Lenovo’s ThinkPad X300, the U405 is a far more consumer friendly notebook with the perfect balance of form and function.

The exterior of the U405 is constructed of plastic yet it felt exceptionally solid. There was no flex to the chassis even when significant pressure was applied to the corners of the notebook. The U405 also uses the high-gloss "Fusion" finish which is an imprinted design that is both durable and attractive. The Fusion finish is one of the most durable glossy finishes I’ve seen on a notebook and easily rivals the quality of the "Imprint" finish found on HP notebooks.


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While I generally like the horizontal line design imprint on the U405, the finish isn’t just glossy … it’s reflective. This will be quite appealing to some consumers and ghastly for others. When you open the LCD lid on this laptop the back of the display basically looks like a mirror as seen in the photo below.


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Of course, the mirror-like reflections on the Fusion finish have some advantages as well. You can use the laptop to reflect the sun and signal rescue planes if you are ever lost in the woods with your laptop. The LCD lid also comes in handy if you need a mirror for your morning shave.

In all seriousness, the design is extremely attractive but certainly isn’t subdued or conservative.


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Screen

The display panel itself is a 13.3" glossy screen with WXGA resolution (1280×800). There were absolutely no problems with the screen on our review unit: the refresh rate seems excellent when videos or games with fast motion are displayed and there are no stuck pixels. As is common with glossy screens, colors and contrast are quite good and both images and video "pop" off the screen. What makes this glossy screen particularly nice is that Toshiba seems to have struck the perfect balance between gloss and matte. The screen is glossy enough to produce that added richness to color and superior contrast inherent to glossy screens, yet the surface isn’t so glossy that reflections become problematic.

Brightness is quite impressive, and as you can see in the photo above, the screen is bright enough to be readable under our very bright studio lights even with the display set to 60 percent brightness. When set to maximum brightness the screen is bright enough to cause some people to squint in a dark room.

The screen is simply beautiful when viewing from straight ahead. Horizontal viewing angles are good or average. Colors are excellent and the backlight brightness remains even across the screen surface. There is some minor color inversion when you view the screen from sharp vertical angles (such as standing above the notebook or looking up at the screen from the floor) but most people rarely view a screen from these extreme vertical angles.



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Keyboard, Touchpad, Media Controls an Indicators

When I reviewed the Toshiba Satellite U305 last year I wasn’t very impressed by the keyboard and touchpad. Well, Toshiba must have listened to consumer complaints because the keyboard and touchpad on the U405 are among the best I’ve ever used on a 13-inch notebook.

Toshiba made the decision to use the new "Fusion" finish on the keyboard keys and this gives the keyboard on the U405 a distinctly smooth feel. The key texture is almost like a thick automotive paint with multiple layers of clear coat and wax. That’s not to say the keys feel waxy but rather the keys feel obscenely sexy. Key presses are smooth, perfectly deep, well cushioned and quiet. The entire keyboard has almost no flex and remains firm even when significant pressure is applied.

The glossy surface of the keyboard is a magnet of fingerprints and shows smudges from the oils in your skin, but this is a minor annoyance when the keyboard feels this good.

 


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The touchpad surface on the U405 is quite simply one of the nicest I have ever used. The surface is flush with the palmrests but there is a light application of what feels almost like soft sandpaper over the surface. "Soft sandpaper" might not sound enjoyable, but I assure you that your fingertips will glide across the surface and the cursor movement is both fluid and accurate. Toshiba even included a white LED backlight above the touchpad that not only looks cool but helps you locate the touchpad quickly in a darkly lit room.

While we’re on the subject of the awesome touchpad, let’s not forget the touchpad buttons. These buttons are among the most comfortable I’ve found on any notebook. The rounded edges make pressing the buttons with the edges of your thumbs quite easy and the individual button presses are quiet and well cushioned without being too deep or too shallow. I often end up using an external mouse when reviewing notebooks but I never bothered using an external mouse with the U405 other than to test the notebook’s Bluetooth connectivity.

This is a very nice touchpad.


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A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with white LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on most consumer notebooks. One nice feature about the media buttons is that the white LEDs aren’t as offensive or distracting as the bright blue LEDs used on most other notebooks. The power button also features a white LED backlight and the Satellite logo and status indicators likewise have white or red LED backlights.


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Ports and Features

The port selection of the U405 is reasonably good for a notebook of this size. Here’s a quick rundown of what you get:

  • ExpressCard slot (ExpressCard/34 and Express Card/54)
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • Modem jack
  • 5-in-1 media card reader
  • VGA out
  • Microphone input port
  • Headphone output port
  • IEEE-1394 (FireWire)
  • Three USB 2.0 ports (with "Sleep and Charge")
  • Front profile view: LED status lights, 5-in-1 card reader, volume dial and Wi-Fi on/off switch.


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    Left side: VGA out, blank HDMI port, two USB ports, FireWire, microphone in, headphone out, and ExpressCard slot.


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    Right side: Optical drive, USB port, modem, Ethernet and security lock slot.


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    Back profile view: Battery and power jack.


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    One unfortunate omission from the ports selection is the lack of either S-video out or HDMI. In fact, there’s even a blank section on the left side of the U405 that is labeled HDMI. Our guess in that Toshiba will eventually offer a configuration of this notebook with HDMI … but not at present. The absence of both the S-video port and the HDMI port means that this notebook won’t be 100 percent friendly with all external displays used for presentations. This might indeed be a serious problem for traveling business professionals who never know exactly what type of video-out port they’ll need for their next business presentation.

    Overall, the U405 is still well equipped in terms of ports with FireWire, three USB ports, a media card reader, a headphone jack, microphone jack, ExpressCard slot and Ethernet port. Although the U405 only has three USB ports, all three USB ports on this notebook utilize Toshiba’s new "Sleep and Charge" functionality. This is a great feature because it means you can leave your rechargeable USB devices plugged into the notebook and your USB gizmos will recharge even if the notebook is turned off. The "catch" is that if your notebook isn’t plugged into a power outlet the notebook battery will drain even faster. As a manufacturing default, the Sleep and Charge function is disabled right out of the box so users have to manually turn it on through the "Start Menu." To activate the Sleep and Charge USB option go to "Start Menu – TOSHIBA – Utilities – HW Setup; check mode 1."

    Audio

    The audio performance on the U405 was a little better than average for a 13.3" notebook, but it was far from impressive. Both of the small speakers located above the keyboard produce a slightly "tin can" sound quality with plenty of highs but only acceptable levels of mid range and absolutely no bass. On the bright side, the speaker volume gets very loud with minimal distortion and both speakers are located in a good position to direct sound up and toward the user. Unfortunately, you will still want to use headphones or external speakers if you are an audiophile.

    On that note it’s worthwhile to mention that the audio out port on the U405 is located on the left side (a good location for an external speaker connection) and audio output was clean (there was no static or cracking in the sound coming from the headphone jack).


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    Performance and Benchmarks

    Toshiba chose to offer the U400/U405 series in a range of configurations starting with the Intel Pentium Dual-core T2370 (1.73GHz) and up to the Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 (2.4GHz) processor. While the entry-level Pentium dual core system with its 1MB of L2 cache and 533MHz frontside bus still provides reasonable performance under Vista, it’s good to know that the Core 2 Duo Penryn processor (T8100 or T8300 both with 3MB L2, 800MHz FSB) is an option for people who need faster multimedia encoding or image editing. The 2.1GHz Intel T8100 processor in our configuration provided a fast and flawless computing experience and surprisingly good battery life (more on that later).

    The use of integrated graphics processor and shared RAM is something of a mixed blessing for the U405. While many 13.3" notebooks are now available with dedicated graphics, Toshiba selected integrated Intel X3100 graphics for this notebook. Without a powerful GPU and dedicated video RAM the U405 simply cannot run most recent 3D games at higher resolutions (if at all). On the other hand, the use of integrated graphics puts less strain on the battery and allows for superior battery life. Although the U405 might not be suitable for playing Crysis, I was able to edit high resolution images in Photoshop CS3 as well as edit and encode videos in Windows Movie Maker.

    One thing the U405 offers plenty of is storage space. The 250GB hard drive should provide more than enough storage space for your music library, encoded videos, and your family photos. Thankfully, Toshiba decided to use 5400RPM hard drives in all the configurations of the U400/U405 series. Toshiba’s older 4200RPM drives required users to wait for files to read from or write to the disk, but that’s just not much of an issue with these faster hard drives.

    wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi. Lower scores indicate better performance.


    Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
    Toshiba Satellite U405 (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.1GHz)
    37.500s
    Dell Vostro 1310 (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.1GHz) 37.736s
    Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
    Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
    37.485s
    Portable One SXS37 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 41.908s
    Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
    Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
    Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
    HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
    Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
    Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
    Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.218s
    Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz) 42.947s
    Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz) 44.922s
    Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz) 46.274s

     

    3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores indicate better gaming performance):

    Notebook 3DMark06 Score
    Toshiba Satellite U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100) 539 3DMarks
    Dell Vostro 1310 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Nvidia 8400M GS 128MB) 1,679 3DMarks
    Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
    Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
    Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
    Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
    Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
    Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
    Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
    Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
    Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
    Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
    Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
    HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

    PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance (higher scores indicate better performance):

    Notebook PCMark05 Score
    Toshiba Satellite U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100)
    4,145 PCMarks
    Dell Vostro 1310 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Nvidia 8400M GS 128MB) 4,813 PCMarks
    Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
    Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
    Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
    Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
    Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
    Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
    Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
    HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
    Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
    Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
    Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
    Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks


    HDTune measures the performance of the notebook’s hard drive in terms of both transfer rate (read/write speed) and access time (how long it takes to find data stored on the drive):


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    Heat and Noise

    The U405 does an excellent job of controlling heat thanks in no small part to the massive heatsink visible through the air vent on the left side of the notebook. The only two areas of the U405 that peaked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit were the areas next to the RAM and wireless card … both of which are normal. Although the touchpad and bottom of the notebook did become warm during benchmarks it was never too hot to keep on the lap. Below are images with temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit:



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    Fortunately, noise was a complete non-issue with the fan on the U405. The fan moved a significant amount of hot air and the noise was so quiet I sometimes forgot the notebook was still powered on.

    Battery Life

    The 6-cell 4800mAh Li-Ion battery provides excellent battery life for the U405. The 6-cell delivered 3 hours and 48 minutes of life while browsing the web using Wi-Fi with the notebook set to "balanced" mode and the screen brightness turned down to about 60 percent.

    While that battery life might not seem overly impressive at first glance, the important item to note is that this is a rather average 4800mAh battery. The new 13-inch Dell Vostro 1310 produced similar battery life numbers, but the battery on that notebook is a higher capacity battery. Clearly Toshiba is doing something right in terms of battery power management.

    There is also an available 9-cell 7200mAh Li-Ion battery for those users needing extended battery life. Unfortunately, Toshiba was unable to provide us with the 9-cell battery during our testing period, so we cannot provide any information on battery life with that battery.

    Conclusion

    A notebook is more than the sum of its parts. For several years now Toshiba has managed to make solid notebooks but they didn’t excite our editorial staff … until now. In years past Toshiba usually did a fine job "on paper" by delivering laptops with good components, but the "complete package" left something to be desired. Well, Toshiba was paying attention to that criticism and the result is the new Satellite lineup for 2008.

    The Satellite U405 is quite possibly the best 13-inch consumer budget notebook we’ve seen to date. Sure, the current configuration doesn’t offer dedicated graphics for playing the latest 3D games, but the U405 is the most balanced overall package we’ve seen in quite a while. The U405 combines attractive styling, a gorgeous screen, a wonderful keyboard and touchpad, good port selection, and solid performance all at a price that rivals anything we’ve seen from the competition.

    The entry-level configuration of the U405 is priced at $767.20 compared to the entry-level configuration of the Dell Vostro 1310 priced at $747 … but the U405 is a far superior laptop. As configured, our review unit of the U405 is priced at $1,149.99 (even less at some online stores) but a similar configuration of the less-impressive Dell Vostro 1310 is priced at close to $1,300 and a similar configuration of the Dell XPS M1330 costs $1,400.

    Still, the heart of the matter is that the Toshiba Satellite U405 is simply a great laptop. I don’t often get attached to review notebooks but I can honestly say I don’t want to send this laptop back to Toshiba. This warrants repeating. As an editor and writer for a website that reviews laptops I get a new laptop to use at least once a week … but I don’t want to send this one back.

    If you are an average consumer looking for a well-rounded 13-inch notebook that can handle all of your needs without breaking the bank then the Toshiba Satellite U405 belongs at the top of your list.

    Pros

    • Reasonably thin and light weight
    • Great screen
    • Wonderful keyboard
    • Fantastic touchpad and touchpad buttons
    • Great media buttons and white LED indicators
    • Good selection of ports
    • Convenient USB "Sleep and Charge" ports
    • Excellent performance
    • Great value

    Cons

    • No S-video or HDMI port (in this configuration)
    • No dedicated graphics option (at the time of this writing)
    • Mirror finish won’t appeal to everyone
    • I don’t get to keep it




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