by Kevin O'Brien
This review covers the midrange Toshiba Satellite A205-S4617 model laptop. Specifications for this laptop are listed below:
Satellite A205-S4617 Unique Specifications ($1,349.99)
Toshiba Satellite A205 (view large image)
The A205 laptop appears to be primarily targeted to students and home users, rather than business users. While it does have some security features business users have enjoyed like fingerprint readers coupled with security login software, the flashy looks of this laptop might drive them away. Students on the other might enjoy the gloss finish, bright blue indicator LEDs, and flashy “Toshiba” print across the back of the display.
Build and Design
Two words could describe this laptop by themselves, sleek and polished. Right out the first thing you notice about this laptop is the polished outside display cover surface, and the lack of any sharp or non-rounded edges. Opening up the laptop you notice the glossy indicator light panel, glossy screen, clear plastic covers over the Harmon/Kardon speakers, and control buttons that blend in with the upper control panel. Fit and finish has gone a long way to make this laptop stand out, and it shows on every square inch of this model. One downside to the glossy finish though is it shows fingerprints, blemishes, and strange marks if you carry it around even inside a slipcase. My model after being carried around inside my neoprene case had odd dots on the glossy finish, along with palm prints covering the top.
Toshiba Satellite A205 lid (view large image)
The structure and underlying build of this laptop feels much improved since the last Toshiba model (M45) I owned. The buttons feel very solid, support under the keyboard is firm, display latches are solid, and support behind the LCD is excellent. On most models pressing on the cover behind the LCD will put “waves” onto the screen, on this model nothing comes through. Flexing resistance could be improved though, but my Thinkpad spoils me in this area. Chassis flex is minimal if there at all, letting you pick up the laptop from the edge of the palm rest without any sagging.
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Weight is about average for a 15” range laptop. Weight on top of my shipping scale comes in at 6lbs 3.4oz. For comparison my Lenovo 15” C100 laptop is 6lb 4.6oz and my Lenovo T60 15” is 6lbs 2.5oz. The height of this laptop is 1.573”, over the C100 (1.363”) or T60 (1.362”).
The screen is a glossy style, coming in at a 1280x800, 720p native resolution. Colors are very vibrant, and viewing angles are decent. You start to notice some muting of colors as you move above or below the screen, but it is very acceptable in comparison to other models. Side to side viewing angles are much better, with little color distortion. Black level is very crisp, with no light leakage. Overall I was very impressed with this screen, and that says a lot since I'm used to using my Thinkpad Flexview LCD known for its extreme viewing angles and excellent color reproduction.
Speakers and Audio
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I found out about the speakers the hard way the first time I turned it on. I had unpackaged the laptop at home, stuck it in my slip case, and took off for my class. In class I turned the machine on, and was greeted with an extremely loud (room filling, attention gathering) Windows startup melody. While those 30 students might not have been thinking about the good audio clarity at that moment, I was pretty impressed -- and embarrassed.
The Harmon/Kardon speakers are excellent in comparison to other laptop speakers I have used. While they lack in bass, they have very good mid and high range qualities. If the room you were in permitted it, watching a movie through the speakers might even be pleasant. Vocals are tight and crisp, and nothing is mudded down.
Processor and Performance
This laptop came equipped with a T5500 Core 2 Duo processor by Intel. It clocks in at 1.66 GHz, and is more than enough for everyday tasks, including decoding 1080p HD movies. The integrated GMA950 graphics won’t really allow you to play many newer games, but that is really the only limiting point. Coupled with the large 250 GB storage, this laptop makes a great media center.
From the time you press the power button till the computer sits at the desktop without HD activity takes just under 50 seconds. This is with all the included software EXCEPT the virus package. I can’t really stand that on my computers (safe browsing, only run known content on my machines), and even the fastest machines are brought to their knees when that stuff loads up. With a more conservative clean install, you should expect load times in the high 30’s to low 40’s.
To give you an idea of the potential that this laptop has, the following are some CPU usage examples playing the following Harry Potter high definition movie content. This would be relevant if you intend to watch HD movies on the display of the laptop, or output it through the VGA connector to a larger HDTV in your home, apartment, or dorm.
|Toshiba A205 Core 2 Duo T5500, Intel GMA 950 Graphics||Lenovo T60 Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1400 Graphics|
|The 1080p movie trailer||45-48% CPU usage||36%-42% CPU Usage|
|The 720p movie trailer||30%-35% CPU usage||25%-30% CPU Usage|
So even with its limited integrated video, it still has plenty of headroom for more complex videos, or perhaps a dual screen setup with a movie playing on one screen, and a report being typed up on another.
Super PI is a program that forces the processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy, here's a comparison of how the Satellite A205 with its 1.66GHz processor faired against other laptops:
|Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 34s|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52)||2m 05s|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400)||59s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)||2m 02s|
HDTune tests the peformance for the hard drive performance, below is a screenshot of the performance results for the hard drive that came with this configuration of the A205:
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Comparison table for PCMark05
PCMark05 is a synthetic benchmark tool that tests overall system performance, here's how the Satellite A205 stacked up to other laptops:
|Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||3,135 PCMarks|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270)||2,420 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (Core Duo T2250, Intel GMA 950)||3,027 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,994 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|
|Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo)||3,427 PCMarks|
Heat and Noise
For classroom use, this laptop won’t disappoint. The fan is very quiet, even when the CPU is under full load belching out heat. It could probably be described as a soft whisper. Heat is another story though. This laptop gets quite warm, spreading out much of the heat through the top of the typing surface. The areas where your palms would rest while typing get up to 92-95F, with an outside temp of 76F. I might suggest pants if you plan on using this laptop on your lap, as the bottom easily warms up with spots ranging from 98-115F. Since the vents on the left side allow some heat output to be directed downward, a draft in the neighborhood of 140F can hit your leg causing some discomfort. These figures might improve if the room is cooler, and you aren’t doing anything that intensive on the laptop.
Keyboard and Touchpad
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The keyboard on this laptop is very comfortable to type on. The key throws are just the right length, very little finger pressure is required, and the edges are very defined, yet softly rounded. This allows you to type very quickly for long periods of time with ease. Each key press is also very quiet, so you type notes or chat during class without annoying those around you. It has some mild flex in spots above the optical bay, but it is very mild. The touchpad resides in a recessed cavity, which helps to keep your fingers in the right spot without slipping out. Its texture is similar to a sheet of paper. The mouse buttons below it provide decent feedback, but I would have liked a bit more throw to each press. These buttons give you a very shallow soft click.
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External Connections (I/O)
All of the connections on this laptop reside on the sides and front. The design of the display hinge makes the lower edge of the LCD block the rear section when it is opened. On the right side you have a Kensington lock connector, AC adapter plug, optical bay, modem connector, and 2 USB ports. Coming around to the front you will find the volume control, microphone/headphone connectors, SD card slot, and wireless adapter on/off switch. Moving around to the left side, you are left with a mini-firewire plug, express card slot, 2 USB ports, LAN plug, and the VGA connector. A nice added touch is the spring loaded express card dust cover, instead of a blank card.
Front view of Satellite A205 (view large image)
Left side view of Satellite A205 (view large image)
Right side view of Satellite A205 (view large image)
Reception of the internal wireless card is very nice, picking up most networks around it. Depending on your area, it can be hard to compare signal strength, since many out of the box wireless configurations will put the a network on the same channel as those around it. This can cause a bunch of dropout problems that no wireless card can get around. I didn’t experience this in my area, but your location could be different.
Battery life is ok for moderate classroom use, but don’t expect to go an entire day of classes without a recharge. Toshiba does sell a 9 cell extended battery, but the configuration puts a long bar under the laptop, which would raise it up about an inch in the rear. Leaving the laptop on Max Performance, disabling sleep, LCD brightness to full, and HD spin down off; the laptop had enough power to stay on for 3 hours and 1 minute.
Besides the included Microsoft software, I can’t really think of anything else I would want to keep installed on this system. I enjoy a nice clean system to build off of, and prepackaged virus software, manufacturer software, and all that extra stuff gets wiped off. I found that the stock configuration had quite a bit of clutter, which really increased boot times. Once the virus suite was removed, things really improved.
Note about the extra HD bay
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The Satellite A205 model line has a few specific configurations that allow for an additional hard drive. I quickly noticed the extra bay underneath the laptop during my inspection, and was just as quickly disappointed by the lack of SATA/Power connectors. Toshiba decided to leave this bay in place, but for any model that doesn’t come with the 2nd drive, they felt they should not have to include this simple connector.
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I really enjoy the mix of the trendy design, with the durable underlying structure of the Satellite A205. All of the key components are protected very well, including the display which can easily be the most expensive part to repair if damaged. Performance on this specific configuration was more than acceptable for my needs, but would not be able to even consider any serious gaming. A great use I found for this laptop was a portable media station, playing much of my HD content with ease, as well as having plenty of storage for the large files.