|Introduction and Product Specifications|
|Mobile computing has come a long way in the last few years. Notebook manufacturers have been squeezing more power and features into ever more portable packages. As technologies have continued to be refined, shrinking in size and power requirements, manufacturers have been able to expand their creative ideas, bring ever more impressive options to market to fit virtually any budget. In recent months, we have seen excellent examples of both ends of the spectrum, from the budget oriented Asus Eee PC to powerful gaming/desktop replacement systems from Dell, Lenovo and Asus. Today, we're happy to add Toshiba to that list with an evaluation of their Satellite X205-SLi4 Notebook.
The Toshiba Satellite X205-SLI4 is a feature-rich laptop geared toward mobile gaming, with a potent Core 2 Duo T8100 processor, and gobs of memory and storage, while also sporting SLI ready GeForce 8600M GTs. Loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate and coupled with an HDTV ready Tuner, the X205-SLi4 makes a good impression right out of the box. This is one of the top laptops Toshiba has to offer with a host of premium features to position the Satellite X205-SLI4 near the top of its class. In the pages ahead, we'll spotlight the many features this premium laptop has to offer, then we'll run it through its paces to see how its performance compares to several other laptops in its class.
The Toshiba Satellite X205 comes in several flavors; with the SLi2 and SLi4 models being most similar. The Satellite X205-S9800 comes with Vista Home Premium, a more powerful GeForce 8700M GPU, but doesn't offer SLI and sports only a single 250GB 5200RPM hard drive and 2GB of memory. The next model up is the Satellite X205-SLi2 which also comes with Vista Home Premium while adding a faster processor, two 5400RPM 160GB hard drives and SLI capable GeForce 8600M GT GPUs with 512MB of memory and an additional 255MB of shared system memory. The Satellite X205-SLi4 takes things to the next level, upgrading to Vista Ultimate, dual 7200RPM 160GB hard drives, 3GB of DDR2 memory and an external HDTV capable Tuner for an additional $500.
|Retail Bundle, Preloaded Software and Warranty Details|
|The Toshiba X205-SLi4 comes with a broad collection of software, hardware and printed materials to help get the most out of the laptop. Toshiba provides a QuickTour card to help get familiar with the system's features quickly while more comprehensive manuals are provided for the overall system and Hybrid USB TV Tuner. A recovery disk is included which will restore the system to its factory defaults or be used to reinstall individual applications. Toshiba also throws in an accessory catalog which is loaded with items including cases, routers, docking stations, MP3 players, Webcams and other items.
The package also included a decent compliment of hardware accessories, including a USB 2.0 Hybrid TV tuner which is accompanied by a Remote Control, IR Receiver, USB cable and IR Extender. Surprisingly, Toshiba opted not to provide batteries to power the Remote Control, which is commonly done with other manufacturers. On the software side, the system comes pre-configured with a wide variety of proprietary and commercial trial software as listed below.
Much of the non-Toshiba software included on the Satellite X205-SLi4 is limited to 30 or 60 day trials while most other software that is fully functional, is already freely available or is custom produced by Toshiba. We found the system to be a bit cluttered with numerous offers from QuickBooks, Shutterfly, Napster, Lojack for Laptops and PhotoWorks, but not quite as severe as other laptops we've seen. Toshiba provides a number of utilities for troubleshooting, which were useful, while the most impressive Toshiba title offered was arguably the Toshiba HD-DVD Player which compliments the now defunct HD-DVD player included in the system. There were a number of simple games offered through Toshiba's Gaming Console and Ulead's DVD Movie Factory for Toshiba handled basic DVD authoring (not HD-DVD). Lastly, Toshiba includes vouchers for 30 free minutes of call time with Skype, a 30-Day free trial to the Vongo movie download services as well as 35 free music downloads from eMusic.com.
The Toshiba Satellite X205-SLI4 comes with a standard 1-Year Limited Warranty which includes online support, 24x7 toll-free telephone support, mail-in warranty service and carry-in warranty service at authorized service centers. The 1 Year Standard Warranty protects the unit from defects in material and workmanship for 1 year while 2, 3 and 4 year extended service plans are available for those wanting additional protection against failure, accidental damage and other problems that may arise.
|Design and Build Quality - Part 1|
|The Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 is a very large laptop, yet seems lighter than its size suggests. Measuring 15.7" x 11.3" x 2.05", the system weighs in at 9.37 lbs, but didn't feel overly heavy in proportion to its size. The unit's most noticeable physical characteristics is the 17" TruBrite TFT (WSXGA+) LCD display that boasts a 1680x1050 native resolution and support for 720p video content and the keyboard with separate number keypad. The outer shell is a brownish hue with a wavelike pattern dubbed "Flame Carmine" which is very glossy, making it a fingerprint magnet and potentially easily scratched.
The system is built around an Intel PM965M Chipset that is outfitted with an 800MHz FSB Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T8100 45nm Penryn-derived processor with 3MB of L2 cache and a clockspeed of 2.1GHz. The system is also configured with 3GB of PC2-5300 SDRAM while the board supports a 4GB maximum. The graphics subsystem is powered by dual NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT GPUs with 512MB of GDDR3 discrete graphics memory in SLI mode, while TurboCache technology allows for up to 255MBs of system memory to be shared as well. Both GPUs are clocked at 475MHz while the 512MB of GDDR3 memory is clocked at 702MHz. For external video needs, the laptop is equipped with a standard VGA port, S-Video port and an HDMI port for connection to an HD ready device.
Storage needs are handled by two 7200 RPM 160GB hard drives, totalling 320GB of storage space. Naturally, the optical storage is an HD-DVD-ROM/DVD SuperMulti double layer drive supporting virtually all DVD/CD formats except Blu-Ray. As the HD-DVD is laid to rest, look to see these specifications change in the future. The current drive's specifications include support for:
The Satellite X205-SLi4 comes with 6 USB ports and a single i.Link FireWire port, offering plenty of access to external hardware components. For network connectivity there is a single RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port, an RJ-11 modem port and an integrated Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN adapter supporting 802.11a/g/n. The system is also Bluetooth ready and sports an internal IR receiver that works with the included remote control. Powering the system is a 180w AC Adapter coupled with a 6000mAh Lithium Ion battery.
|Design and Build Quality - Part 2|
|The Satellite X205-SLi4 sports S/PDIF, Microphone and Headphone jacks should a user want to connect external speakers / headphone. Normally, audio is pumped through four top-mounted Harmon Kardon speakers with a subwoofer mounted on the underside of the chassis. Additionally, there is an integrated microphone mounted adjacent to the built in 1.3 Megapixel WebCam.
The system is equipped with an ExpressCard slot which supports both ExpressCard/34 and ExpressCard/54 interfaces while a 5-in-1 card reader offers access to Secure Digital, Memory Stick/Pro, MultiMedia and xD Picture cards. To the right of the the touchpad is a finger print scanner which can be configured so access to the OS or other password protected applications can be accessed with a swipe of a finger.
One of the more unique features of the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 is the Dual Mode Touch Pad. When turned off, the touch pad works like a traditional touch pad pointing device, however, when enabled by touching the upper right corner, a number of shortcuts become available. When engaged, the user can launch the default web browser and e-mail program while also controlling media playback and volume control.
With regards to accessing system components, access to the two 160GB hard drives and dual memory slots was very simple. For those looking to upgrade/access other internal components, however, some will find the system potentially challenging as it appears the entire bottom would require removal. We also found the access doors a little tight, causing the screws to be catapulted if we were not careful during removal.
As we mentioned earlier, the Satellite X205-SLi4 comes with a Hybrid USB HDTV External Tuner as well as a Remote Control and IR Receiver. The TV-Tuner module supports Coaxial in as well as OTA HDTV signal with a separate antenna (not included). The laptop has an integrated IR receiver, but for those planning to use a cable box, a separate receiver and extender is provided. One issue we do have with the hybrid tuner is that the documentation only refers to the unit as a Hybrid USB Tuner. Nowhere in the documentation is HDTV mentioned, nor is there any explanation on how to access HDTV signals. Only after contacting Toshiba directly did we confirm the unit was in fact HDTV capable through over-the-air signal only.
|Usage and Experience|
|Upgradeability: Naturally, when spending $2399 on a premium laptop such as the Satellite X205-SLi4, users are going to be interested in the system's potential upgrade path as technologies evolve. While access to the hard drives and memory was simple, we were disappointed that there wasn't easier access to the CPU, GPU and wireless adapter. Perhaps we still have a bit of the ASUS C90S's easy access on the mind, but a little more accessibility certainly would be a plus, especially for those not afraid to work on their own equipment.
Keyboard/Touchpad: In normal usage, the touch pad had a nice feel, working smoothly and reliably. The dual mode capability was an interesting feature and certainly adds to the wow factor when it lights up, but ultimately, we found that it could get annoying at times. During normal usage, we continually turned on the dual mode by accident, which kills the touch pad. It took a little getting used to and we managed to learn to work with it, but we still managed to inadvertently turn it on by mistake from time to time. On the plus side, while we didn't really feel all that impressed with the shortcuts, having the volume control on the touch pad was useful.
The keyboard was full-sized with a separate number pad, with a good feel that was responsive to our key strokes. Our only complaint was the very short spacebar. To give a reference, our ASUS C90S's keyboard had a 4.25" spacebar, which is normal sized, while the Satellite X205-SLi4's spacebar was 2 7/8" long. Some may not notice the difference, but we certainly found we were missing the spacebar during normal typing, having to train ourselves to reach a bit more to the center for an accurate hit.
Display/Image Quality: It's difficult to capture the video image quality of the TV Tuner and HD-DVD but it was impressive. Below we captured a few screens from a sample HD-DVD disk included which gives an idea of the quality. We did not have an external antenna on hand to test the OTA HDTV signal, however, we found the analog TV signal to be very good within Media Center. The remote control was adequate, even though it lacked any contouring to fit a hand comfortably. The basic rectangular design may not please some, but we didn't find it to be an issue. We did like the overall button placement, which was natural and intuitive.
The 1.3mp webcam didn't offer very good image quality in our opinion, however. The image was grainy, minimizing its usefulness for anything more than occassional casual use.
Speaker/Sound Quality: Considering the laptop was equipped with Harmon Kardon speakers and a subwoofer, we had high expectations for the audio quality of the system. Ultimately, these speakers were impressive, delivering high volume with a lot of punch for a laptop. The volume got rather loud and had more body than other laptops tested thanks to the subwoofer design. Nonetheless, these speaker are in no way a substitution for a quality set of external speakers. Those who plan to use this laptop for extensive gaming and/or audio/video playback will certainly want to invest in a good set of speakers.
Heat/Noise: One major positive of this notebook is its lack of excessive heat. Not only was the system tested on a desktop, we also spent a fair amount of time with the unit on our lap and things didn't get excessively toasty as reported with other laptops. There have also been laptops we've reviewed where the areas where your hands rest got hot due to the hard drive being right below one of the hands, but that was not the case with the Satellite X05-SLI4. We found the temperatures to be a non-factor, with everything staying within reasonable limits. The system is built with cooling in mind as the two large side vents indicate and it works very effectively. When listening to the fan noise, it wasn't excessive, but we wouldn't call it quiet either. During usage, we heard the fans and didn't find it distracting as it was rather steady, although once the laptop was turned off, there was a noticeable silence. Much like with heat, the fan noise fell with in reasonable limits that wasn't overly distracting.
|Test System and 3DMark CPU|
To starting out our testing, we began with a focus on CPU performance, utilizing FutureMark 3DMark06's CPU performance module.
Naturally, the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 trails the comparison systems since it has the slowest processor of the three. What is important to note is how the results scale. In actuality, clock-for-clock the Satellite X205-SLi4 is the fastest of the three models. If you divide the clockspeed by the scores, you will find that the Satellite scored .89 points per MHz while the Dell scored .85 and the ASUS C90S .865 points respectively. It's not an exacting science, but a loose indicator of processor efficiency with each system.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage|
|For our next round of benchmarks, we ran the complete Futuremark PCMark Vantage test suite. This is a relatively new addition to our testing toolbox that is proving to be an excellent overall assessment tool.
"The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD test sets with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Vista Consumer scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes CPU, Graphics, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a subset of Consumer Suite tests."
The PCMark Vantage "Memories" suite includes the following tests:
Memories 1 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU image manipulation and HDD picture import
In the 'Memories' test, the Satellite X20-SLi4 was the lowest performer of the three systems, falling just behind the Asus C90S. The Vantage HDD suite includes the following tests: HDD 1 - HDD: Windows Defender
The Vantage HDD suite includes the following tests:
HDD 1 - HDD: Windows Defender
Naturally, the C90S and Satellite X205-SLi4 trailed the Dell XPS M1730 running RAID 0. Again, however, the Satellite X205-SLi4 trailed the ASUS C90S, this time lagging by 182 points overall.
Vantage Communications suite includes the following tests:
Communications 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Data compression, Web page rendering: graphics content, 1024x768, windowed
With regards to the Communications test, the ASUS C90S easily topped the Satellite X205-SLi4 by nearly 400 points while trailing the Dell XPS M1730 by 1000 points.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage Continued|
We continue our test coverage with more modules from the comprehensive PCMark Vantage suite of benchmarks.
Vantage Productivity suite includes the following tests:
In the 'Productivity' test, the X205-SLi4 faired well against the ASUS C90S which was running 500MHz faster.
Vantage TV and Movies suite includes the following tests:
TV and Movies 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback: HD DVD w/ additional lower bitrate HD content from HDD, as downloaded from the net
Once again, the Satellite X205-SLi4 performed competitively against the faster ASUS C90S, keeping the test within 108 points.
Vantage Music suite includes the following tests:
Music 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Web page rendering – w/ music shop content, Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player
This component relies heavily on the processor, so we're seeing broader differences in the scores compared to some of the other tests. Nonetheless, taking CPU speed into consideration, the Satellite X205-SLi4's results were where we would expect them to be.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage Wrap-Up|
Courtesy, Futuremark: "Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages. Today’s games demand high performance graphics cards and CPUs to avoid delays and sluggish performance while playing. Loading screens in games are yesterday’s news. Streaming data from an HDD in games – such as Alan Wake™ – allows for massive worlds and riveting non-stop action. CPUs with many cores give a performance advantage to gamers in real-time strategy and massively multiplayer games. Gaming Suite includes the following tests: "
Gaming 1 - GPU game test
This is a test where the graphics card is a major factor with each configuration. The C90S was the slowest of the three laptops tested, with its single GeForce 8600M GT GPU. When comparing the Satellite X205-SLi4 to the Dell XPS M1730, both with SLI enabled, we were impressed with the results. The Satellite X205-SLi4 was just a step behind the XPS system, trailing by 62 points.
When taking in the complete performance picture into consideration, the Satellite X205-SLi4 was within 231 points of the ASUS C90S which sports a 500MHz CPU advantage while trailing the Dell XPS M1730 by nearly 1000 points, which was expected.
|3DMark06, Prey and Company of Heroes|
In our gaming tests, we focused on performance comparisons with SLI enabled and disabled. The Dell XPS M1730 was tested solely with SLI enabled while the Asus C90S had only a single GPU, so SLI was not an option.
With SLI disabled, the Satellite X205-SLi4 easily topped the ASUS C90S, topping the overall scores over 1000 points. When we enabled SLI, the results increased nearly 75%, but could not overtake the Dell XPS M1730 with its faster processor and GPUs.
In our next two tests, we opted to compare the Satellite X205 SLi4 with the Dell XPS M1730 with SLI enabled and disabled as these two systems were the most closely matched.
Looking at the results in both Prey and Company of Heroes tests, we found the Satellite X205-SLi4 to compete quite well with the Dell XPS M1730 system. Considering the processor runs 700MHz lower than the Dell and the GPU is notch below the Dell system's as well, we found the scores were quite competitive. With the Prey test, the Dell held the biggest lead at 1280x1024 but the margins narrowed significantly, especially with SLI enabled, where the 1680x1050 test was within 6FPS. With Company of Heroes, the margins were wider with SLI enabled, while the non-SLI test had the Satellite X205-SLi4 staying within 8-10FPS of the Dell system.
|Battery Performance: MobileMark 2007|
Rounding out our testing, we ran MobileMark 2007 to assess each notebook's overall battery life while running a series of applications through a testing script.
We are using the standard benchmark settings from Bapco, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and the volume was set at approximately 20%.
MobileMark 2007 utilizes the following applications
With regards to battery life, the Satellite X205-SLi4 fell in between the Asus C90S and the Dell XPS M1730. The Dell model not surprisingly had the lowest battery life, which is expected because it is equipped with the fastest CPU and GPU of the three models tested. This scaled well when compared to the Satellite X205-SLi4 which sported a slower CPU and GPU but also had two hard drives like the Dell. The Asus C90S was the best performer; even though it had a faster processor, the lack of a second hard drive most likely was the biggest factor.
|Performance Analysis and Conclusion|
Performance Analysis: In our benchmarking tests, the Toshiba X205-SLi4 offered good performance and made strong showings in PCMark Vantage's 'TV & Movies', 'Gaming' and 'Overall' results. Conversely, the system fell behind a bit in the 'HDD' and 'Memories' tests while the remainder of the Vantage tests were within expected ranges. In the gaming tests, the Satellite X205-SLi4 faired well, competing closely with the Dell XPS M1730 gaming system. When assessing overall battery life, the system performed as expected, with MobileMark 2007 reporting 1:15hrs of battery life.
The Toshiba X205-SLi4 laptop is a complete system that balances value, features and performance. With an attractive flame-like outer shell, huge 17" display, a powerful processor and tons of memory and storage, the system has a lot to offer. Throw in SLI capable graphics, a powerful Core 2 Duo T8100 processor and Windows Vista Ultimate tying everything together and the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 shapes up as a well balanced system that can offer good performance whether gaming or productivity is on the menu. The system also sports less common features like a dual-mode touch pad, that may not appeal to all users, and a finger print reader that adds to system security as well as speeding up the log in process.
Like most retail system manufacturers, however, Toshiba falls into the mode of filling the system with trialware, freeware and other offers, but not quite as severely as we've seen with other manufacturers. Nonetheless, we're of the school of thought that less is more. The added Hybrid USB TV-Tuner and Remote certainly rounded out the package well, but setup details for HDTV were non-existent, which will surely confuse some users. The image quality was excellent with analog signal and Toshiba provides all hardware needed to connect the tuner to a cable box, including an additional IR receiver, extender and remote control.
Since we received this system for evaluation, Toshiba stopped backing the HD DVD format, so we can expect to see future models ship with a different optical drive, although Toshiba still offers current models with the now obsolete technology. That aside, the only other factor to give serious consideration to is the overall size of the system. Those who do a lot of mobile computing may find the Satellite X205-SLi4 a bit large to carry around on a regular basis. Like we stated earlier, the system is large and although lighter than expected, it is not quite a mobile-friendly as smaller notebooks. The Dell XPS M1730 we used for performance comparison weighs nearly 4 pounds more at 13lbs to give a frame of reference. Ultimately, we think this system will have more appeal to users looking for a system that will mainly stay in one place, acting as a desktop replacement. with a smaller footprint compared to a traditional desktop system.
The system we tested weighs in at $2399 as equipped, with additional options available. For that price, the Toshiba X205-SLi4 offers a full sized laptop with ample power, storage and overall capabilities suited to many different tasks, whether it be gaming, working with productivity based applications or watching / recording TV.