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Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904 WiDi Laptop Review
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Date: Mar 08, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Daniel A. Begun
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Introduction and Specifications


If you could design your own laptop in an effort to have the perfect balance of performance, price, size, weight, and features, what would you include and what could you live without? As part of its Blue Label program, Best Buy asked that question of its customers--accepting as much feedback as its customers could give and then channeling that information back to the laptop manufacturers it partners with. The ensuing results of this feedback now manifest themselves in the three current Best Buy Blue Label exclusive laptop offerings: the Dell Studio s15Z-2249CPN, Sony Vaio VPCS11FM/S, and Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904.

All three of these laptops have a fair bit in common: They are all mainstream laptop designs, powered by Intel Core i5 processors, they come with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM memory, and include generous 500GB hard drives. (They are somewhat diminutive as mainstream laptops go, but they're not quite thin-and-light laptops either.) The Toshiba (14-inch display, 2.53GHz Core i5) is the least expensive of the group, with an $899.99 price tag (which was just reduced from $999.99); the Dell (15.6-inch display, 2.53GHz Core i5) sells for $999.99, and the Sony (13.3-inch display, 2.26GHz Core i5) is the most expensive, at $1,049.99. In our opinion, however, the Toshiba is the sexiest-looking of the bunch, and we were fortunate enough to get it in for testing.



One other thing that these three laptops have in common is that they all include Intel's new WiDi (Wireless Display) technology and come with a Netgear Push2TV WiDi adapter. WiDi is a new 802.11n-based technology from Intel that allows a laptop to wirelessly transmit its display to a TV's HDMI connection at a 720p resolution. These three laptops are the first such devices on the market to support the WiDi technology--but you should start seeing WiDi built into more Core i5 and Core i3 laptops in the coming months. We got our first peek at WiDi back in January at CES; and as promised, with the Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904, we finally had our chance to spend some hands-on time with the technology. More about WiDi shortly, but in the meantime, here's a bit more about the E205...

Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904
Specifications & Features (as tested)

  • Intel Core i5-430M @ 2.2GHz (2.5GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency)
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM @ 1066MHz
  • 14-inch diagonal LCD TruBrite HD (1366x768, 16:9); LED backlight
  • Intel HM57 Express Chipset
  • Integrated Mobile Intel HD Graphics
  • 500GB (5,400RPM) SATA hard drive
  • 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Integrated Intel WiDi technology
  • Slot-loading DVD+/-RW DL optical drive (with LabelFlash)
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • TouchPad pointing device with multi-touch control
  • Memory card reader
  • Integrated 0.3-megapixel webcam and microphone
  • 5,800mAh, 6-cell Li-Ion battery
  • VGA and HDMI outputs
  • USB 2.0 ports x 2
  • Combination eSATA/USB 2.0 ports x1
  • RJ45 (Ethernet 10/100Mbps)
  • Headphone and Mic input jacks
  • SD / MMC / MSPro / xD Multimedia Card Reader
  • 5.1 pounds
  • 2.01 x 5.0 x 1.2-inches (dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
 

Direct Price: $899.00





Toshiba managed to cram a lot of mobile computing goodness into the E205's svelte design, including both VGA and HDMI outputs, a digital media reader, and even an eSATA port. There are a few compromises in the E205's design, however, including no Gigabit Ethernet support, no Bluetooth, and no ExpressCard slot, as well as integrated graphics that will leave mobile gamers wanting.

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Design and Build Quality


The E205 measure 1.22 x 13.7 x 9.57-inches (HWD), weighs 5.1 pounds, and comes in a sleek and stylish chassis with softly rounded corners. The top of the lid has what Toshiba refers to as a "fusion finish in metallic blue," which is another way of saying it is very shiny, dark blue, has a cool diamond pattern, and attracts fingerprints like a squirrel collects nuts in the autumn. Unless you handle the E205 with white cotton gloves or you lack sweat glands in your hands, expect to leave difficult-to-buff-out smudges and streaks on the lid. The E205 comes with a microfiber cleaning cloth--but we're not sure if the cloth is meant for cleaning the display or the lid.

  

Opening the cover reveals a full-sized keyboard set back on a 3.4-inch wrist rest that includes a 3.2x1.6-inch multi-touch touchpad that is flush with the bezel. The bezel around the keyboard area has the same pattern as the cover, but is instead a darker charcoal color. The left and right touchpad buttons are flush with the bezel and are rather large, but still a comfortable size--the buttons are blue in color so that they stand out against the black bezel. The keyboard is backlit and includes a healthy collection of function keys for typical functions such as brightness, volume mute, and video output options. There is also a dedicated button for disabling the touchpad when you need to do lots of typing. A strip of dedicated function buttons runs down the right side of the keyboard, including enabling/disabling the Toshiba ECO Utility (for additional power savings), launching the Intel Wireless Display app, and the requisite play/pause button.

  

  

The 14-inch diagonal LCD uses an LED backlight and has a native resolution of 1366x768 (16:9). The LCD is flush with a plain black bezel, giving it a simple understated look that won't add any distractions when viewing content on the screen. Above the display is a 0.3-megapixel webcam and a microphone.

  

The only control on the front of the E205 is a small physical slider for turning the Wi-Fi radio on and off. Also along the right side of the front edge of the laptop are status lights for things such as power, battery, and hard disk activity. The left side of the unit includes a single USB port, a pair of headphone and microphone jacks, and an exhaust vent.

  

The backside of the laptop houses the power plug, 10/100Mbps Ethernet jack, VGA port, and a lock slot. The right side of the E205 is where you'll find the slot-loading DVD+/-RW drive, card-reader slot, HDMI port, USB port, and an eSATA port that can also be used as a third USB port--this "combo" port also supports "sleep and charge," so you should be able to charge your devices even when the laptop is sleeping or powered down (you have to enable sleep and charge in software before you can start using it). The bottom of the E205 hides the stereo speakers behind a set of grills, and this is also where you'll find the removable, 5,800mAh, 6-cell, Li-Ion battery. There is no easy access to the hard drive, so it is not easily user upgradable.

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Usage Experience


It's difficult to say just how much of the hard disk space is devoted to pre-installed software, trials, and apps that link to even more software and trials, but it certainly feels as though there is a lot of preloaded software. The installed apps range from the useful to the dubious. Some of the included apps include facial recognition and other webcam-centric software, disc creation software, media playing apps, Microsoft Works, a 30-day trial for Norton Internet Security, and the ubiquitous 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007.

     
Toshiba Bulletin Board (left); Toshiba PC Health Monitor (center); Toshiba eco Utility (right).

A collection of Toshiba-branded software includes a Bulletin Board app, a PC Health monitor, and the afore-mentioned eco Utility. Also included is the cool ReelTime app, which appears as a ribbon on the bottom of the screen that provides an index and graphical view of recently accessed files. As the E205 is a Best Buy exclusive, the laptop also includes the Best Buy Installer app, which provides links to all sorts of free and pay-for applications in categories such as money management, home/small office, and games. The E205 does not come with any physical restore discs, but an included Toshiba utility allows you to create your own set of recovery discs (you'll need four blank DVDs).

     
Toshiba ReelTime (left); Best Buy Software Installer (center); some of the pre-loaded Toshiba apps (right).

With everyday usage we found the E205 very comfortable to work with. Some of the things was liked about the laptop were its bright and sharp display, how quickly it resumed from sleep mode, and its hard drive impact sensor. We found, however, that the hard drive impact sensor warning window would appear when even the slightest of movement was detected, indicating to us that perhaps the sensor was a bit too sensitive. If Best Buy were to ask us what we would change for the next version, we would suggest making the keyboard feel less spongy, adding Bluetooth, and improving the built-in stereo speakers--which sounded very tinny, couldn't get very loud, and distorted the audio when the sound was turned all the way up.

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Wireless Display (WiDi) Technology


Setting up the E205's wireless display (WiDi) technology is very easy. The first thing you need to do is connect the Netgear Push2TV WiDi receiver to your TV. The Push2TV device has both HDMI and composite video outputs; if you use the RCA composite-out jack you'll also need to use the stereo-out RCA jacks as well (the HDMI port carries audio as well as video, so you don't need separate audio connections with HDMI). The HDMI output supports up to 720p, while the composite output is limited to 480i.

  
The Netgear Push2TV WiDi receiver.

When you power up the Push2TV receiver, it takes a few moments for the device to boot up. Once it is ready to wirelessly receive a signal from the E205 (or any other WiDi device for that matter), a message appears on the screen that states the device is "ready for connection." To make the connection you need to launch the Intel Wireless Display app on the E205--you can launch the app from the Start menu or by using the dedicated function key to the right of the keyboard. When the app launches, it displays all of the WiDi adapters that it detects. If the app doesn't detect the receiver, one of two things are likely going on: either the receiver isn't powered on, or the E205's Wi-Fi adapter is turned off. The WiDi technology uses Wi-Fi frequencies, so you need to make sure that the E205's Wi-Fi adapter is enabled.

The WiDi connection is peer-to-peer, so while the E205's Wi-Fi adapter has to be turned on, you don't actually have to be connected to a Wi-Fi access point in order for the WiDi connection to work. We heard stories of some of the E205's initial users having connection problems with the WiDi receiver; but we had no problems getting the E205 to connect to the Push2TV. That said, one of the first things we did was update the Push2TV's firmware as well as install a "critical Intel WiFi driver update." We recommend you search for and install any updates.

With the Intel Wireless Display app, you simply select Push2TV from the list of detected adapters and click the Connect button to make the connection--the Push2TV will likely be the only WiDi receiver detected, and therefore will be selected by default. You can also set the Intel Wireless Display app to automatically connect to the Push2TV whenever you launch the app. When the E205 connects to the Push2TV, the laptop changes screen resolution from its native 1366x768 to 1280x768. When the E205 is in 1280x768 mode, the image doesn't fill the entire 14-inch screen--there are about half-inch black bands on either side of the screen. Establishing the connection takes only a few seconds.

  
Wirelessly connecting the E205 to the Netgear Push2TV WiDi receiver using the Intel Wireless Display application.

With the connection established, the E205's display is mirrored to your TV. Using the Push2TV's HDMI output for video and audio we were impressed with both the image and audio quality of the connection. There was some barely noticeable image degradation from the original source content, but when viewed from 10 or so feet away on a large-screen TV, you might not notice the difference. What is unmistakably noticeable, however, is the lag between what the E205 displays on its screen and what you see displayed on the TV. This delay is less than a second, but it is long enough that you're not going to want to use WiDi for any tasks that require real-time interaction, such as using productivity apps or especially for gaming.

  
Intel Wireless Display application settings (left); the error message that pops up when you try to watch protected content over WiDi using an HDMI connection to your TV (right).

As such, WiDi is really best suited for more passive usage scenarios, such as watching videos or photos and listening to music. Business users might get value out of WiDi by using it for presentations. One thing you are not going to be able to use WiDi for, however, is for watching protected content, such as protected commercial DVDs or Blu-ray movies. If you try to watch protected content over WiDi, you'll get an error message that states, "there is a problem with digital copy protection between your DVD drive, decoder, and video card"--which is a message that should be familiar to anyone who has tried to watch protected content over a digital connection (such as DVI or HDMI) with a display that was not HDCP compliant.

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Test Setup and SiSoft SANDRA Performance


  
HotHardware's Mobile / Desktop Test Systems
Covering the bases
Toshiba Satellit E205-S1904

Intel Core i5 430
(2.2GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel HD Graphics


On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Professional (64-bit)

13.3" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Clevo Style-Note (W870CU)

Intel Core 2i7 920XM
(2GHz)

4GB DDR3

GeForce GTX 280M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x80GB SSD          
Intel X25-M SATA

Windows Vista
Premium (64-bit)

17" LED LCD Display
(native 1920x1080)
Asus UL80Vt

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD +
512MB
NVIDIA
G210M GPUs

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium (64-bit)

14" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Asus UL30A-A1

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1 (32-bit)

13.3" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)

 Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2010
 Synthetic Benchmarks

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2010, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2009 SP4 suite: Processor Arithmetic, Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth.

     

The SANDRA results tell us that the E205's Core i5-430M processor is a middling performer, as least as far as Intel's new Core i5 and Core i7 architectures go. Compared against older Intel CPU architectures or AMD's offerings, however, the Core i5-430M is a worthy competitor. For instance, the E205's Aggregate Arithmetic Performance score of 28GOPS (Giga Operations Per Second) is just barley behind that of a reference Core 2 Quad Q6600's score of 29.77GOPS. In our Core i5 article, the Core i5-540M scored 33.71GOPS. And with memory running at 1,066MHz with both the E205 and the Core i5-540M test laptop, both systems got very close to the same Aggregate Memory Performance score, with the E205's 9.18GB/s actually just edging out the Core i5-540M's 9.0GB/s.

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CPU Performance


In our next set of benchmarks we ran a number of tests that are designed to isolate the performance of the processor subsystem--which includes the CPU, chipset, and memory. The three tests we ran were Futuremark's 3DMark06's CPU Test, Maxon's Cinebench R10, and Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage's CPU Test 2.
   

3DMark06 CPU Test, Cinebench R10, and 3DMark Vantage CPU Test 2
CPU Performance





While the E205 is not a thin-and-light laptop per se, it certainly comes close to straddling that fence. As such, with the 3DMark06 CPU results we're including an admittedly unfair comparison with a couple of small-and-light CULV laptops HotHardware has looked at. Not surprisingly, the E205's CPU performance easily trounces them. Let this serve as an exercise, however, that if you are weighing the pros and cons of a thin-and-light laptop, you're likely going to be sacrificing performance with such a form factor. If performance is a critical factor in your purchasing decision, you're better off with a larger form-factor laptop that has more horsepower under its hood. The E205 offers considerably more power than the CULV laptops do.

Our Cinebench R10 and Futuremark 3DMark Vantage CPU tests tell a different story--and one that is more in line with what we saw with the SANDRA test results. The E205's Core i5-430M brings up the rear when it comes to Core i5 performance. This should come as no surprise, as the Core i5-430M is presently Intel's lowest-end offering in the Core i5 Mobile family. On the other hand, the E205's Core i5-430M manages to still best one of the speediest previous generation Intel mobile processors, the Core 2 Extreme X9000.

   

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Futuremark PCMark Vantage


Next up we ran the E205 through Futuremark's PCMark Vantage system performance metric. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded (up to three simultaneous threads), so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a multi-core processor.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance



PCMark Vantage is more of a holistic benchmark, which utilizes all the major subsystems of a laptop. Any subsystem that represents any sort of performance bottleneck will impact the overall PCMark Vantage score. In the case of the E205 on this test, its Achilles Heel is its Gaming performance. The new-and-improved Mobile Intel HD Graphics (which is the third generation of the G45 GPU and is now integrated directly onto the Core i5 CPU) definitely has more graphics power behind it than the previous generation Intel mobile graphics (see the next page for real-world 3D gaming performance), but it's still not enough to compete against the discrete GPUs that are present in some of the comparison systems in this chart.

The Core i5-540M system also uses integrated Mobile Intel HD Graphics, yet it still manages to be the top overall PCMark performer of this group. While the 3D graphics performance impacts the overall PCMark performance, it's not enough pull the laptop's powerful processor down from its pedestal. The same came be said for the E205--comparatively, it doesn't do so well on the PCMark Vantage Gaming test, but it still puts in a decent showing on the overall test. But while the E205's Core i5-430M edged out the Core 2 Extreme X9000-based laptop on the CPU tests from the previous page, the X9000 manages to gain the upper hand on nearly all of the PCMark tests here.

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Gaming: HL2 & ETQW


To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a number of resolutions. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graphs below. For comparison, we've included results for the Core i5-540M/Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD-based laptop we looked at in our Intel Arrandale Core i3/i5 article.

 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance





There is no question that the Core i5 architecture's third-generation integrated graphics offers a noticeable performance boost over Intel's second-generation integrated graphics, but it's still not nearly enough to give laptops that have discrete graphics a run for the money. In the charts you see here, we're including 3D gaming performance for two different Core i5 laptops--the E205 and a system that has a faster Core i5-540M processor. At least as far as Half Life 2: Episode 2 is concerned, there are some playable frame rates represented here from both systems--but these frame rates are at a resolution (800x600) that is at a far lower setting than most gamers prefer to play. Despite the reinvigorated 3D graphics performance injected into the Core i5, the E205 still lacks the right stuff for any real gaming other than casual games--unless you are willing to make considerable sacrifices to the resolution and the image-quality settings.

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Battery Performance


The E205 came with a 5,800mAh, 6-cell Li-Ion battery. Below we ran our standard Battery Eater Pro test, which loads both the CPU and GPU until the battery runs out of power. During the test, Wi-Fi was enabled, audio was on, and the screen was set to always on in the power settings control panel of windows. The following benchmark is more of a worst-case scenario test setup. Since it continually taxes the graphics processor as well as the CPU, battery life is likely to be longer under lighter duty workloads and scenarios, such as simple word processing or Web surfing.

Battery Performance
Testing with BatteryEater Pro

Toshiba claims that the E205 has up to a six-hour battery life. We didn't come anywhere close to that on our tests, as our chart shows. We barely eked out just under and hour and 40 minutes, which isn't even enough time to watch many Hollywood movies. But as we mentioned, our test is best seen as a worst-case scenario. In our more casual day-to-day use of the laptop we saw battery life times that were closer to the three or four hour mark. Obviously, depending on how you use the E205, your battery life can vary considerably. This chart represents a wide-swath of laptops HotHardware has looked at, and they were all tested using the same methodology--so, at least when comparing the E205's battery life performance to these other laptops, the E205 has one of the poorer battery life times we've seen.

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Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary:
Considering that the E205's Core i5-430M processor is presently the lowest-end CPU in the Core i5 family, you can't expect the same level of performance you'd see from other Core i5-based laptops. And even with the latest generation integrated Intel Mobile Graphics providing some much needed improvement from the previous generation Intel integrated graphics, it still falls way short of the mark that will make mobile gamers happy. All that aside, the E205 has more than enough processing power to tackle nearly any productivity application or casual game you might think to run on it. With 4GB of speedy memory and a spacious 500GB hard drive, the E205 should also be able to handle photo editing and basic video editing tasks as well. But where the E205 truly falls short is with its battery life--lasting well under two hours on our test and putting in one of the poorer showings we've seen.





There are a number of very appealing aspects to the E205. First and foremost is its smart-looking design that is sure to get plenty of sideways glances as your surf the web at your local Starbucks. At 5.1 pounds, it has enough heft to not feel flimsy, yet is light enough to not weigh you down--other than a spongy keyboard, we found the E205 very comfortable to work with for hours at a time. Other smart features are the backlit keyboard, a bright display, and the inclusion of an eSATA/USB "combo" port that also supports "sleep and charge" for USB devices.



Of course, the most innovative feature of the E205 is the Intel WiDi technology, which allows you to wirelessly transmit the E205's display to a TV up to 720p. Image and audio quality are very good over WiDi, with the only distraction being the delay between what you see on the laptop's display and what you see on the TV. As long you are engaging in passive viewing such as watching videos, or driving the display for someone else to view (such as giving a presentation), this delay shouldn't be an issue. What is a disappointment for us, however, is that you can't use WiDi to watch protected content at this time, whether you are using the HDMI or composite-video connections.

We enjoyed using the E205 and could easily envision it becoming our go-to laptop when we are out and about, if it weren't for the disappointing battery life--which for us is a deal breaker. We also would have liked to see built-in Bluetooth, support for Ethernet Gigabit, and better-sounding speakers. The E205 offers a decent balance between performance, price, and features--as well as a nifty new technology--but we can't help thinking that one too many compromises went into its crowd-sourced design.


     
  • Stylish design
  • Bright and sharp display
  • Includes Intel WiDi technology
  • Includes eSATA port
  • Supports "sleep and charge"
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Disappointing battery life
  • No Bluetooth or Gigabit Ethernet
  • Lackluster audio quality
  • Protected content is not supported over WiDi
  • Noticeable delay between onscreen display and the WiDi connection



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