Built to tackle everyday computing tasks, Toshiba's new Satellite A665-S5176X knows how to have fun, too. This 15-inch laptop plays Blu-ray movies, upconverts DVDs to HD for enhanced viewing, and packs in great-sounding speakers for an affordable $799. But do the rest of this notebook's features hold up to other multimedia machines on the market?
Physically, the Toshiba Satellite A665 is virtually identical to the Satellite A665-S6058 model we reviewed last year. The laptop's jet-black plastic chassis is rectangular with smooth, rounded edges. Sturdy and solid, the lid and deck also sport a textured, fingerprint-resistant pattern reminiscent of a miniature chain link. Contrasting with the dark interior are brilliant white status lights, framed by two muscular speakers sitting above the island-style keyboard. There's an illuminated stripe highlighting the touchpad, plus a backlit Satellite logo on the system's left bottom lip.
Measuring 15 x 10 x 1.5 inches and weighing 5.6 pounds, 15.6-inch Satellite A665-S5176X is on the hefty side. Primarily meant to be transported from room to room in the home, the notebook can be squeezed into standard messenger bags with a little effort, though a bigger backpack is more practical.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Satellite A665-S5176's island-style keyboard is nice and wide, with plenty of room between the square keys. You'll also find a full-size numeric keypad on the right side. Key travel is good, but the space bar is small and the keys' smooth surface is a bit slippery.
Above the keyboard is a strip of responsive, backlit touch controls for Toshiba's eco utility, backlighting, Wi-Fi, and media controls.
Below the A665's keyboard is a large 3.7 x 2-inch touchpad, which we found to be responsive when moving the cursor. That said, pinch-to-zoom and scrolling gestures were a little jerky. We were glad to see two discrete mouse buttons below the touchpad, but their plastic construction felt a little cheap.
Display and Wireless Display
The Satellite A665's 15.6-inch display has a standard 1366 x 768 resolution and a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. However, considering the notebook comes with a Blu-ray player, you may want to output video via HDMI to take full advantage of those movies' 1080p resolution. Colors were bright enough and pretty well saturated, though hues looked a bit washed out. For instance, when playing our Apocalypse Now test Blu-ray movie in letterbox under semi-darkened conditions, we noticed some distracting light leakage on the bottom half of the screen. Still, 720p HD Vimeo videos looked great in normal office lighting.
The bundled Toshiba Video Player also upconverts DVD video to make it "feel" more like HD quality. This is done by selecting the prominent upconvert button on the software player. Since the screen's max resolution is just 720p, you'll have to output to an HDTV to really appreciate this feature. When we connected the A665 to a 32-inch Samsung 1080p TV, we saw more detail and less pixelation when watching a DVD of The Chronicles of Riddick, though there was some jerkiness, too. Blu-ray movies looked a little sharper than "upconverted" DVDs on our HDTV, but we observed some hitching here as well.
As with other second-gen Intel Core notebooks, the A665 also features Intel's WiDi technology, which lets you wirelessly stream unprotected high-def content to a TV, provided you purchase a Netgear's Push2TV 2000 receiver ($92).
One of the Satellite A665's strengths is its robust stereo speaker system, delivering some of the best audio you'll find in this price range. The twin harman/kardon speakers pump out an impressive amount of volume--enough to fill a medium-sized room. In addition, the onboard Dolby Audio Enhancer processing lends even more presence to both music and movie sound.
Our test song "Celestica" by Crystal Castles sounded great, as did "Same Dream China" by Gold Panda. Both electronic tracks are full of tricky spatial effects, low bass-heavy drumbeats, and tinkling highs, all of which the Satellite A665 reproduced very well. When its audio chops were tested alongside the Dell XPS 15, however, the A665 fell short. The XPS 15's JBL speaker system with a subwoofer offers a bit more bass, resulting in better audio.
Ports and Webcam
The Satellite A665-S5176X has two USB ports, headphone and microphone jacks, plus a combo Blu-ray/DVD SuperMulti Drive on its right side. The left side of the notebook holds another USB port, a high-speed USB 3.0 port that charges devices even in sleep mode, Ethernet, and HDMI and VGA video outputs. Sitting on the front lip is an 8-in-1 memory card reader. As a special touch, the notebook's speakers can be used by other audio devices when connected to the headphone jack, even when the computer is asleep.
Pictures and videos produced by the A665's low-resolution VGA webcam are pretty ordinary. As long as there was enough ambient light, Skype callers could easily make out our image. The laptop does offer face recognition to unlock the system, though we found it to be too tedious to set up.
On our heat tests, the Toshiba Satellite A665-S5176 kept its cool. After playing a Hulu video clip for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad's temperature at 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The middle of the keyboard registered 87 degrees, and the underside of the laptop reached only 89 degrees. All measurements are under the current average temperatures we see from mainstream notebooks.
Powered by a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M CPU and 4GB of RAM, the Satellite A665-S5176 did pretty well on our benchmark tests. Its score of 5,641 in PCMark Vantage, which measures overall system performance, was almost 500 points above the current mainstream laptop average of 5,153. It also bested the older Satellite A665's score of 5,224 (2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-450M), but only squeaked by the less expensive Samsung SF510 (5,563) and its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i3 370M.
The 5,400-rpm 500GB hard drive booted the A665 in a decent 69 seconds, slightly slower than the category average of 66 seconds. At least this was quicker than the previous A665's slow start up of 87 seconds. The Samsung SF510 proved more nimble, firing up in 45 seconds. The Satellite A665 duplicated 4.97GB of files in 3:19; that translates to a transfer rate of 25.6 MBps, a tiny bit below the category average of 26 MBps. The RF510 managed a comparable 25.1 MBps.
When transcoding video, the Satellite A665-S5176 converted a 114MB MP4 file to AVI in a relatively brisk 57 seconds. The older A665 completed the task in 54 seconds. This Toshiba also beat the Samsung SF510 by 6 seconds. The built-in Quicksync video encoder in the A665's second-gen Intel CPU also shone through when converting a 5-minute 1080p video to an iPod touch format using Cyberlink MediaEspresso: The A655 took just 31 seconds to complete this task, 1:20 faster than the Samsung SF510.
Outfitted with integrated Intel HD Graphics that share memory with main system RAM, the Satellite A665 turned in mixed graphics performance. Its 3DMark06 score of 4,242 is more than 600 points higher than the current average, but the older Satellite A665 we tested (running a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT330M chip) managed a much higher 7,002. However, this notebook's showing was well above the Samsung SF510's older Intel HD graphics, which scored a low 1,398.
The Satellite A665 scored a good 30 fps in World of Warcraft's autodetect mode, but dropped to 17 fps when we upped the game's graphics settings to maximum. These scores don't compare well to the averages of 75 fps and 28 fps, but this category includes a number of systems with discrete GPUs.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Despite its size, the Satellite A665 turned in comparatively long battery life. The laptop managed a solid runtime of 4:26 on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi) before shutting down. That outpaces the mainstream category average of 4:07, and is much better than the previous A665's showing of just 2:55. However, the Samsung SF510 lasted 5:40.
The Intel WiFi Link 1000 BGN card in the A665 offered lackluster throughput. At 15 feet from our router, the notebook delivered an average of 23.8 Mbps, more than 10 Mbps lower than the category average. Things didn't improve at 50 feet: The A665's 10.2 Mbps data rate was also well below the average (22 Mbps).
Our $799 Satellite A665-S5176X came with a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3 2310M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Blu-ray, but a myriad of options are available. Toshiba's site currently lists 41 different preconfigured models, from the $684 A665-S5171 (Core i3-380M, 4GB RAM, 640GB hard drive, DVD SuperMulti Drive) to the $1,699 A665-3DV8, which has a Core i7-740QM processor, 6GB of RAM, a 640GB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTS350M graphics, Blu-Ray, and a 3D-ready display that supports Nvidia 3D glasses.
If you're not interested in Blu-ray, Toshiba also offers the A665-S5177X with a more powerful second-gen Intel Core i5-2410M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and a DVD SuperMulti Drive for $799.
Software and Warranty
There are plenty of useful utilities on board the Satellite A665-S5176. Standouts included HDD Protection, which automatically parks the laptop's hard drive head when it detects sudden motion. The eco Utility provides power consumption info and adjusts various system components such as display brightness, CPU, and hard drive to conserve electricity.
As mentioned above, Toshiba Video Player not only plays DVDs, but can upconvert them to the 720p resolution (plus 1080i output via HDMI), and will even convert content to 3D; however, our configuration lacked a 3D-capable display. Also, the Toshiba Video Player won't play Blu-ray discs. For that you'll have to use the bundled Corel WinDVD software.
On the productivity front, you'll find Microsoft's ad-supported Office Starter 2010 on board. It's also nice that Google Chrome is pre-installed.
Toshiba backs the Satellite A665-S5176 with a standard one-year limited warranty, which covers parts and labor. In addition, a full range of warranty upgrades are available, including onsite repair via Toshiba's support website. You can see how Toshiba fared in our Tech Support Showdown here, and click here to see how the company stacked up in our annual Best & Worst Brands report.
For an attractive $799, the Toshiba Satellite A665 delivers great sound, a Blu-ray drive, and fairly long battery life. We just wish it offered better Wi-Fi performance. In this price range, the Samsung SF510 is the more stylish option, but it has a weaker processor and lacks Blu-ray. The Dell XPS 15 has even better audio than the A665 and gives you a more powerful Core i5 processor and Nvidia graphics for the same price, and you can add a Blu-ray for just $100 more. Overall, the A665-S5176 is a compelling multimedia laptop for the price.