There's a long running debate about AMD versus Intel processors, with the conventional wisdom being that AMD is better for graphics, but that Intel chips offer better all-around performance and longer battery life. Of course, there's also the fact that AMD-powered laptops systems often cost less than their Intel counterparts. The 15.6-inch Toshiba Satellite L655-S5161x is powered by a Core i3 processor and costs $620. Its sibling, the Satellite L655D, is powered by a quad-core AMD Phenom II processor and retails for $20 less. Which model provides more bang for your buck? Read on to find out.
Editor's Note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the Toshiba Satellite L655D (S5164RD).
Like many of Toshiba's Satellite notebooks, the L655 has a Fusion finish, which has a subtle, circular checked pattern underneath a glossy treatment on the plastic lid and keyboard deck. Our machine came in Helios Grey, an understated yet classy-looking hue. However, the Satellite L655 is also available in Helios Brown, Helios Red, and Helios White. The gray is offset by the glossy black finish of the keyboard, a strip where the power button and speakers reside, and the screen bezel. The underside of the notebook is a basic matte black plastic.
Measuring 14.9 x 9.8 x 1.5 inches and weighing 5.4 pounds, the Satellite L655 is easy to move from room to room. It's not as light or compact as the HP Pavilion g6x (5.2 pounds), but the wider chassis does give you a number pad.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The mildly glossy black keyboard on the Satellite L655 includes a full number pad and is comfortable for typing. While the keyboard is roomy enough, we would have liked it better if Toshiba had shrunk down the lesser-used Alt, Windows, and highlighting keys instead of the space bar, which felt a little cramped. Likewise, we would have preferred inverted function keys so that we didn't have to use the "Fn" key to accomplish such simple tasks as dimming the screen and muting the speakers.
While the Satellite L655's touchpad looks small, we found its 3.25 x 1.6-inch size to be large enough to use comfortably, though it felt slightly more sensitive than the L655D's. The matte finish provided just enough roughness for easy and accurate control. The touchpad also allows for multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, which worked well.
Recessed into a shallow oval well, the rounded mouse buttons overhang the edges of the L655's touchpad by about half an inch on each side. Compared to the diminutive size of the touchpad, the mouse buttons are huge and responsive.
Display and Audio
The Satellite L655's 15.6-inch display (1366 x 768 resolution) was bright and clear. An episode of House streamed from Hulu had good detail and color accuracy.
In oval wells above the keyboard sit the two stereo speakers, which produced adequate, but not outstanding sound. While listening to "I've Got Friends" by Manchester Orchestra, the mid-range vocals sounded good, but the higher-range guitar embellishments were almost completely lost.
Ports and Webcam
The L655 has most of the same ports as its L655D sibling, but it's missing the eSATA/USB combo port of the latter (which some high-speed hard drives support). On the left side there's mic and headphone jacks, HDMI, one USB port, VGA, Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot. Two more USBs and a tray-loading SuperMulti DVD burner with Labelflash support line the right side of the system. Last but not least is the almost-hidden 5-in-1 card reader, located just below the right mouse button.
The Satellite L655's 640 x 480 webcam produced dull images. A Skype caller said we looked washed out and the image was grainy overall. It's passable for a basic webcam, but if you plan on doing a lot of video chatting, you'll probably want to buy an external camera.
Toshiba includes webcam software that starts up by default when you power on the Satellite L655. It resides in a slide-out bar on the left side of the screen. The auto hide setting doesn't fully hide the bar, either. While watching a clip from Hulu at full screen, we were still able to see the white line of the bar on the left side of our screen.
The Intel version of the Satellite L655 stayed comfortable while we used it. After we streamed a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, both the touchpad and the area between the G and H keys registered an acceptable 89 degrees, while the underside registered 92 degrees. The hottest spot on the notebook was 96 degrees near the vent, which is a little warm, but still acceptable. In the same locations, the AMD version of this machine reached 85, 89, and 90 degrees.
So the AMD-equipped L655D ran slightly warmer, but we also noticed that its fan ran louder.
The Satellite L655 packs a second-generation 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive. This Intel-powered notebook wiped the floor with the AMD-powered version, scoring 5,471. That's more than 1,000 points higher than the L655D (4,140) and 300 points higher than the mainstream average. Among other mainstream Core i3 notebooks, the L655 held its own, besting the HP G6x's score of 5,384 and the Samsung RV511's score of 5,297.
The Satellite L655 booted in 59 seconds, faster than the 66-second average. On LAPTOP's internal file transfer test, the L655 copied a 5GB folder of mixed media in 3 minutes and 18 seconds, three seconds faster than the mainstream notebook average. However, it was 18 seconds slower than its AMD counterpart.
The Satellite L655 features Intel's latest HD integrated graphics, pacing this notebook to an impressive score of 4,238 on 3DMark06. This showing is more than 2,400 points higher than the AMD version--which has an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 graphics chip--and more than 600 points higher than the mainstream average. It also significantly outpaced the G6x (1,826) and the RV511 (1,559), both of which use the previous-generation Intel graphics chip.
When playing World of Warcraft, the L655 notched a solid 42 frames per second in autodetect mode, more than twice as fast as the Pavilion g6x (15 fps) and the Samsung RV511 (18 fps). It dropped to an unplayable 16 frames per second at max resolution, but it still handily beat the AMD model, which clocked just 19 fps in autodetect and 8 fps at max resolution.
Battery Life and Wireless
The Satellite L655 exceeded our expectations again on our LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing over Wi-Fi). The L655 lasted 4 hours and 47 minutes, a half hour longer than the mainstream average and almost 2 hours longer than the AMD version. It was on a par with the Samsung RV511, which lasted just three minutes longer. The HP G6x lasted 20 minutes less, clocking in at 4:27.
The Satellite L655's Realtek RTL8188CE 802.11b/g/n wireless card also turned in mixed wireless scores, transferring data at a rate of 49 Mbps at 15 feet and 15.1 Mbps at 50 feet. The first number is above the category average (35 Mbps) but the latter is below average (22 Mbps).
There are a whopping 55 different configurations of the Satellite L655, ranging from $469 for an AMD Athlon II processor with 4GB of RAM all the way to $849 for an Intel Core i5 processor and 6GB of RAM. Our version, the L655-S5161x, comes with a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M processor, Intel HD graphics, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive.
Software and Warranty
Toshiba includes some useful software with the Satellite L655. You get built-in facial recognition, Book Place (an eReader powered by Blio), Bulletin Board, and Toshiba App Place. You'll also find Toshiba Reel Time for accessing your most recently opened files and web pages, and laptop checkup and recovery software.
Toshiba pre-loads Google Chrome, a welcome addition, as well as Microsoft Office Starter Edition and Skype. The company provides a trial version of Norton Internet Security, but it frequently reminded us our system wasn't protected with annoying pop-ups.
Toshiba includes a one-year limited warranty with the Satellite L655D, which includes an international warranty should your notebook experience trouble while you're travelling outside of the country. Read how Toshiba fared in our Best and Worst Brands report as well as how the company fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown.
Here's a case where it's definitely worth paying a little bit extra to get Intel inside. The $620 Satellite L655 is faster, offers better graphics performance, and runs quieter than its AMD counterpart (which costs $598 from Walmart). Plus, the L655 lasts nearly two hours longer on a charge. To us, that's worth the extra 20 bucks. For $70 less, both the HP G6x and the Samsung RV511 are very good options, and we especially like the Samsung for its sleeker design. But the Toshiba offers much better graphics performance, giving you more bang for your buck. The Satellite L655 is a winner in our book.