Laptops have hit a new low--in a good way. For $399, consumers can grab the Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542, a 15.6-notebook with that's made for light computing needs. Some trade-offs have to be made to keep the cost down, but can you really go wrong at this price?
The exterior and interior of the utilitarian Toshiba Satellite C655 is a matte black plastic imprinted with Toshiba's Trax Texture, which resembles a tiny basket weave. We liked the feel of the raised pattern, but it picked up oils from our fingers. The entire notebook is black, save for a gray Toshiba logo in the center of the lid. Above the expansive keyboard are a pair of plastic oval-shaped speakers.
Despite its bulky 15 x 9.8 x 1.1/1.6-inch frame, the Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542 keeps things relatively light at 5 pounds. It weighs less than the 14.9 x 9.6 x 1.6-inch Dell Inspiron 15 (M5030) and the 14.7 x 9.7 x 1.4-inch HP Pavilion g6x, which check in at 5.6 and 5.2 pounds, respectively.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The C655's classic-style keyboard stretches across the length of the deck and features a full number pad. The large flat keys provided springy feedback with little to no flex. During the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we were able to achieve our usual 50 wpm with a 1 percent error rate. The severely undersized space bar is visually disconcerting, but we never had any space bar-related errors.
The 3.2 x 1.6-inch Synaptics touchpad is a little on the narrow side, but it got the job done. We found multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotation to be somewhat jerky. However, we liked the large discrete mouse buttons and their firm feedback.
Display and Audio
Watching video on the Satellite C655's 15.6-inch glossy 1366 x 768p display delivered rich, bold color but lacked sharpness. Text was fuzzy on CNN.com. The 170 lux display fell short of the 294 lux mainstream average in terms of brightness.
While Eva Green's red sequined dres popped off the screen in the 1080p YouTube trailer of "Dark Shadows," we noticed pixelation and blotchiness in darker scenes. Viewing angles were wide enough so that a few people clustered around the notebook could comfortably see the action.
The C655's speakers left much to be desired, barely filling a small room. Despite hearing clear audio on Beyonce's "Love On Top," the audio was underwhelming. Beyonce's vocals sounded greatly diminished and we could barely make out the finger snaps in the beginning of the track.
After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad, space between the G and H keys and underside registered 81, 82 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider anything above 95 uncomfortable. Our lap remained nice and cool despite using the C655 for over an hour.
The right side of the C655 is pretty sparse, with only a tray-loading DVD player and a power jack. Two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, VGA, ports for headphones and a microphone and a secure lock slot reside on the left. A 4-in-1 card reader along the left front lip of the notebook rounds out the ports.
The 0.3 megapixel camera captures stills and video in 640 x 480. Our test images looked extremely grainy with washed out color under florescent and natural lighting.
Toshiba's Face Recognition software remains easy to set up and use. Scanning and registering our faces took all of 3 minutes. From there, we could launch Windows in 10 seconds with an evenly paced shake of the head.
The Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542 features a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron B815 Processor with 3GB of RAM, a 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and Mobile Intel Graphics with shared graphics memory. Although we couldn't run the more recent PCMark07 benchmark, on PCMark Vantage the C655 scored 3,480. That's 2,814 points below the 6,294 mainstream category average, but enough to best the Dell Inspiron 15 (M5030) and its 2.3-GHz AMD Athlon II P360 CPU (3,318). The HP Pavilion g6x and its first-generation 2.5GHz Intel Core i3-380M CPU was the clear winner with 5,384. HP has since upgraded this unit to a second-generation Intel Core processor, so the performance delta should be even greater.
The Satellite C655 booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 59 seconds, a hair longer than the 57 mainstream average. However, it was more than enough to best the Pavilion g6x's 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, which loaded Windows 7 in 74 seconds.
On the File Transfer Test, the C655 duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files in 4 minutes and 48 seconds, a transfer rate of 17.7 MBps, far below the 33.1 category average. The g6x and the Inspiron 15 scored 24.8 MBps and 24.1 MBps, respectively.
The C655 delivered lackluster performance during our Spreadsheet Test. The notebook took 9 minutes and 29 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. That's 3:14 slower than the mainstream average.
While it didn't fare well on our benchmark tests, the C655 held its own in the multitasking department, running "Bastion" in Google Chrome smoothly despite 7 additional open tabs and 8 open Internet Explorer tabs.
A gaming rig the Satellite C655-S5542 is not. During 3DMark06, the notebook's Mobile Intel HD Graphics scored 2,848. That's 2,287 points below the mainstream category average. However, that showing was more than enough to beat the Inspiron 15's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 GPU as well as the Pavilion g6x and its Intel HD Graphics, which scored 1,725 and 1,826, respectively.
On the "World of Warcraft" test, the C655 delivered an unplayable frame rate of 14 fps on High at 1366 x 768. The laptop notched a still-unplayable 22 fps on Good.
During the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542 lasted 4 hours and 26 minutes. That's 43 minutes below the 5:09 category average. Still, the HP Pavilion g6 was only a minute better at 4:27 while the Dell Inspiron 15 (M5030) lasted an anemic 3:07.
Toshiba packages the Satellite C655 with the usual suite of Toshiba-branded software and utilities. There's Toshiba Laptop Checker and PC Diagnostic Tool for troubleshooting and maintaining the notebook's health. Toshiba Assist allowed us to quickly access settings for Bluetooth, creating system passwords and optimizing our notebook. Web portals for Toshiba App Place and Toshiba Book Place are also included.
Our favorite Toshiba software continues to be Toshiba Bulletin Board and ReelTime. Bulletin Board allows us to jot down a quick note, post an image or create a bookmark to a large bulletin board for safekeeping. ReelTime displays all of our recent activity, including recent documents, Web pages, images, and video in a timeline across the bottom of the screen. Both programs are easy to use and visually appealing.
Third-party apps include Microsoft Office Starter, Skype, Windows Live, Google Chrome and a free 30-day trial Norton Internet Security 2012.
Our $399 review unit of the Satellite Satellite C655-S5542 features a 1.6-GHz Intel Celeron Processor B815 with 3GB of RAM, a 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and Mobile Intel Graphics with shared graphics memory. The $380 base model, the Satellite C655D-S5533, features an AMD E-Series Processor E-300, 4 GB of RAM, a 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and AMD Integrated Graphics. There's also the $694 model (Satellite C650-ST5NX2) which features an Intel Core i3-2330M CPU with 3GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and Intel graphics.
Compared with many of the notebooks we review, the Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542 offers mediocre performance and graphics. But for those who only need a system for simple tasks such as surfing the Web, checking Facebook and writing documents, this $399 system gets the job done at an almost irresistible price. If you can spend a few more bucks, we recommend the $479 HP Pavilion g6x, which has a second-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, as well as four color options. However, the Satellite C655-S5542 is good choice for those on a tighter budget.