Toshiba Satellite L300 Series (L305-S5921) Review

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Pros: Affordably priced; Many connectivity options; Quick boot time

Cons: Short battery life; Relatively weak performance; No webcam or HDMI port

Verdict: This wallet-friendly notebook offers good-enough performance for basic computing without forcing too many trade-offs.

Cost is a greater factor now than ever when purchasing a new notebook, which is why the Toshiba Satellite L305-S5921, priced at $499, is a compelling system. At only about $100 more than the typical netbook, the Satellite L305 packs a speedy hard drive, plenty of ports and connections, and a 15.4-inch display into a 6-pound machine. It's a decent budget laptop for those who want a big screen--and better performance than a netbook--without breaking the bank. Just don't expect too much punch out of this laptop.

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Design

The L305 won't win any design awards, but it doesn't offend, either. The a 14.3 x 10.6 x 1.5-inch system features an Onyx Blue lid with Toshiba's logo emblazoned across the middle. When you pop the top on this 15.4-inch notebook, you're treated to a glossy black base; for consistency's sake, we would've liked to have seen glossy, black keys as well, but it was no big loss. At 6 pounds, this system is not exactly light, but it's portable enough to move from room to room without too much effort.

Keyboard, Touchpad, and Ports

A spacious keyboard makes typing an effortless affair, but there's a hint of flex when you begin to pound away furiously. Above the keyboard are a power button and six media control keys. If you're confused about the functions of each F-key, pressing the Fn key will bring up a translucent overlay that gives you a brief description of each, as well as shortcuts to a number of Toshiba's diagnostic tools. Some keys can be used in conjunction with the Alt key for extra functionality. For example, Alt+U and Alt+O will take you back or forward, respectively, between Web pages that you've visited.

The lightly textured touchpad had a suitable amount of space for navigating the display with ease, and the mouse buttons provided good feedback without being loud.

The L305 packs numerous connectivity options: The right side features one USB 2.0 port, an 8X DVDRW drive, and a Kensington lock slot; the back contains the modem; the left side houses two additional USB 2.0 ports, VGA out, Ethernet, and ExpressCard/34/54; and the front of the system has the 4-in-1 memory card reader, headphone and mic jacks, volume wheel, and Wi-Fi on/off switch. Unlike the $799Gateway MD Series, the L305 lacks an HDMI port.

Decent Visuals, No Webcam

Our The Godfather: Part II DVD looked good on the 1280 x 800-pixel resolution display, but the glossy coating will have you struggling with reflections if you aren't positioned anywhere but directly in front of the notebook. Blacks were black and the display was capable of good contrast, but colors lacked vibrancy.

Conspicuous by its absence is a built-in webcam, a device that you'd expect on any modern notebook; even netbooks have them. A pair of speakers above the keyboard were sufficiently loud, but lacked a bottom thump.

Performance

Budget machines typically exchange blazing CPU power for price, and the L305 stays true to that tradition. Its 2.16-GHz Intel Pentium Dual T3400 CPU and 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB) managed a subpar score of 2,518 on our PCMark Vantage benchmark, which measures Vista performance (more than 600 points below the mainstream notebook average). This score was lower than that of the $799 Gateway MD Series (3,051), which features a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor and 4GB of RAM.


We put the Pentium CPU through its paces by transcoding a 5-minute-and-5-second 640 x 480 video clip from MPEG-4 to AVI. It took 7 minutes and 57 seconds to transcode the clip, which is not bad, considering the $799Gateway UC7807u(which has a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor) took 7:53 to complete the same task. The OCZ Neutrino, a netbook that uses a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, took 28:40 to transcode the file. However, when we performed the same task while compressing a 4.97GB folder of mixed media in the background using jZip, the L305 took 17 minutes and 49 seconds to finish, compared to the UC's time of 15:11.

Overall, the aging CPU was strong enough to let us work in Word, chat in Meebo, while simultaneously playing our There Will Be Blood DVD, so it can handle light multitasking.

Graphics

On the same note, the L305's less than stellar 3DMark03 (2,090) and 3DMark06 (735) scores are well below the category averages (5,578 and 2,969, respectively), and right around those of the Gateway MD (2,109 and 854). Firing up F.E.A.R. in autodetect mode (640 x 480-pixel resolution), the L305 chugged along at 27 frames per second. When we bumped the resolution up to its maximum setting (1280 x 800) the frame rate tanked to an even less-playable 12 fps. Far Cry 2 choked the system; the first-person shooter saw a glacial 5.3 fps and 3.7 fps.

We were able to go globetrotting using Google Earth with smooth zooming effects. However, when zipping over to dense areas (such as our midtown Manhattan office location) we were less than thrilled at the sight of the flat, poorly rendered towers. When we fired up Spore Creature Creator, the GPU had no problems smoothly rendering the 3D visuals of our creation, our creation's offspring, and other objects in the environment.

Speedy Hard Drive

Fortunately, the rather small 5,400-rpm, 160GB Toshiba MK1652GSX hard drive proved to be one of the faster models in the mainstream space. It booted into its Windows Vista Home Premium operating system in a breezy 49 seconds, which is 11 seconds shorter than the average. It saw speeds of 22.0 MBps on our LAPTOP Transfer Test, which was 4.0 MBps swifter than the typical machine in the L305's class, and 3.9 MBps faster than the Gateway MD Series, a notebook that makes up for its slightly slower speed with a larger 500GB hard drive.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

One of the biggest trade-offs that you'll make with this machine is below-average battery life. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the L305's 4000-mAh six-cell battery lasted just 2 hours and 28 minutes on a charge--almost a hour less than the mainstream average--and it doesn't even have discrete graphics. If you're looking for extended endurance, Toshiba offers a nine-cell battery for $149, but once you factor in the cost of adding it, you may as well begin taking a look at high-priced budget notebooks such as the Gateway MD Series, whose eight-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 18 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test.

On the upside, while you're surfing you'll see data pushed along at a brisk pace courtesy of the system's Atheros AR5007EG 802.11b/g wireless adapter; it averaged 20.4 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 17.7 Mbps at 50 feet. This was faster than the 18.4 Mbps and 15.7 Mbps category averages, and allowed us to watch episodes of 30 Rock and engage in Google Talk video chats without any hiccups.

Other Configurations

Toshiba offers two other configurations of the L305D. The L305D-S5928 ($598) features a 2.0-GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64 dual-core processor, ATI Radeon 3100 graphics, 3GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive. The L300-ST3502 ($629) sports a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor, Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics, 3GB of RAM, a 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. As with our configuration, these notebooks lack Bluetooth, but both include 1.3-megapixel webcams.

Software and Warranty

Preinstalled on the system is a slew of Toshiba's own homegrown media creation and maintenance utilities as well as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Google Desktop, Google Picasa, Google Toolbar, Microsoft Works 9, and WildTangent Orb Games Console. There's also a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, a 30-day trial of Norton 360 All-In-One Security, and special offers from Amazon, Computrace LoJack for Laptops, eMusic, Intuit QuickBooks Financial Center, NetZero, and Skype. Toshiba covers the L305 with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support.

Verdict

If you're looking to surf the Web, check e-mail, and stream content on a bigger screen than a netbook can offer, the $499 Toshiba Satellite L305-S5921 is a compelling choice. Spending $300 more will get you the Gateway MD7801u, which provides more processing punch, a 1.3-MP webcam, and more than double the hard drive capacity; and for just $100 you can get a better-equipped version of this Toshiba notebook with a faster dual-core CPU and webcam. But if all you need are the basics, this is a solid system.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.16-GHz Intel Pentium Dual T3400 CPU
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 15.4
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVD /-RW
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel GMA 4500M
Video Memory 128MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year standard limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 14.3 x 10.6 x 1.5 inches
Weight 6 pounds
Company Website http://www.toshibadirect.com