Toshiba Satellite M305D-S4828 Review

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$849

Pros: Above-average graphics performance; Sleek design; Good audio output; USB ports can charge gadgets with system off

Cons: Short battery life; Lots of crapware; Inconsistent facial-recognition software

Verdict: Toshiba's Puma-based Satellite M305D is one sharp-looking notebook, and it delivers adequate performance for the price.

Based on AMD's recently announced Puma platform, Toshiba's new Satellite M305D-S4828 ($849) offers a stylish design and some cool features at a reasonable price. This notebook's performance is nothing to write home about, but if you're in the market for a lightweight notebook for everyday use, it will fill the bill.

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Design

The 5.3-pound M305D uses the same sleek Fusion design featured on its slightly larger sibling, the Satellite A305. The lid and part of the keyboard deck are done up in a high-gloss charcoal finish offset by a classy Horizon pinstripe pattern. The top and bottom edges of the keyboard deck are glossy black, as are the keyboard keys. Unfortunately, the keys became laden with fingerprint smudges after five minutes of use, so you may want to keep a polishing cloth handy. The keyboard is roomy and comfortable, and the two-button, four-way scrolling touchpad is responsive and conveniently positioned for easy access.

Along the top of the deck are Toshiba's Feather Touch multimedia control panel, a power button, and a pair of Harman/Kardon speakers. The speakers are a cut above the usual tinny-sounding laptop offerings and provide a full, rich sound and even a little bit of bass response. While we wouldn't recommend cranking them all the way up, we were pleasantly surprised with their output while listening to The Clash's London Calling CD at a fairly loud volume. We love the use of white LED lighting to illuminate certain indicators, as well as the media controls, the power button, and of course, the Satellite logo.

The system offers three Sleep and Charge USB ports that can charge devices, such as MP3 players and smart phones, even when the laptop is in sleep mode. One of the USB ports is a combo port that doubles as an external SATA connector, and there's a FireWire port, Ethernet and modem jacks, a 54mm ExpressCard slot, and a VGA display port, all conveniently located on either side of the chassis. Also mounted on the side is a multiformat DVD burner with LabelFlash etching capabilities. The front edge sports a 5-in-1 card reader and a small volume wheel.

Display and Webcam

The system's 14.1-inch display delivers a bright, crisp picture with great color reproduction, thanks to Toshiba's TruBrite coating. A DVD from the BBC series Planet Earth looked beautiful on the 1280 x 800 widescreen, and the horizontal viewing angle was wide enough to share with a friend or two. Just make sure the screen is tilted correctly; the vertical angle is fairly narrow. Although the 1.3-megapixel webcam embedded in the upper screen bezel makes for easy Skype video sessions, it is way too grainy for taking keepsake photos and videos. However, the included Camera Assistant utility lets you jazz up your images with a nice assortment of decorative effects.

Performance

The M305D is powered by AMD's Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 dual-core processor running at 2.1 GHz and has 3GB of system memory. Although its PCMark Vantage score of 2,377 is adequate (about 200 points below the thin-and-light average), this configuration is more than capable of running multiple tasks simultaneously. We watched a DVD movie while running a full Windows Defender scan in the background with no problem at all. Boot time was an acceptable 61 seconds.

The ATI Radeon 3100 graphics card managed scores of 3,001 on 3DMark03 and 1,389 on 3DMark06, both of which are better than you'd find with integrated graphics on an Intel machine. The M305D is fine for pulling light duty but not up to snuff when running graphics-intensive 3D games and applications. A F.E.A.R. score of 18 frames per second (on autodetect, at 1024 x 768 resolution) confirms this.

The 5,400-rpm hard drive performed our file transfer test at a poky 12.9 MBps, but with 250GB, it has plenty of room for your work, music, photos, and video downloads, so long as you're not downloading full-length movies on a regular basis.

Wireless, Battery, and Warranty

The Atheros 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adapter turned in solid throughput scores of 18.4 Mbps (15 feet) and 11.5 Mbps (50 feet), but it does not support 802.11n. The M305D lasted a disappointing 2 hours and 55 minutes on our Laptop Battery Test, which surfs the Web continuously until the battery dies. This is about an hour short of what we'd expect for a thin-and-light. Toshiba covers the notebook with a standard one-year warranty, which includes around-the-clock telephone support.

Software

The M305D comes loaded with Windows Vista Home Premium and a handful of utilities, including Toshiba's Face Recognition software, which is designed to let you log into Windows by looking into the webcam. Unfortunately, the software is extremely temperamental; registering our mugshot took several tries, and we were able to log in via the webcam only once in six attempts. It was easier to type in a password. Other programs, such as Disc Creator, are useful for making audio CDs and DVD backups, but we were disappointed with the amount of trial and promotional crapware icons that littered the desktop, including offers for things like free photo prints and LoJack recovery services.

Verdict

The Toshiba Satellite M305D-S4828 won't blow you away with blazing speed or killer 3D graphics, but it has more than enough horsepower to handle your everyday workload. For less than $900 you get lots of storage, decent graphics performance, and better-than-average audio output, all in an attractive, lightweight package. If you want to trade graphics performance in for longer battery life, you might want to opt for the Intel-poweredGateway T-Series, but overall we like the price-to-performance ratio and design of this notebook.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.1-GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium
RAM 3GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 250GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 14.1
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVD+R DL
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card ATI Radeon 3100
Video Memory 256MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
Ports (excluding USB) S/PDIF
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
USB Ports 2
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year parts and labor/one-year 24/7 toll-free phone
Size 13.1 x 9.5 x 1.5 inches
Weight 5.3 pounds
Company Website http://www.toshibadirect.com