Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 Review

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$2199

Pros: Beautiful display; Loaded with ports; Lots of storage space; Harman Kardon speakers

Cons: Cheaper gaming laptops perform just as well; HD DVD instead of Blu-ray

Verdict: This rig has some gaming gusto but is priced too high for the performance it offers.

Geared toward gamers, the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 packs in enough power to play today's latest 3D titles and has some pretty smokin' hardware under its hood, including Intel's latest Core 2 Duo T8100 Penryn processor and Nvidia SLI Dual GeForce graphics. Not bad for $2,199, right? Not so fast.

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Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 Design

While we appreciate the originality of the red Flare Carmine coloring on the lid, it looks like it would fit in best in a wood-paneled room just below a few deer-head trophies. Once we popped it open, though, we weren't as put off. This rig bears the Satellite signature look with a large, silver-frosted, full-size keyboard and a full number pad. The keys are spaced appropriately for easy WSAD navigation, without feeling too cramped. Even though this 9.4-pound system has a plastic casing, it feels durable enough for normal wear and tear.

Above the keyboard are quick-launch buttons for the Internet and Windows Media Player, as well as Play/Pause, Stop, and Skip. Six more quick-launch buttons and a touch-based volume control slider are built into the trackpad, which glows a soft blue when activated by double-tapping lightly on the upper-right corner. Just below the full number pad is a fingerprint reader for added security.

Display and Audio Quality

We're big fans of the 17-inch TruBrite display, which has a native resolution of 1680 x 1050. It's not quite a full 1080p screen for HD viewing, but there's plenty of eye candy here for the latest games. We watched an HD DVD of Smokin' Aces and appreciated the wide vertical and horizontal viewing angles of the screen and its beautiful colors. Above the display is a standard 1.3-megapixel webcam and a microphone. Above the keyboard are four Harman Kardon speakers, which delivered crisp sound but didn't get loud enough for our tastes.

Features

Toshiba's latest rig is powered by Intel's 2.1-GHz T8100 Penryn CPU, and it's complemented by a relatively generous 3GB of RAM. The Nvidia SLI Dual GeForce 8600M GT graphics card alone boasts 512MB of dedicated video memory, but newer and faster graphics cards like the 8800M GTS are avaialable on lower-priced systems.

The Satellite X205-SLi4's two speedy, 160GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives are satisfactory for storing movies and games. Too bad you can't opt out of the HD-DVD drive, which means you're forced to pay a couple hundred dollars extra for obsolete technology.

Six USB ports are distributed comfortably on both sides of the laptop, and there's an HDMI port for outputting your high-definition content to a TV. Other connections include VGA, S-Video, FireWire, Ethernet, modem, mic, and headphone jacks. The unit also has an ExpressCard slot and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.

Satellite X205-SLi4 Performance

It's worth noting that before we could push this system to the max, we had to enable SLI, install five hotfixes (that will be included in Vista SP1), and update drivers. This is a time-consuming process but a necessary one to get the maximum performance from this machine. Without these changes, our initial scores were about half of what you see here.

The X205-SLi4 scored 3,120 on PCMark Vantage, which is above average for desktop replacements. On F.E.A.R.s AutoDetect setting, the X205-SLi4 slammed through the test at an average of 135 frames per second, besting the $1,349 Gateway P-6831FX by 28 fps. When we set the game to its Maximum setting (both 1024 x 768), the X205-SLi4 managed 84 fps, compared with the P-6831FX' 86 fps. The X205-SLi4 trailed the P-6831FX by a hair on 3DMark06 at the same 1280 x 800 resolution (7,186 versus 7,601). However, with the screen at its native 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution, the X205-SLi4 brought in an acceptable score of 6,528.

The X205-SLi4 averaged a halfway-decent 21 fps when we played Call of Duty 4 with the resolution set to 1680 x 1050 and with the graphics throttled to high. At the same settings but with a lower 1280 x 1024 resolution, we didn't see much of an improvement at 24 fps in COD4. The Gateway P-6831FX averaged a better 29 fps on Call of Duty 4 with the graphics set to high and a resolution of 1280 x 1024, and that system costs $850 less than the X205-SLi4. The Toshiba model also racked up an average of 30 frames per second on Crysis set to the optimum setting of medium and the same resolution, but a paltry--and nearly unplayable--14 frames per second with the resolution boosted to the native 1680 x 1050 setting.

Battery Life and Wireless

The X205-SLi4 didn't perform very well on our DVD rundown battery test, lasting just 1 hour and 16 minutes, compared with the 1:48 average for desktop replacements. Its 802.11a/g/n radio delivered wireless throughput of 18.5 Mbps at 15 feet, above the 16.8 Mbps average, but it dropped to just 12.7 Mbps at 50 feet, which is slower than the 14-Mbps average.

Software and Support

The X205-SLi4 comes loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate, along with Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5, Google's Picasa, and a handful of Toshiba's WildTangent games. You also get a 30-day free trial of McAfee Internet Security Suite and a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, plus Toshiba's suite of ConfigFree software, Security Assist, and Disc Creator. The company offers a one-year standard warranty and 24/7 tech support.

Verdict

At $2,199, the Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4 offers decent performance, but its scores were so close to the much more affordable Gateway P-6831FX that we're hard-pressed to recommend it. For $850 less you get comparable gaming scores (better on some tests, worse on others), longer battery life, and a ready-to-play configuration--without updates, downloads, hotfixes, and setting tweaks. The biggest reasons to get this system versus the Gateway are its higher-resolution display and larger hard drive (320GB versus 250GB), which isn't enough justification in our book.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium
RAM 3GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 17
Native Resolution 1680x1050
Optical Drive HD DVD ROM/DVDRW DL
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Nvidia Dual GeForce 8600M GT in SLI
Video Memory 512MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) S-Video
USB Ports 6
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year standard limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 15.7 x 11.3 x 1.4 inches
Weight 9.4 pounds
Company Website http://www.toshibadirect.com