Bigger doesn't always mean pricier: The Toshiba Satellite L355D-S7809, a 17-inch notebook costing just $799, targets people who need a computer for basic use but want the extra screen real estate for activities such as working on spreadsheets, editing photos, or watching movies. If your needs are indeed this simple--and you don't mind the plain design--the L355D delivers adequate speed along with a bright, glossy screen and strong wireless performance.
Same Old Design
While some of Toshiba's newest Satellite notebooks rock a futuristic new look, the 7-pound L355D sports a more tame design. Underneath the matte-silver lid, you'll find a black keyboard, a full-size number pad, and a speaker panel with a dull-silver palm rest (think theToshiba Satellite Pro A200). The area above the keyboard is also black and houses the speakers, a Mute button, a Windows Media Player launch key, and four multimedia controls. The keyboard felt comfy but was a tad noisy; the mouse buttons were comparatively quieter.
The touchpad, located left of center, is taller and wider than most and was responsive without being oversensitive. We also like that the Wi-Fi switch, SD Card reader, volume wheel, and headphone and mic ports are in an easy-to-reach spot below the touch buttons. After a few hours of use, the notebook's palm rest became warm but not uncomfortably so. And in the rare event that you'll travel with this big notebook, you'll appreciate that the power brick weighs only 12.8 ounces.
Satellite L355D Features
While we typically don't review many budget desktop replacements, we've seen enough to know what to expect. The L355D runs on a 2-GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 processor, with 2GB of RAM and a roomy, albeit slow, 200GB 4,200-rpm hard drive. It also has integrated ATI Radeon X1250 graphics and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. Our test unit came with Windows Vista Home Premium and, like other Toshiba notebooks we've reviewed, a boatload of trial software offers.
The L355D has three USB 2.0 ports, RGB output, Ethernet and modem jacks, headphone and microphone ports, an ExpressCard slot, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader. An HDMI port for outputting to a TV or larger screen would have been nice, along with a FireWire port, which is included on other budget desktop replacements. We do appreciate the 6X DVDRW drive, however.
We were pleasantly surprised by the notebook's 1.3-megapixel webcam, given that integrated cameras often offer more convenience than quality. The color, brightness, and relative smoothness were all plenty good during our Skype video chats.
Mixed Multimedia Experience
While we're not wild about the boring chassis, we like the glossy 17.1-inch display. Although the 1440 x 900-pixel resolution didn't look terribly sharp when we watched a DVD of Vanity Fair, we were happy with the screen's brightness and color quality. With the exception of when we pushed the screen back, we were able to comfortably watch the movie at almost every viewing angle.
The speakers, too, are fine but nothing to write home about. Even in a quiet room, the maximum volume wasn't that loud, just comfortable.
Decent Performance, Slow Boot Time
We're not surprised that a budget machine like this has fairly low-end components, but it held its own on our benchmark tests: The L355D garnered 2,401 on PCMark Vantage--almost 300 points higher than the comparably configuredAcer 7520, a budget desktop replacement that costs about $862. Both systems performed adequately but not great on MobileMark 2007; the Toshiba unit managed 111 and the Acer 106.
The L355D's graphics performance, on the other hand, lagged behind the Acer Aspire 7520 at just 1,425 on 3DMark03, compared with the 7520's 2,987. While a low 3DMark score won't affect everyday performance, it means you can't use that big screen to play graphics-intensive games, and encoding or transcoding videos will require patience.
For everyday tasks, the L355D performs just fine, which is precisely what budget shoppers should be looking for. We installed iTunes, searched for Vista updates, played a DVD in the background, and navigated among four tabs in Internet Explorer with ease. However, as we piled on tasks, the fan and optical drive grew noisier. Even after we ejected the DVD, the computer continued to whir audibly. At least the fan works well: The bottom of the notebook felt cool even after hours of multitasking and movie watching.
The L355D was also quick to launch programs: Picasa and Internet Explorer each took 3 seconds to start. Out of the box, however, the L355D took 2 minutes to boot up; that's about twice as long as a Vista notebook should take. Even after we removed all the trial software, the system still took a sluggish 1:38 to gain control of this system. The sluggish 4,200-rpm hard drive is likely to blame.
Battery Life and Wireless Performance
The L355D lasted only 2 hours and 3 minutes with Wi-Fi off, whereas the category average is 3:07 (even Acer's 7520 managed to last 2:49). Then again, we don't imagine many buyers using this notebook unplugged for very long. Although it has 802.11g--not n--the L355D showed strong wireless throughput of 18.6 Mbps and 15.1 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively.
Satellite L355D Verdict
Although its components and benchmark scores don't hold a candle to higher-end desktop replacements', the Toshiba Satellite L355D offers acceptable performance for the price. And we're generally pleased with the amount of performance this $799 machine puts out. If budget and screen size are your number-one priorities (and battery life isn't much of an issue), this is a strong choice.