Review: Toshiba’s Lite Gaming Satellite Notebook Packs A Performance Punch

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Entertainment oriented laptops and desktop PCs are beginning to sport new Intel SandyBridge internals and Toshiba is no exception. But is this new ‘lite’ gaming laptop worth its salt?Key Features:

    * 15.6 inch, 1366 x 768, matt-finish screen
    * Quad-core Core i7-2630QM ‘Sandy Bridge’ CPU
    * 6GB DDR3 RAM, 750GB HDD, Blu-ray
    * 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT540M graphics card
    * USB 3.0, Bluetooth 3.0

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First let’s take a look at the design, which has altered radically from previous Satellite incarnations. Though Toshiba had already moved away from all-gloss fingerprint magnets such as its Satellite L650 with the lightly textured Satellite A660, this time around the imprint is far more defined. It’s a bamboo-like pattern that adorns most of the lid and inside, leaving just a glossy black lip at the front.

While it’s not the most attractive pattern we’ve seen and isn’t a patch on the organic swirls we last encountered on the HP tm2, it’s still far preferable to a plain glossy lid that shows off dust and fingerprints like nobody’s business.

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Unfortunately, on the laptop’s inside that glossy lip is positioned so that it’s impossible to avoid palm-prints, and the keyboard’s glossy finish and touchpad’s chromed buttons will also require regular wiping. However, the Satellite P750 does look quite attractive overall, and the Satellite’s chromed, white-backlit power button is a nice touch. White status LEDs are visible at the laptop’s front even when the machine is closed.

Build quality is good overall, though there’s a little more flex than we would ideally like above the keyboard. Though it’s reasonably quiet in light use, when under load the P750 does produce an audible hum, though that’s not too surprising considering its high-end (and therefore hot) internals.

Connectivity is about what you would expect for a high-end laptop these days. Along the left there are HDMI and VGA for video, a Gigabit Ethernet port for wired networking, and two USB ports, of the 3.0 and 2.0 varieties, with the former supporting Sleep & Charge to power or charge devices while the laptop is turned off.

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On the front we have an SDXC/MMC/xD/MS Pro card reader, while to the right you’ll find a further two USB 2.0 ports, the tray-loading Blu-ray drive and headphone/digital-audio-out plus microphone jacks. The mic output supports Toshiba’s unique Sleep & Music functionality, which we first came across on the NB520. This allows you to use the laptop’s speakers with an external source (like an MP3 player) connected through a 3.5mm jack while the laptop is powered down – for more details, check out page three of our NB520 review.

Finally, the laptop’s wireless connections are comprehensively covered by Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 3.0. Our only quibble is that we would really have liked to have seen two USB 3.0 ports rather than just one, as this would allow fast data copying between two speedy external drives or memory sticks.

 

Specifications are where things get really interesting, as the Satellite P750’s relatively unassuming exterior hides some serious horsepower. Star of the show is one of Intel’s new Sandy Bridge chips, specifically the quad-core Core i7-2630QM. With support for hyper-threading enabling up to eight virtual cores and a maximum Turbo Frequency of 2.9GHz over its standard running speed of 2GHz, it’s at the high end of the mobile processor range and should give plenty of power for intensive tasks like video trans/encoding.

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Though Toshiba’s Satellite and the Samsung RF711 both use the same processor and the Satellite has double the memory, the RF711 wins out due to its twin hard drives in RAID.

This capable processor is backed by a whopping 6GB of DDR3 RAM, which is quickly becoming the standard on high-end PCs. For storage there’s a generous 750GB hard drive, though it’s of the slower 5,400rpm variety.

One of the nicest surprises is the graphics card, which is an Nvidia GT540 with 1GB of its own memory. Unfortunately, the amount of memory doesn’t have a significant impact if the chip itself isn’t up to scratch, but thankfully, if you’re not planning to run demanding titles like Crysis, the GT450 holds up fine.

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In Stalker, it managed a smooth 41.1 frames per second (fps) at maximum detail in DirectX 11 mode, and at our standard 720p test resolution returned just over 47fps. As such, it’s fair to classify the Satellite P750 as a ‘lite’ gaming laptop.

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Together with its Blu-ray drive, the GT540 allows for 3D movie playback and 2D upconversion – if you have the requisite screen and glasses to enjoy the experience. Toshiba’s proprietary Resolution system will make sure standard definition material is upscaled nicely.

Nvidia’s Optimus ensures you don’t pay a battery-life penalty for the discrete graphics when they’re not needed, as in such cases the system falls back on Intel’s weak but frugal integrated graphics.

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When it comes to usability, the Satellite P750 comes out reasonably well, but it’s not a clean win. Apart from its glossiness, the isolation keyboard offers large keys that are well-spaced. Key travel is good, but unfortunately feedback is too light, occasionally leaving you unsure if you’ve actually pressed a key or not. You do get used to this lighter response, but we would rather type on the HP Envy 14 Beats Edition.

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A strip of touch-sensitive controls above the keyboard gives access to shortcuts as well as media, wireless and volume controls. These were responsive in our testing, and light up in white when activated, a nice visual touch.

The large, sensitive touchpad offers a pleasant matt surface and naturally supports multi-touch. However, while its buttons give a nice click, their action is slightly too stiff for comfort. 

 

Based on past experience with the Harman Kardon speakers in Toshiba machines (laptops such as the Satellite A660 and even netbooks like the NB550), it’s a pretty safe assumption that the audio quality on this Satellite P750 will be decent – and as it turns out, that is indeed the case. While it’s certainly not the best-sounding laptop we’ve heard from the company, its stereo speakers produce plenty of volume, clarity and depth, accompanied by more bass than many rivals. As portable audio experiences go this Satellite is pretty good, and headphones are not required.

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Unfortunately we can’t predict good things about the 15.6 inch, 1,366 x 768 screen, so let’s see how it holds up. First off, there’s a major positive, in that Toshiba has resisted applying any kind of glossy coating. This makes the display a pleasure to work with even in bright environments, with nary a reflection on the horizon (or the screen).

However, upon assessing the quality of the actual panel, we were sorely disappointed. Naturally we weren’t expecting anything on a level with the Lenovo X1’s beautiful IPS screen, but the Samsung Series 9 has shown how good TN-based laptop panels can be. Unfortunately, the performance of this Satellite is actually below average.

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First there are the viewing angles, which are abysmal vertically but also don’t hold up too well horizontally, with some contrast and colour shift creeping in. Contrast is likewise poor, and this is the first laptop screen we’ve seen in quite some time that fails to differentiate between three of the darkest greyshades, meaning you’ll potentially lose out on significant dark detailing in movies and games. Even at the lowest brightness settings, blacks are never truly black, lending things a somewhat washed-out look. Nor does this bring any benefit to lighter shades, which are even less distinguishable. There’s some significant banding over darker shades, too.

Back to positives, backlighting is even and there’s no visible bleed, while sharpness is excellent. In fact, the screen would be fine if this were a business machine intended for productivity. As an entertainment laptop, however, its screen’s characteristics are far from ideal.

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Last but not least, how long will this Toshiba last you away from a socket? Battery life from the 48Wh unit supplied with the laptop was actually very decent considering the power-hungry quad-core CPU, with it managing three hours and 22 minutes in our non-intensive Productivity test, with screen brightness set to 40 percent.

Unfortunately, the laptop’s sub-par screen puts a bit of a dent in the P750’s value proposition compared to similarly priced competitors. Getting a fast Core i7 quad-core CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, Nvidia GT540M graphics and a Blu-ray drive for $1,799 is otherwise a decent deal, especially since it’s all built into a fairly sturdy chassis with good ergonomics and great speakers.

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If your fussy about the exterior, there’s the cheaper Sandy Bridge version of the Dell XPS 15, which offers exactly the same specifications but includes a brushed aluminium lid, better connectivity, runs quieter, is more configurable and – above all – has a better screen.

If you’re looking for something a little easier on the wallet, don’t mind a machine that’s less portable and don’t need all that RAM, the Samsung RF711 is also a strong contender. Specifications are similar though the system and graphics memory are halved, but you do get a faster, larger RAID hard drive array with a capacity of 1TB, as well as a larger, better, higher-resolution 17.3 inch screen, all for cheaper.

Verdict

A well-built multimedia and gaming laptop with good specifications, comfortable ergonomics and impressive speakers, Toshiba’s Satellite P750 is really let down by its poor screen. Because of this there are better options available at its price point, though for those mainly using external displays it’s still well worth considering.

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