Review: Toshiba Satellite U500-11C

 
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Published: October 1, 2009 11:00 PM
By Fabien Pionneau

"Whether you're a student, traveler, or one who wants to stay connected and entertained on the move, look at our lightweight 13.3" Toshiba Satellite U500 laptop series. Starting at only 4.5 pounds these laptops offer exceptional style, solid performance and excellent battery life." Toshiba is lavishing a lot of praise on their U500 line, and it's true that the laptop looks good. Performance is also good for a machine in this price range.

Handling, design and build

In chocolate brown, the Toshiba U500 stands out from the competition with a look that's both elegant and warm. All the plastics used in the shell are matte-finished and textured, except for the screen bezel, which is gloss black. The finish is fairly good for a machine in this price range.

Toshiba Satellite U500-11C keyboard

The full, wide keyboard has firm, responsive keys making for quiet, pleasant typing. It feels different from a lot of HP models, which often have very soft keys, and the keys are firmer than on the Samsung Q320's keyboard. Unfortunately, the model we tested didn't have the backlit keyboard.

Above the keyboard are touch-sensitive buttons for controlling multimedia applications. They're backlit using white LEDs, which unfortunately are very bright. There's another backlit bar above the touchpad that tells you whether it's enabled or not. It's pretty, but it's also a bit of an assault on the eyes when you're in low-light conditions.

The touchpad is not very big - about the minimum size, in fact. We'd have preferred Toshiba to use the available space to make it bigger, especially since it's multipoint. Scrolling works well thanks to the smooth matte surface. We did find that it lacked precision, however. But it's still much better than glossy-surfaced touchpads. The click buttons under it are wide and firm, with good build quality.

Toshiba Satellite U500-11C webcamThe Webcam is very good if you use the software supplied by Toshiba. With Windows Live Messenger (MSN) unfortunately, the image was vertically distorted for some reason. The definition and level of detail are good, as is the fluidity. The photo here was taken in artificial lighting, which explains the slightly yellowish colors; you don't get this effect in natural or "cold" lighting.

The U500 isn't noisy, but it's not really quiet either. A fan (upper right) runs all the time though the noise is unobtrusive. It does ramp up when resource hungry apps are running and can be heard on the left side of the machine, where the warm air is exhausted. The heat is well ventilated and doesn't accumulate too much inside the shell.

The connectors are arranged along the sides of the computer. On the front are the 5-in-1 memory-card reader and Wi-Fi switch. On the right side are a DVD burner and USB 2.0 port, an RJ45 port (Gigabit Ethernet), and the power connector. We would have preferred a slot-in burner. On the left are: 1 VGA connector, 2 USB 2.0, including one e-SATA combo, 1 HDMI, 1 mic, 1 headphone, and 1 ExpressCard 34. Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth are also provided.

Under the laptop are panels for access to the RAM and hard disk.

Toshiba Satellite U500-11C Toshiba Satellite U500-11C
HDMI, USB / e-SATA, USB, ExpressCard, mic, headphones
 On/off switch, touch-sensitive buttons (green = eco modet)
Toshiba Satellite U500-11C Toshiba Satellite U500-11C
Touchpad mat
DVD burner, USB, RJ45, power connector, anti-theft


Pocessing power

Vista Index: 5.0. Detail: Processor 5.0 - RAM 5.9 - Graphics 5.1 - Game Graphics 5.3 - Main hard disk 5.2.

The Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 processor does its job well. It delivers good performance, quite sufficient for multi-use/multimedia purposes, including photo work and video editing. Compared to our reference computer (index 100), the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (which has an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400), the U500 scored a processor index of 72 and an overall index of 83 (excluding 3D). That's a little better than the Samsung Q320's results.
The machine ships with Windows Vista Home Premium 32- and 64-bit. Use the 64-bit version if you want to make the most of the laptop and its 4 GB of RAM. You'll be able to move to Windows 7 as soon as it's released through the update program on the Toshiba Web site.

Playing 1080p (Blu-ray equivalent) HD video was no problem with this processor. However we do recommend that you use the excellent decoding capabilities of the graphics card, which relieves the processor of the task.

Gaming

It's fairly rare for an ultraportable to have a high-quality dedicated graphics card like the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570. Of course it's "only" a midrange card, but it would be hard to imagine having anything better without sacrificing battery life. But its performance is quite satisfactory. Even recent games can run on the U500, provided you don't max out all the graphics detail levels. In native definition, Crysis ran with all details set to minimum, and Race Driver: GRID was fluid at medium detail level. Most games that use Unreal Engine 3 3D were also fluid with the details at medium, as were those that use Source Engine with details set at medium to high (Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead).

Audio

The sound delivered by the built-in speakers was acceptable. Sound from the headphone jack was clean, despite a slight hiss that faded into the background once the music started.

Mobility, Battery life

The Toshiba U500's battery held up for 2 hrs. 9 min. looping video (display set to 100 nits, headphones plugged in and Wi-Fi disabled). That's somewhat less than the Samsung Q320, which clocked 2 hrs. 30, and the HP Pavilion dv-3525ef (2 hrs. 38). The MacBook 13" Aluminum is still far ahead of them, though, with its 3 hrs. 40 battery life. So we were semi-disappointed with this ultraportable on that score. But then its graphics card, performance-wise, is admittedly well ahead of what the models just cited offer. Still, a minimum of 3 hrs. would have been nice.

At 2.15 Kg (4.7 lbs.), this laptop is on the lightweight side. We've seen thinner ones, but this one is about average for the current crop of 13" laptops.

Power saving mode

The U500 has an advanced power saving mode. It's controlled by a touch-sensitive button in the shape of an apple just to the right of the on/off switch; it lights up green when enabled. The brightness of the display decreases automatically, and the computer goes into standby much more frequently. It's a convenient way to switch modes quickly between video games, say, and office application.
4/5 Toshiba Satellite U500-11C DigitalVersus 2009-10-02 00:00:00

Pros

  • Overall good performance; multi-use
  • Good graphics card for its category
  • Quality design and plastics
  • Good Webcam

Cons

  • Glossy, poor-quality LCD panel
  • Touchpad is small and not precise
  • Battery life only slightly above average
  • So-so audio
  • Very bright indicator lights

Conclusion

The U500 is a handsome machine, suitable for all uses and with a quality graphics card. It can run all recent games. Overall this is a good multimedia laptop, but unfortunately its somewhat low battery life and glossy LCD panel aren't up to the quality level of the rest.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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