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Toshiba Satellite A500-11U - 16.4in Laptop
Convergence is a term often bandied about in tech circles, more often than not in reference to the latest smartphone. Yet, if you want a true example of convergence, look no further than the humble laptop. Modern day laptops combine a bewildering array of tasks, particularly those like the Toshiba Satellite A500-11U that are targeted at the lucrative desktop replacement segment.
Though this isn't a particularly cheap machine, squeezing just £50 below the £1,000 barrier, it delivers a great deal of processing power and a multitude of features for the money. Topping things is the Intel Core 2 Duo P8700, a dual-core processor that runs at a brisk 2.53GHz on a 1,066MHz front-side bus with 3MB L2 Cache. This is a good start, but Toshiba cuts corners a little bit by pairing this with slower 800MHz DDR2 RAM and although it supplies 4GB of the stuff, the 32-bit install of Windows Vista can't address it all. For those interested, should you decide to buy this system, Toshiba will send you a Windows 7 upgrade disk for a discounted £27.90 inc. VAT.
If Toshiba's lack of 64-bit support is a tad frustrating, it at least mends some bridges with the rest of the spec. A 500GB hard drive should be ample for all but the most voracious multimedia hoarders - just as well given there's also a hybrid digital and analogue TV tuner on-board. Particularly impressive, too, is the discrete graphics; an ATI Mobility Radeon HD4650 with 1GB of dedicated memory. Draft-N Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR mean comprehensive networking support as well.
It's just a shame Toshiba, now embracing all things Blu-ray, didn't manage to squeeze an HD disc spinner into the sub-£1,000 price tag. This disappointment is made more acute by the presence of a backlit keyboard. Wonderful as they might be, it does feel just a little bit 'me too' and given the choice between Blu-ray or a backlit keyboard, Blu-ray would be the winner in our eyes. In truth, though, this is nit-picking since you can spin things any number of ways, like using slower components to offset the cost. If it's Blu-ray you're after then you'll have to look to Toshiba's Qosmio range, soon to be updated with Blu-ray and Windows 7.
Looking more closely at that backlit keyboard, it's a decent effort. Thankfully Toshiba has abandoned the horrific glossy finish found in the previous Satellite design refresh, replaced with semi-gloss keys that don't reflect light from every angle. In typical Toshiba fashion it's a good keyboard. Key actions are tight and positive and the layout doesn't throw up any gremlins. There's a full number pad, too, enhancing its desktop replacement credentials. We did detect a hint of flex in some segments, but not enough to have any lasting impact.
We also like the touchpad. It's delineated by a low-friction, textured surface that's very pleasant to use, sports the now ubiquitous multi-touch support and has two large and responsive buttons below it. And, though the touchpad is positioned so it won't get in the way, there's a small button above it should you need deactivate it.