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Toshiba Satellite U300-134
We've seen a few very decent 13.3in notebooks this year. A form factor made popular by the actually rather hefty Apple MacBook, the Dell XPS M1330 and Sony SZ6 are also very good examples in this sector, with both providing excellent performance in a comparatively portable chassis. However, if you've been tempted by these but find they sit a little outside your budget, the Toshiba Satellite U300 series may be worth a look.
Our sample model is the U300-134, which generally retails for just under £700 but is currently available for the staggeringly low price of £650 inc. VAT. For this you get a system powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T7250, which runs at a healthy 2.0GHz with an 800MHz front side bus and 2MB L2 Cache. This is paired with 2GBs worth of 667MHz DRR2 RAM and a 160GB 5400rpm SATA HDD, with graphics supplied by the integrated Intel GMA X3100 chipset. Fine, none of this is especially noteworthy in and of itself, but it is perfectly acceptable for the price point and you could certainly do worse.
Indeed, this sums up the basic package pretty well. There's nothing outstanding about it but there's nothing intrinsically bad either: it's acceptable, ordinary and mostly unremarkable. You get 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth, with the obligatory 10/100 Ethernet and a 56k Modem present too. An 8x Super Multi DVD+/-RW drive rounds off the box ticking, as does the 13.3in, 1,280 x 800 display with a 1.3 Megapixel camera encased in the bezel. Though it's not especially colourful or bright, it has a good and even backlight and is sharp and pleasant to use while performing everyday tasks. It's also perfectly decent for watching video content on, though the viewing angles aren't a strong point.
This theme is continued when it comes to connectivity. Three USB ports is an improvement over the Dell XPS M1330, but in all other departments it's entirely inferior, while remaining perfectly acceptable - there's that word again! For video you get a single D-Sub, with no such niceties as HDMI or S-Video. This is joined on the left edge by two of those USB ports, headphone and microphone jacks and a handy volume control dial.
Meanwhile, on the front there's a FireWire port and memory card reader, with support for SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MMC and xD card formats. Finally, on the right edge, there's a 54mm ExpressCard slot, the other USB port, an Ethernet port and a modem port, all of which are arranged around the optical drive. Also worth noting are the shortcut buttons above the keyboard, providing quick access to your browser and media player as well as playback controls.
Thus far then, the Satellite U300-134 has put in a good account of itself. It has merely solid features and components but for the price, all is well, with the machine lacking nothing most people actually need out of portable notebook. Happily, it's also a predominantly well designed and attractive looking machine too.