We first looked at Toshiba's U500, the company's 13.3in laptop, last year in the form of the Satellite U500-178. We were generally impressed, particularly with the performance of our top-of-the-line model, even if the battery life failed to live up to expectations. Toshiba has now updated the range with two new models sporting one of Intel's Core i3 processors. They're more or less identical in fact, except the U500-1EX we're looking at has a multi-touch enabled touchscreen and costs around £80 more because of it.
An Intel Core i3-330M lies at the heart of the U500-1EX, with two cores that tick along at a decent 2.13GHz and 3MB of cache to help. This is further aided by a plentiful 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which is fully utilised by the installed 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, and a 320GB hard drive.
You're stuck with Intel's GMA HD integrated graphics, however, which doesn't bode well for any gaming sessions. Network connectivity includes Wireless-N Wi-Fi and 10/100Mbit Ethernet - not the Gigabit variety we normally prefer. You do get Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR, though, and the need for Gigabit Ethernet is quite small on a consumer laptop.
All these details are identical on both touchscreen and non-touchscreen versions, as is the design - superficially, at least. As the chassis hasn't changed at all our original impression remains largely intact. This is a nice looking chassis, its textured brown plastic meshing nicely with black plastic and chromed accenting, but it doesn't bowl you over with its beauty.
Unfortunately, in this guise, it's blighted by an incredibly thick screen made necessary by the touchscreen. This makes what was already a far from svelte machine even chunkier, which doesn't do much for its visual appeal. This addition can also be evidenced in the weight, which is a considerable 2.4kg. That's nearly 200 grams heavier than the U500-178, which itself was on the heavy side.
At least this chunkiness gives the machine a feeling of solidity. Toshiba has always sold itself on the quality and reliability of its laptops, so this much shouldn't be a surprise. Aside from the keyboard, which we'll get onto in a moment, we could scarcely detect a weakness in the U500's build and it has the added bonus of hard drive fall protection. You needn't worry about scuffs and scratches either as the textured plastic doesn't mark easily.