Top all-purpose laptops

These laptops have speed and performance, and are a great choice for most notebook users

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Toshiba Satellite M645-S4055
Toshiba Satellite M645-S4055 Review, by Jon L. Jacobi August 27, 2010

Rating:

rating_icon_4_stars.gif

Pros:
Good overall performance
Very good frame rates in games

Cons:
Branding apps need trimming
Keyboard backlighting lacks a dimmer

Bottom Line: Above-average sound, performance, and gaming highlight this otherwise staid midsize laptop.

REVIEW:
If you're looking for a mainstream, all-purpose laptop with above-average gaming capabilities, the 6-pound Toshiba Satellite M645-S4055 is a worthy, albeit pricey, contender for your computing dollars. It has top-notch input ergonomics, snappy performance, excellent sound, some nice usability flourishes, and a reasonable size for travel. It retails for about $1049 (as of August 27, 2010), but you can sometimes find it online for just under $1000.

The M645-S4055, along with most of Toshiba's other M645 configurations, uses Intel's Core i5 450M CPU. An nVidia GeForce GT 330M GPU with 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 memory is the source of its gaming prowess, as well as the reason the S4055 is the priciest of the company's M645 configurations.

The least-expensive configuration, the M645-S4045 model, opts for the cheaper Intel Core i5 350M CPU. All the M645 configurations, including the S4055, come standard with 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 500GB hard drive, and the same bright, crisp, 14-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display.

The array of ports on the M645-S4055 is roughly the current industry standard: two dedicated USB 2.0 ports, gigabit ethernet (wireless is 802.11n), VGA, HDMI, and a combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port. That last port is always-on, so you can use it to charge a cell phone or another gadget without leaving the laptop powered on. You'll also find an SD Card/Memory Stick reader and a slot-fed DVD burner--a rare bird this side of a MacBook.

If you like your keyboards quiet, you'll like the one on the Satellite M645-S4055. It's a semi-Chiclet design with good tactile feedback but a slightly muffled sound. Although I like clicks, I was still able to establish a nice typing rhythm with this unit. The keyboard is backlit, which can be handy in dim lighting situations; but depending on where you are in relation to the unit, the light bleeding from underneath the keys can be distracting. If you don't like the effect, pressing Fn-Z toggles it off and on (unfortunately, the machine offers no dimming, which might have been equally useful). The touchpad is responsive, and the buttons are nicely placed; on our test machine, however, the left button developed a squeak after only a modicum of use.

Toshiba touts the M645-S4055's audio quality, and thanks to the Dolby Advanced Sound and Harman/Kardon speakers, its sound is indeed well above average. The highs are crisp and clear, and turning on the SRS WOW effect in Windows Media Player creates an unusually spacious sound field that is especially noticeable in movies. Alas, while it offers decent lower midrange punch, the M645-S4055 is lacking in resonant low bass tones--as is just about every laptop on the market, with the exception of Toshiba's own Qosmio series.

As for video, a 14-inch display is on the small side for today's market, but it provides plenty of usable brightness and it fits the system nicely. The GeForce GT 330M GPU helped all our videos, including full 1080p items, play as smoothly as we could wish. The Webcam is low-res and nothing to write home about.

The M645-S4055's battery life, at 3 hours and 27 minutes, is quite good for a laptop that turned in a WorldBench 6 performance score of 104. As mentioned above, the machine also proved a capable gaming system, with Unreal Tournament frame rates in the range of 80 to 90 frames per second in medium detail, and in the 60s in high detail.

Though the M645-S4055 turned in good WorldBench 6 numbers, the unit feels sluggish until the Windows 7 Home Premium OS has been up and running for a minute or so. That happens largely because Windows 7 shows its desktop before it finishes loading everything--and Toshiba is one of those vendors that make sure it has plenty to load. We saw a whopping 14 Toshiba-branded apps loading at boot time. Some are necessary or useful, such as the hard-drive shock protection and online backup programs, but more merely duplicate existing Windows functionality. Eliminating some of these, as well as dumping useless third-party boot apps, with msconfig.exe added a lot of pep to the M645-S4055's step.

The Toshiba Satellite M645-S4055 is the beefiest of the M645 series; and if you like to play games occasionally, it's worth the extra bucks. It does just about everything proficiently and is small enough to travel well.

This story, "Top all-purpose laptops" was originally published by PCWorld.

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