Top 10 all-purpose laptops

These general-purpose laptops are built to go and can do it all, making a great choice for most notebook users

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Toshiba Satellite U505-S2940
Satellite U505-S2940 Review, by John Marrin, PC World September 9, 2009



CPU: Core 2 Duo T7350; CPU speed: 2000MHz; Display size: 13.3 inches; Hard drive size: 400GB; WorldBench 6 rating: Good

Excellent keyboard and function buttons
Good battery life

Bulky battery sticks out from main body

Bottom Line: A solid choice for general computing and entertainment if you don't need the slimmest (or lightest) travel mate.

Toshiba's latest addition to the Satellite laptop line, the U505 S2940, isn't just a good-looking notebook, it also has some excellent design features that will please anyone needing a portable for general computing and entertainment. Coming in under $1000 (our review unit sells for $949 as of 9/1/09), the U505 offers just enough juice for multitasking without feeling cramped. On the other hand, at 5.6 pounds, it's a bit heavier than other notebooks with a 13.3-inch screen.

The glossy screen can make for tricky viewing in some lighting conditions, but the machine's powerful brightness, contrast, and color controls offset such issues. Overall, it's a good-looking and easy-to-read screen at it's native resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. The default color settings were excellent to begin with, but with a few necessary adjustments, videophiles can get the right color balance. For external video output, the U505 has both a VGA port and an HDMI video-audio output for hi-def graphics.

With a balanced selection of ports, the U505 isn't just an office companion; it's also a good media system. While the U505 series comes sans Blu-ray, it's still a capable and convenient entertainer. In our testing, we did have to further adjust the video and audio settings to optimize home theater performance, but, once set, it performed well. Computing screens were razor-sharp on HDTVs, and DVDs had good video quality with acceptable black levels.

The U505's built-in speakers are acceptably loud and generally clear, but we heard some clipping on deep bass, plus distortion in mids and highs. Even so, Toshiba continues to consistently deliver some of the better audio in notebooks--just don't expect what you get in Toshiba's more expensive efforts. While we don't recommend pushing the U505 too hard on its default audio settings, we found that adjusting the Dolby software did add much-needed punch and better clarity while balancing the audio spectrum. Of course, connecting to a full home theater system amplifier and speaker system, or using a quality pair of headphones, will eliminate these shortcomings.

If there is any knock on the U505's design, it's that the 8500-mAh lithium ion battery juts out from the bottom of the chassis and adds awkward bulk. It does, however, tilt the keyboard and screen toward you when using the laptop on a table or desk, and the space provides a good deal of ventilation. It's a tradeoff, but if you want a slim laptop that packs neatly in a cramped briefcase, you might want to pass on this model. On the upside, you get stellar battery life:The U505 ran for 6 hours, 49 minutes in our battery tests, bested in its class only by the Acer TravelMate 6293.

While you'll have plenty of time before running out of battery power, raw computing power is another matter. Sporting a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 processor backed by 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory, the U505 managed a Worldbench 6 score of only 80, falling below the category average of 86. And don't expect to play the latest action games:The Intel GM45 video chipset uses main system memory, so you'll get pokey performance at best with 3D applications. Even so, the U505 has more than enough power to do what it's designed for. You'll have no problems with general office computing, movies, music, and light video editing.

The external design is highlighted by a sweet textured finish on the chassis that gives the U505 a classy look, and it conveniently hides dirty smudges--but the glossy finish on the keyboard and mouse buttons will pick up and show off all your fingerprints.

Apart from that detail, the designers at Toshiba obviously put a lot of thought into the keyboard and interface buttons: Navigating and executing commands are both very easy. The keyboard's LED backlighting is very bright, and a light across the top of the trackpad helps use in dim environments. The keyboard itself has a light springy touch, and while travel is slightly on the long side, the key response is quick--you don't have to pound keys to enter text.

The keyboard also features basic media control buttons across the top (Play, Pause, and so on), as well as a touchpad kill switch just above the mousing surface. Even better, when you press the Fn button, icons pop up across the top of the screen to help you navigate Fn functions such as screen brightness, sound muting, and screen zooming. These can be clicked on with the pointer, or launched using the dedicated row of F1-F12 keys. A second level of on-screen icons lets you quickly launch the bundled Toshiba apps.

The rest of the U505 package is well thought out. It has a built-in microphone and Webcam for conferencing. The VGA video quality is good, but the microphone sound is only passable. Fortunately, it also has an external microphone jack and a headphone jack, which doubles as a S/PDIF audio-out port. You get three USB ports--two dedicated, and one an eSATA/USB combo port. The combo port includes a handy "USB Sleep and Charge" feature that lets you charge your cell phone, camera, MP3 player, and other USB devices even while the computer is asleep. It's nice, but be aware of some caveats: Fitting a USB plug into the combo port is a little tricky, you have to manually configure the Sleep and Charge utility, and Toshiba doesn't guarantee that it will work with all of your gizmos. Ethernet and RJ-11 modem ports are also included. To round out the U505's media and expansion capabilities, the laptop features an ExpressCard slot and SD card reader slot (which also reads Sony Memory Stick cards).

Finally, Toshiba includes a good software bundle. Besides the utilities already mentioned, you get a hard-drive protection utility to prevent nasty head crashes in the event of minor accidents. Toshiba's ConfigFree network and communications utility makes it a snap to set up and troubleshoot wired and wireless problems. Third party software includes Microsoft Works 9, Corel DVD MovieFactory, Cyberlink PowerCinema, and a Toshiba-branded DVD player, all of which should cover most basic computing and media tasks.

Despite the awkward battery placement and only fair benchmark scores, the U505 is a good value if you want a general workhorse computer with good media capabilities, a great keyboard, and a reasonably long battery life.

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