The range of Toshiba Satellite Pro laptops stretches from a tiddly 11.6-inch T110 that weighs a sylph-like 1.58kg, all the way up to an enormous 17-inch L550 that comes in at 3kg. At the extreme end of the scale we have the slightly larger 17.3-inch L670 Pro. The point is that Satellite Pros come in a variety of sizes with a mix of AMD and Intel hardware, yet the model codes give you no useful clue about the size of the screen or the spec of the hardware that lies inside.
The Satellite Pro C650-121 that we are reviewing has a 15.6-inch screen with 1366 x 768 resolution. It is powered by an Intel Core i3-330M dual core CPU that runs at 2.13GHz but which uses Hyper Threading to present four virtual cores to the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium Edition Operating System.
Toshiba supports the CPU with an Intel HM55 chipset and 4GB of DDR3-1066MHz RAM which are both perfectly satisfactory. Things get a bit more contentious when we look at the Intel GMA HD graphics with 256MB memory, as the hardware is capable of playing movies from the tray-loading DVD drive or digital files from the 320GB Toshiba SATA hard drive, but is fairly hopeless for gamers. Toshiba has chosen to use Atheros hardware for the 802.11b/g/n wireless and Gigabit LAN, presumably as a cheaper alternative to Intel chippery, but we found they worked perfectly well and delivered decent performance.
The combination of the specification and the Satellite Pro name raised our expectations so we suffered something of a dip when we unpacked the laptop from the box. At a distance the chassis looks like it might be carbon composite but as soon as you get up close you can see it is actually made of textured black plastic. Unfortunately the chassis looks rather cheaper than its £540 price tag might suggest and the surfaces of the lid and the deck around the keyboard act as magnets for greasy fingerprints.
The arrangement of the ports and connectors also leaves something to be desired. The power jack is on the right-hand side behind the DVD drive and the SD/MMC card reader is on the front, but the other connectors are all arranged on the left side. The selection is rather basic and consists of a VGA output, two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet and a pair of jacks for a headset.
Many laptops sport an HDMI output and we quite like to see an ExpressCard slot for future expansion. We consider two USB ports to be the absolute minimum that is acceptable and prefer to see three or four USB ports, however we are also unimpressed by the layout of the ports. It is our guess that the mainboard inside the Satellite Pro C650-121 has a simple construction to save on the cost of materials and the result is a laptop with the minimum of features. That said, the quality of the keyboard, mouse and screen is average yet acceptable.
Toshiba has tried to enhance the Pro nature of the Satellite by adding a handful of Toshiba utilities including the Toshiba Bulletin Board. The idea is that the software checks for updates to the drivers and software and then flashes you a message in a similar manner to Windows Updates.
In practice the system doesn’t work especially well. We were faced with three alerts which included an update for Tempro (software that allows you to fine tune the performance of your laptop), a BIOS update and a wireless network driver update. Each update worked well enough but required a manual download and installation and wasn’t a process we would recommend for the technically unschooled.