Toshiba Notebook Pinches Pennies, Not Power

 
 
By Tiffany Maleshefski  |  Posted 2007-12-14
 
 
 
Low-cost notebook computers can be a boon to IT managers charged with slimming down their capital expense budgets, and Toshiba's Satellite Pro A210, which boasts 2GB of RAM, a dual-core processor and a widescreen display, demonstrates that doing more with less doesn't have to mean making do with underpowered hardware.

For $899, the AMD Turion 64 x2-powered Satellite Pro A210 is a capable performer that is affordably priced, yet manages to pack some of the desirable bells and whistles of higher-end machines, such as a CD-RW/DVD-RW drive, into its 6.7-pound (including the AC adapter) chassis. The Satellite Pro A210 ships with 2GB of RAM and its two memory slots scale up to 4GB.

In a low-cost concession, the A210 does share its RAM with the system's ATI Radeon X1200 graphics card, bringing the available system memory in the unit I tested down to 1.87GB of RAM. Also note, the A210 is equipped with a 10/100 Ethernet adapter and a 120GB hard drive that spins at 5400 rpm. The A210 also lacks infrared connectivity, which probably won't affect many users, and does not include a built-in camera.

Though the A210 might not be well-suited for mobile workstation or gaming roles, this under-$1000 notebook has what it takes to serve well for mainstream business computing uses—although due to its size, the A210 is most appropriate for IT managers looking to replace desktop PCs with notebooks. As the A210 sports the dimensions typically associated with a widescreen format, and measures 14.3 by 10.5 by 1.32/1.55 inches (without feet), it probably isn't the best choice for road warriors. Its lack of rugged features such as a spill-resistant keyboard also makes it better suited for the desktop environment.

IT managers still skeptical about Windows Vista will be happy to know this unit ships with good ol' Windows XP. However, Toshiba does offer configurations of the A210 that ship with Vista, and the machine's processor and RAM provide plenty of power to run the new OS—although it probably can't support Vista's fancy hardware-accelerated graphics.

Click here to read more about enterprise notebooks from Toshiba.

The A210 boasts a 15.4-inch anti-reflective glossy screen with a maximum resolution of 1280 by 800. Though I tend to prefer a glossy display over a matte screen, I found it difficult to read the screen even over a colleague's shoulder and found the glare it produced troublesome. Still, looking at the screen straight-on however, was fine. I could dim and brighten the display via function keys on the machine's keyboard.

Users can also take advantage of the machine's power-saving utilities through its function keys. I found this feature to be a handy extension of Windows' built-in power management controls that made it easy for me to shift between separate power-drawing modes for greener computing and extended battery life.

Page 2: Toshiba Notebook Pinches Pennies, Not Power

A six-cell lithium-ion battery comes with the unit, and eWEEK Labs found users should expect about 2.5 hours of heavy use of the system before needing a recharge. Toshiba offers nine-cell extended-life batteries as an optional add-on for the A210.

Also on the power management front, I was impressed by the speed with which the system went into standby and hibernation modes. The A210 took approximately 5 seconds to go into standby and 2 seconds to wake up from that mode. Going into hibernation mode, the system took approximately 20 seconds, and 20 seconds to wake up. In both cases, my wireless networking connection reactivated almost immediately.

To compare, my IBM ThinkPad x31 took 45 seconds to go into hibernation mode, 20 seconds to wake up and about 25 seconds to reconnect to my WLAN. My ThinkPad matched the A210 in terms of the time it took to go into stand-by mode (5 seconds) and to wake up from that mode (5 seconds), though it did require an additional 10 seconds to reconnect with my WLAN (wireless LAN).

The laptop's full-size keyboard is a definite plus, with plenty of wrist space and responsive keys. The A210 has only one input device, a touch-pad below the keyboard, which wasn't a deal-breaker for me, as it offers a nice touch response, and I prefer to use touch-pads or external mice with my laptops.

The system's built-in speakers provide average volume and sound quality, though I found the speakers on the IBM ThinkPad, a longtime eWEEK Labs favorite, far superior. If I were giving a presentation with the A210, or doing anything requiring careful listening (as opposed to passive listening, as to music) I'd turn to external speakers or headphones. The unit does include an old-school volume control dial for adjusting sound levels, though I again prefer the volume keys on the IBM ThinkPad which prompts a visual volume control interface on the display, making it easier to adjust volume levels.

As far as connectivity is concerned, the A210 offers an RJ-11 modem and an Atheros 802.11 a/b/g WLAN module (Bluetooth is available as a separately sold accessory only). I was able to switch off the WLAN radio with a hardware switch at the front of the unit.

I was impressed with the assortment of expansion ports that stud the A210, which include microphone input and headphone output ports, four USB 2.0 ports, and an RGB output port. In addition, the A210 boasts an S-Video port, which makes it easy to connect the machine to a TV as an external display, and is something that many high-priced notebooks don't offer.

The notebook also includes a multiformat memory card slot that supports memory stick, Secure Digital and multimedia cards, great for giving users plenty of flexibility to work with a variety of devices and formats, which would be especially important if the A210 were used to replace a standard desktop PC.

The A210 comes with a standard one-year warranty that covers parts and labor and a one-year battery warranty, with the option to upgrade the notebook's service plans, including up to four years of extended warranty coverage.

eWEEK Labs Technical Analyst Tiffany Maleshefski can be reached at tmaleshefski@eweek.com, or at her blog, where she invites you to share your take on sub-$1,000 business notebooks.

Check out eWEEK.com's Desktops & Notebooks Center for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.

Rocket Fuel