capsule review

Toshiba Qosmio G45-AV680

The $3200 (as of 10/9/07) Qosmio G45-AV680 is a major redesign of Toshiba's flagship 17-inch entertainment notebook, the Qosmio G35-AV660. The revamped version has an HD DVD recordable drive, one of the first in a laptop, and a new built-in 4.1 speaker system. Other changes, though, such as the disabled TV button and new case colors, will disappoint the Qosmio faithful. The Qosmio used to look and feel like a really cool piece of home-theater equipment. Now, while it's arguably the best choice for high-definition viewing and recording, it's not as easy--or as much fun--to use.

The preconfigured G45-AV680 comes with an integrated HD DVD-R3 optical drive capable of recording high-definition content to write-once double-layer HD DVD discs at 1X speed. Though the recording is a bit slow compared with that of desktop PCs, it's still a laptop breakthrough that lets you burn onto HD DVD content from high-def TV shows received over the notebook's built-in HDTV tuner or downloaded from your HD video camcorder.

Audio from four Harman/Kardon speakers, two in the screen and two more in the top corners of the keyboard, sounds better than ever. The subwoofer and 1-bit digital amplification round out the bass tones. If you tweak the audio in the Dolby surround-sound software, the G45-AV680 sounds almost as good as a modest home stereo system does.

Toshiba tweaked the 17-inch 1920-by-1200-pixel screen, as well; it's capable of displaying full 1080p HD content from a disc playing on the HD drive. The G45-AV680 can also play that content on an attached HDTV or HD monitor in full HD 1080p mode.

Our test unit performed well. Armed with a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 processor and 2GB of RAM, it earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 74, putting it neck and neck with a similarly configured Dell Inspiron 1720, which received a score of 75 (matching the average score earned by 17 currently tested desktop replacements). The G45-AV680, with a 512MB nVidia GeForce 8600M GT card, has slightly less graphics power than its cheaper cousin, the $2499 Toshiba Satellite X205-S9349, which has a 512MB nVidia GeForce Go 8700M GT chip. It still performed well in our gaming tests, however: At a resolution of 1024 by 768, it managed an average frame rate of 82 in Doom 3 and 110 in Far Cry. (The Satellite produced 84 and 122 frames per second, respectively, but this difference isn't significant.) Battery life was 2.5 hours, average for a desktop replacement notebook.

Admirers of the old Qosmio design will find the new look disappointing. The exterior has changed from a highly polished metallic look with an intuitive side volume wheel to a more mainstream laptop color scheme of black and white with flat, somewhat clumsy media dials embedded in the keyboard. The old Qosmio was the closest thing to a true TV experience that laptop owners could hope for: Pressing the TV button bypassed Windows and launched a live TV signal in 7 seconds. Now, the TV button and the nearby DVD/CD button launch the Windows operating system and then the Windows Media Center menu, which means a longer wait before you can get down to catching a movie or the evening news. Toshiba says that it killed the Qosmio's instant-on capabilities--which also included instant recognition of gaming consoles and devices attached to the notebook--because of lack of customer interest.

Feature for feature, it's hard to find fault with this 10-pound (minimum weight) laptop. It blazes through any type of application or form of entertainment, and it sounds absolutely superb. It's robustly equipped with two 160GB hard drives, too. In fact, the mouse buttons, which are harder to use than before, are the only standard laptop feature on which the G45-AV680 stumbles. (The buttons are now separated by the fingerprint reader and therefore farther apart.)

The Qosmio G45-AV680 has more high-definition components than any other notebook, and HD followers will love the higher-quality entertainment this model affords. But a better design than its predecessor? That's debatable.

--Carla Thornton

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