Toshiba’s L645D clearly aims for the hearts of budget laptop buyers, but some of the compromises it makes to hit its low price may be too severe.
Sometimes you just need a basic laptop that won’t hurt your wallet or your back. Toshiba’s Satellite L645D-S4036 ($550 as of August 16, 2010) strives to fulfill that role. But while all low-cost laptops make some compromises, the L645D sacrifices some usability to achieve its target price.
After living with a number of different Toshiba laptops over the past few months, I was struck by how bare-bones and utilitarian a notebook the L645D-S4036 is. This Satellite lacks even basic media transport controls, any form of digital video output, and a fingerprint reader.
On the other hand, Toshiba does come with a Webcam and an integrated microphone, so you’ll be able to make VoIP calls. Also present are three USB ports–two on the left, and one on the right–though one of these is a dual-purpose USB/eSATA port. A five-in-one memory card reader is built into the front of the unit, and a gigabit ethernet port appears on the left side.
The biggest weaknesses of this budget laptop are related to audio and video playback quality. The speakers sound terrible, though some of Toshiba’s more ambitious units offer some of the best-sounding audio I’ve ever heard on a laptop. Meanwhile, headphone audio sounded as though it were being played inside a barrel, even when when I listened to it through high-quality headphones.
Video playback is subpar, with high levels of noise visible in DVD playback, particularly in scenes containing broad swaths of light color; the problem was especially noticeable in some scenes from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but it also appeared in the Serenity DVD. Some noise was evident in WMV playback in sky scenes, too. Worse, visible moiré patterns appeared in the high-def content. The LCD display proved perfectly adequate for normal desktop use, however, so it’s acceptable for Web browsing and normal office chores.
The keyboard felt very comfortable during touch-typing, though the trackpad lacked precision and the button presses required more force than I initially expected. I was happy to see a button for deactivating the trackpad–useful when you need to plug in a mouse on short notice.
Toshiba includes Microsoft Works (full version) and Microsoft Office (a 60-day trialware version). Also included is trialware for Norton Internet Security and Toshiba’s own DVD utilities, which are convenient for backing up data to DVD recordable discs.
The L645D-S4036 is built around a triple-core AMD Phenom II P820 that has a clock speed of 1.8GHz. The presence of three cores is sure to help in multithreaded applications, but the relatively low 1.8GHz limits performance. Of the 4GB of RAM, 256MB is taken up by the integrated Mobility Radeon HD 4200 GPU. These various limitations resulted in a pedestrian WorldBench 6 score of 76. Though the Radeon Mobility HD 4200 is one of the better integrated GPUs available, the L645D-S4036 is not a good laptop for games.
In the end, the Toshiba Satellite L645D-S4036 hits its low-price goal, but at the cost of noticeably poor audio quality and mediocre video playback. The keyboard is quite good, however, so if you’re looking for a laptop for basic office use and nothing more, the L645D-S4036 may just fit the bill.
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