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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Toshiba Satellite L50DT-A-10C review: an AMD-powered budget laptop

AMD’s processors are still the chips of choice for many affordable laptops, despite Intel’s dominance at the more lucrative end of the market. So it’s no surprise that Toshiba has opted to slot one of AMD’s accelerated processing units (APU) inside its £550 Satellite L50DT. This APU is just a CPU and graphics controller combined, as we now also see in most Intel Core chips.

The 'Richland' chip used here is one of AMD’s newest parts, but it’s not exactly a big leap forward. The processing core uses a faster version of the 'Piledriver' architecture that was found inside last year’s Trinity APUs, and the graphics chip is based on the underlying hardware from 2011’s Radeon HD 6000-series.

Toshiba has picked the AMD A8-5545M for this particular laptop. It might be a Richland part, but it’s a low-power, mobile variant – and that means a modest specification. Its four cores are clocked to 1.7 GHz and have a Turbo-like maximum of 2.7 GHz.

Meanwhile, the Radeon HD 8510G graphics core has 384 stream processors that run at disappointing speeds of 450 and 554MHz, stock and turbo respectively. That’s around half the pace of more powerful discrete chips.

The Toshiba’s 1856-point score in PCMark 7 suggests that there’s only enough power to handle basic tasks. A £500 Lenovo Z580 scored 2765 points with its Intel Core i3 processor.

The APU’s graphics core couldn’t hack the competition, either – its average of 26 fps in the Medium-quality, 1280 x 720 Stalker benchmark is behind the score we’re now seeing from even low power Intel chips. The MacBook Air with 1.3 GHz Intel Core i3-5250U could run the same game at 33 fps.

The Toshiba’s battery didn’t impress, either – we calibrated the screen to 120 cd/m2, looped BBC iPlayer, and found that the laptop ran out of juice after just 3 hours 11 minutes.

Elsewhere, there’s 8 GB of memory and a 1 TB hard disk, but no optical drive. Connectivity includes gigabit ethernet and Bluetooth 4.0, and dual-band 802.11n wireless.

The 15.6in screen’s 1366 x 768 resolution is normal for a cheap laptop, but quality is lacking. The measured brightness of 205cd/m2 is a tad low, while the black level of 0.64 cd/m2 is too high – which makes for a poor contrast ratio of just 320:1. It means that it’s difficult to distinguish between different shades at both light and dark ends of the spectrum, and colours look washed-out.

That’s not the end of the screen’s troubles: it’s a TN panel with bad viewing angles, and manages just 56 percent of the sRGB colour gamut – only blue shades are handled well.

Average components are crammed inside a mediocre chassis. The lid and wrist-rest are coated with grey plastic that’s decorated with a dull lined pattern, and the base and keyboard surround are made from glossy black plastic.

The port selection is adequate: two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0, an HDMI output and an SD card reader can be found on the machine’s edges. Build quality is adequate: aside from the left-hand side of the wrist-rest, it’s a reasonably sturdy machine.

The Scrabble-tile keyboard has a firm base, and there’s enough room for a number pad, but it’s not a clean bill of health. The keys are far too short, with barely any travel, and there’s little feedback when typing. It’s a disappointing experience.  

Like the rest of this laptop, the Toshiba’s speakers are modest. The maximum volume level is more suited to sitting in front of the machine rather than watching films in the living room, and weak bass undermines the chunky mid-range.

View the original article here

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