With recent performance leaps from Intel’s Core 2 Duo mobile processors, it’s few and far between we see an AMD-based laptop capable of competing on anything other than price.
Toshiba’s Satellite A300D-15B is based on an AMD chipset, but it’s definitely still worth a look. Sure, its Turion X2 Dual-Core Mobile ZM-80 processor can’t compete with Intel rivals in benchmarks, but at 2.1GHz it has enough speed for regular users. Backed by 4096MB of memory, you’ll be able to multi-task with reasonable ease and, unless you want to run loads of applications simultaneously on a regular basis then read on.
Those wanting to work on the move should also look elsewhere though. It’s not that this machine isn’t portable - at 2.9kg and with a 15.4-inch screen it’s light enough for most people. It’s actually down to a dreadful battery life, which at well under 2 hours simply isn’t enough for the daily commute. Once again, if you’re in the majority who don’t carry their laptop further than the spare room, it’s unlikely to matter.
The 15.4-inch display is great - the WXGA resolution may be average, but colours are rich and it’s bright enough for use in most conditions. We found it best when watching movies, where reasonably decent (for a laptop) Harman Kardon speakers add further atmospheric effect. There are also backlit multimedia keys below the display, letting you jump scenes at the touch of a button.
Multimedia use is impressive, helped by a dedicated ATi graphics card – a mainstream Mobility Radeon HD 3650 chip. It gives the Toshiba power rarely seen at this price point and, alongside video and photo editing, you’ll also be able to play the latest games. That said, you’ll still have to turn down detail settings in some of the more demanding titles.
Build quality is as good as the multimedia performance, with strong plastics used in the chassis and screen surround. Most of the machine features a glossy finish, and will need a protective case if you intend to keep it looking as new.
The keyboard is excellent: the keys feature heavily tapered edges, making it more like a regular desktop board to type on, and it’s easy to type at speed without mistakes. It is quite noisy to use though, with each key making a pronounced clicking noise. The glossy finish is a strange choice – it may look great out of the box, but once you use it it’ll be covered in fingerprints and grime.
Usability is enhanced by the responsive touchpad, and it features a coarse finish which helps to make it easier to use. The buttons below look a bit tacky, finished in fake chrome plastic, but they’re big and comfortable.
Despite the reasonably portable chassis, you’ll find a full complement of ports on display. An HDMI connection lets you hook-up an HDTV, and there are also analogue S-Video and VGA ports for older screens and projectors. You’ll be able to backup your files to an external HDD at high speeds using eSATA, and there are four USB interfaces for your other peripherals.
It’s difficult not to feel under whelmed by the connectivity on offer. Wireless connections are made by 802.11a/b/g standards, with no support for 802.11n. Fixed connections – using a 10/100 Ethernet adapter – are also slower than they could be.
While it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend the A300D-15B, there’s a lot to like about this machine. Best of all is its multimedia performance – and at this price you’ll struggle to find better 3D capabilities.
We were also very impressed with the keyboard, at least in terms of comfort and usability. The glossy finish won’t appeal to all users though, prone as it is to scratches and grubby prints.
Overall, the fact this machine has an AMD chip isn’t really an issue. For lots of people, the battery life of around 1.5 hours will be – but if you only need a laptop for use around the house then the Toshiba is definitely worth a look.