Toshiba Satellite L655D (S5164RD) Review

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$659
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Comfortable keyboard; Nice design; Useful Toshiba software suite

The Cons

Undersized space bar; Fan runs loud; Mediocre performance; Short battery life; Expensive

Verdict

This 15-inch notebook looks good and is pretty comfortable to use, but you don't get enough performance for the price.

What do you think of when you see a sticker proclaiming "Quad Core Processor" on a notebook? Speed and power, right? The 15.6-inch Toshiba Satellite L655D-S5164RD has such a sticker on its keyboard deck that alludes to the Phenom II processor inside. Coupled with 4GB of RAM, ATI Graphics, and a 640GB hard drive, it sounds like this $659 notebook is capable of great feats for the price. Read on to find out how much oomph you get for your money.

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Design

Like many of Toshiba's Satellite notebooks, the L655D features its Fusion finish, which has a subtle, circular checked pattern underneath a glossy finish on the plastic lid and keyboard deck. Our system came in Helios Red, a dark, brick-red hue. It's also available in Helios Brown, Helios Gre, and Helios White. The red is offset by the glossy black finish of the keyboard, a strip where the power button and speakers reside, and the screen bezel. The underside of the notebook is a basic matte black plastic.

Heat

The Satellite L655D registered mostly cool temperatures. After playing a 15-minute clip from Hulu at full screen, the touchpad was just 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys reached a slightly warmer 89 degrees, and the underside was 90 degrees. The hottest spot--the bottom near the vent on the left side--was a still-acceptable 95 degrees.

Unfortunately, we noticed that the L655D's fan ran very loudly for long periods of time, even without any programs open. While the notebook stayed cool, the fan noise was very distracting.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The mildly glossy black keyboard on the Satellite L655D includes a full number pad and was comfortable for typing. While the keyboard is roomy enough, we would have liked it better if Toshiba had shrunk down the lesser used Alt, Windows, and highlighting keys instead of the space bar.

While we never missed the space bar, it felt cramped. Likewise, we would have preferred inverted function keys so that we didn't have use a combination of the "Fn" key and the function or number keys to do simple tasks such as dimming the screen or muting the speakers.

While the Satellite L655D's touchpad looks small, we found its 3.25 x 1.6-inch size to be large enough to use comfortably. The matte finish provided just enough roughness for easy and accurate control. In addition to allowing scrolling using the right side of the touchpad, the touchpad also allows for multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom.

Recessed into a shallow oval well, the rounded mouse buttons overhang the edges of the L655D's touchpad by about half an inch on each side. Compared to the diminutive size of the touchpad, the mouse buttons are huge but responsive.

Display and Audio

The Satellite L655D features a 15.6-inch display (1366 x 768 pixels) that was bright. We were able to watch an episode of Modern Family from wide angles without losing color or detail. However, the glossy screen kicked back reflections, especially during darker scenes.

The two stereo speakers on the L655D are located in oval wells above the keyboard. They produced acceptable, but not fantastic sound. Drums on Depeche Mode's "The Policy of Truth" sounded thin and flat and the bass line was nearly nonexistent even at full volume.

Ports and Webcam

On the left side of the Satellite L655D you'll find mic and headphone jacks, HDMI, a combined eSATA and USB, VGA, Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot. On the right, there are two more USBs and a SuperMulti DVD burner with Labelflash support. Last but not least is the almost-hidden 5-in-1 card reader, located just below the right mouse button.

The L655D's 640 x 480 webcam produced clear images, but the colors were a little muddy. A lime-green Android doll looked dull when captured. During a Skype video call, our caller said the picture was bright but not very detailed. Strangely, the picture seemed to dim and then brighten every few moments. At one point the camera even turned itself off. Plugging the system in during the call resolved this issue.

By default, Toshiba's webcam software starts up when you power on the computer and resides in a drop-down bar in the upper left corner. While it provides handy access to the webcam software, we found it got in our way and would appear while switching between tabs in Chrome. Likewise, the auto hide setting didn't fully hide the bar. While watching a clip from Hulu at full screen, we were still able to see the white line of the bar at the top of our screen.

Performance and Graphics

The Satellite L655D includes a 1.8-GHz AMD Phenom II quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM, which offered just decent performance. On PCMark Vantage, a benchmark which measures overall speed, the system scored 4,140. That's about 1,000 points below the Acer Aspire 5742, which has 2.53-GHz Intel Core i3 processor, and less than the mainstream average (5,012). While almost twice as high as the AMD Fusion-powered MSI CR650 (2,377), the L655D was also more than 2,000 points below the 2.53-GHz Intel Core i5-powered Samsung RF510, which notched 6,257 on the same test. Regardless, the system is powerful enough so that we didn't notice any lag when we had multiple tabs open in Chrome, streaming music, and using the webcam simultaneously.

The 640GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted in 1 minute and 10 seconds, 4 seconds longer than average. On LAPTOP's internal file transfer test, the L655D copied 5GB of mixed media from folder at rate of 28.3 MBps, a full 27 seconds faster than the mainstream average and 13 seconds faster than the Aspire 5742.

Graphics Performance

The L655D's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 graphics only eked out a score of 1817 on 3DMark06, well below the average score of 3,740. The RF510, which features a discrete Nvidia GT330M graphics card, outscored the L655D by close to 6,000 points. Even the MSI CR650, which is equipped with AMD's new low-power Fusion platform, surpassed it by more than 400 points. The L655D's score was more on a par with the Aspire 5742, which scored 1,752 with integrated Intel graphics.

Based on the L655D's 3DMark06 score, we didn't have a high hopes for its ability to handle gaming in World of Warcraft. In autodetect mode, which adjusts the resolution for the best gaming and graphics experience, the L655D ran the game at an unplayable 19 frames per second. When it was set to the native 1366 x 768 resolution, the rate dropped to just 8 frames per second.

Battery Life and Wireless

The Satellite L665D's six-cell lithium ion battery lasted a short 2 hours and 57 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), 8 minutes more than the Samsung RF510, but 13 minutes less than the Aspire 5742 and more than an hour below the mainstream notebook average. The MSI CR650 lasted 4:38.

The Realtek RTL8188CE 802.11b/g/n wireless card transferred data at an above average rate of 40.1 Mbps at 15 feet from our router but a below-average rate of 15.1 Mbps from 50 feet. The L655D bested both the Aspire 5742 (27.9 Mbps) and the Samsung RF510 (29.6 Mbps) for transfer rates at 15 feet, but couldn't compete with their transfer rates of 22.8 Mbps and 29.6 Mbps, respectively, at the 50-foot distance.

Configuration Options

Toshiba sells numerous configurations of the Satellite L655D, all of which include AMD processors. Our review model, the L655D-S5164RD, costs $749 and comes with a 1.8 GHz AMD Phenom II quad-core processor, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 graphics, a 640GB 5400-rpm hard drive, and 4GB of RAM. It's also available with an AMD Phenom II dual core processor, a 500GB 5400-rpm hard drive, and 4GB of RAM for $649. For $30 less than that, there's an AMD Turion II dual-core configuration with a 320GB 5400-rpm hard drive and 4GB of RAM. Finally, for bargain hunters, a $464 model has an AMD Athlon II dual-core processor, a 500GB 5400-rpm hard drive, and 4GB of RAM.

Software and Warranty

Toshiba includes some useful software with the Satellite L655D. You get built-in facial recognition, Toshiba App Place, Bulletin Board, and Book Place (an e-reader powered by Blio). You'll also find Toshiba Reel Time for accessing your most recently opened files and web pages, and laptop checkup and recovery software. Lastly, there's ATI Catalyst Control software for tweaking the ATI graphics settings.

Toshiba pre-loads Google Chrome, a very nice touch, and trials of Microsoft Office Starter Edition, Skype, NetZero, and Norton Internet Security. The latter frequently popped up to remind us how our system wasn't protected, which was annoying.

Toshiba includes a one-year limited warranty with the Satellite L655D, which includes an international warranty should your notebook experience trouble while you're travelling outside of the country. To see how Toshiba fared on our most recent Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Verdict

The Toshiba Satellite L655D is a good-looking laptop with a comfortable keyboard, good display, and some nice included software. While it handled web surfing, streaming video, and other everyday tasks just fine, its noisy fan was very distracting. Plus, at $649, the price is a bit high for just "okay" performance. The more stylish Samsung RF510 has a more powerful Core i5 processor and discrete graphics card, and is available online for the same price. If all you need is basic performance and are looking to save some cash, the MSI CR650, which lasts longer on a charge, is a better deal for $499. Ultimately, the Satellite L655D is a tough sell.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.8 GHz AMD Phenom II Quad-Core Mobile Processor P960
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 640GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 15.6
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250
Video Memory 256MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Realtek RTL8188CE
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.25 x 1.6
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA/USB
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1 year standard limited warranty
Size 14.9 x 9.8 x 1.5-inches
Weight 5.4 pounds
Company Website http://www.toshiba.com