Toshiba Satellite S50t-A-118 review

Pros

  • Impressive performance levels
  • Capacious storage
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Disappointing battery life
  • Glossy, mediocre-resolution screen

The Satellite brand has traditionally been Toshiba's value range, offering mainstream features and performance for a mid-range price. The S50t-A-118 packs a choice selection of the latest technology, including the most recent Intel processor and discrete Nvidia graphics, into a 15.6in chassis, but still comes in at under £800. It also offers a touchscreen LCD to improve the Windows 8 experience.

The central component is a processor from Intel's latest Haswell generation, the Core i7 4700MQ. This is a quad-core CPU running at a nominal 2.4GHz. However, as usual for a Core i7, Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading are on hand. The former allows a single core to hit 3.4GHz when required, and multiple cores 3.2GHz, whilst the latter divides the four physical cores into eight virtual ones, improving performance with parallel tasks. The processor is backed by 6GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM as standard, although the system supports up to 16GB of memory.

However, while the processor integrates Intel's HD 4600 graphics, which is even better than the HD 4000 graphics in the Ivy Bridge processors, the S50t-A-118 adds discrete Nvidia graphics as well, in the shape of the GeForce GT 740M. This sports a sizeable 384 CUDA cores, which is pretty impressive for a laptop, although it's worth noting that these run more slowly than in the previous GeForce generation. Nvidia's Optimus technology means the GeForce can be disabled dynamically when not required to conserve power. The Nvidia graphics come with their own dedicated 2GB of memory, but it's also possible to borrow 2GB of system memory to increase the total to 4GB.

Toshiba hasn't opted for the speed and battery life enhancements of a solid state disk for main storage, not even as a caching device, instead focusing on the capacity and price benefits of a conventional hard disk. The 1TB Hitachi Travelstar 5K1000 has a 5,400rpm spindle speed, so won't be the quickest drive, but it offers plenty of space for all your software and media needs. There's a tray-loading TSSTcorp SU-208BB 8x DVD rewriter as well, for legacy optical disc requirements.

The S50t is a reasonably stylish system with a brushed metal lid and wrist rest, alongside a glossy black plastic keyboard surround and screen bezel. The plastic base of the chassis does have some unwanted give in certain areas, so this is no metal-clad premium model, but it's also not a tedious dark grey lump either. The screen has very little flex, which is reassuring, and overall the design sits comfortably between a funky consumer-orientated appearance and more sober corporate look, making it a viable choice for either, or as a notebook that needs to fulfil both roles.

Weighing in at 2.6kg, the S50t is neither inordinately heavy nor a notebook you would be happy to carry around all day. So in this respect its middle-of-the-road nature does fall somewhat between two stools. Toshiba has taken full advantage of the width afforded by the 15.6in chassis, and provided a keyboard with a separate numeric keypad. The chiclet-style keyboard has a clearly defined action, making touch typing comfortable, although the spacebar is a little small due to the positioning of the cursor keys. Toshiba has also sensibly placed the one-piece trackpad precisely below the spacebar, to minimise accidental touching.

One area where Toshiba has kept the costs down a little is the screen. The 15.6in display is a touchscreen, but it only offers a 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is more the standard for 13in notebooks. You can drive an external monitor at up to 2,048 x 1,536, however. The glossy finish means viewing angles aren't exactly fantastic in any direction, although the display is bright and colourful with the backlighting turned up towards the top end of the scale, so multimedia is enjoyable enough if the environment isn't too sunny or well-lit. All that said, the picture isn't as sharp as it could be.

The Onkyo-sourced speakers are impressive, delivering richer audio than usual for a notebook, although they can't match the Beats sound system on HP's Envy TouchSmart 15-j004ea.

The sizeable chassis leaves a decent amount of room for connectivity, although the actual allocation is rather average. On the left there’s a single USB 2.0 port and the LAN connection, alongside the optical drive. The right-hand side is decidedly busier, housing a VGA as well as an HDMI connection, two USB 3.0 ports, and a separate microphone and headphone minijacks. A Kensington lock slot sits the other side of the main heat vent, with nothing on the rear of the notebook. The SD memory card reader lurks subtly on the front right-hand corner of the system. There's nothing important missing here, but business users might have hoped for ExpressCard, eSATA, or at least one more USB port.

The new Intel Haswell generation is more of an incremental performance improvement than a sea change, but this Core i7 processor still provides some impressive results, despite being near the bottom of Intel's quad-core mobile range. The Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering score of 5.24 is about 35 per cent behind the fastest notebook workstations we have reviewed, although it’s also behind HP's excellent Envy TouchSmart 15-j004ea. Graphics capabilities are more on par with the latter, with 41.41 in the OpenGL portion of Cinebench R11.5, and a score of 2003 in 3DMark11. This notebook will be able to handle 3D-accelerated applications and games with reasonable aplomb.

Sadly, however, the S50t has a major Achilles Heel when it comes to battery life. In our intensive rundown test, which operates the processor and graphics as fully as possible, the battery only lasted a disappointing 78 minutes. This is one of the lowest times we have recorded, and usually what we expect from a 17in desktop replacement that is intended for carrying between tables rather than extensive work away from the power socket. The poor battery life means this 15.6in notebook is more of a desktop replacement than a jack-of-all trades portable, which is a shame because it's a lot lighter and more compact than a 17in unit, making it a more likely companion on the road.

Verdict

The Toshiba Satellite S50t-A-118 fulfils the spirit of the range pretty closely. Its £800 price is very reasonable, and it offers great everyday and 3D performance for the money. Its multimedia abilities are decent, too, and productivity usage is comfortable. However, the poor battery life is a major downside. The two to three hours of running general applications away from the power socket will rather limit this notebook's flexibility as a mobile workhorse.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Toshiba S50t-A-118

Processor

2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700QM

RAM

6GB DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4600 and NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M

Hard disk

1TB 5K1000 5,400rpm hard disk

Optical disc

TSSTcorp SU-208BB 8x DVD rewriter

Display

15.6in Toshiba TruBrite High Brightness LED-backlit touch TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels

Networking

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Interfaces

2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, headphone, microphone, SD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

377.5 x 244 x 30.3mm

Weight

2.6kg

Warranty

1 year European collect and return