Toshiba Satellite U940-10M review

Pros

  • Decent performance for an Ultrabook
  • Capacious 750GB hard disk
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • Slightly on the heavy side
  • No VGA output

Not everyone can afford the technological marvels of the thinnest and lightest Ultrabooks, and your company finance director may not consider one of the flagship models a worthy expenditure. Fortunately, the concept has filtered down to the more budget-oriented ranges of many manufacturers, including Toshiba's mainstream Satellite selection. The U940-10M provides the main Ultrabook features in a package pitched at the £600 mark. So what's missing?

For a start, the U940 is not the thinnest of Ultrabooks. Measuring 20.7mm thick, it's noticeably more portly than the 15mm marvels out there, but hardly too fat for its format – although the 1.72kg weight is also on the high side. The styling is sober, with a textured lid and wrist rest, shiny black screen bezel, and black plastic base. It's not a particularly eye-catching combination, but you may not want to attract attention, and it certainly doesn't look cheap, either.

This Satellite model hasn't made the leap to Intel's new Haswell processor generation yet, but it does have a CPU from the previous Ivy Bridge range. It's the popular Core i5 3317U, an ultra-low-voltage unit that runs at a nominal 1.7GHz, but as usual Turbo Boost 2.0 is available, and in this case allows a single core to hit 2.6GHz when required. Also, as usual for a mobile Intel Core i5, Hyper-Threading is on call to turn the dual physical cores into four physical ones, for improved multi-tasking and better performance in multi-threaded applications.

Toshiba has partnered the Core i5 with a reasonably healthy 6GB of DDR3 SDRAM. This is supplied as a 4GB and a 2GB DIMM, which are user accessible, so you could potentially expand the memory up to the system maximum of 16GB. The processor also supplies the graphics in the shape of Intel HD 4000, which is pretty decent for a notebook you won't be using for gaming or professional 3D work. It offers acceptable performance as well as support for DirectX 11, Shader Model 5, and OpenGL 4.

Storage is the first area where the Satellite U940's specification takes a more budget approach, although some might see this as a blessing in disguise. There is a 32GB Samsung solid state disk, but it's used as a cache for a conventional 5,400rpm hard disk. The latter is a decidedly capacious 750GB Toshiba MQ01ABD drive, which is a lot of storage for an Ultrabook, and the SSD cache will still mean boot-up, revival from hibernation, and loading of frequently used applications will be quick. There's no optical drive, as per the standard Ultrabook specification, so the SD card slot is the only built-in removable storage option.

One of the reasons why the Satellite U940 is a little larger than some Ultrabooks is that it uses a 14in screen rather than the more common 13in variety. However, the display still has the standard 1,366 x 768 resolution. It's a colourful, high-brightness TFT, although viewing angles are marred by the rather glossy surface.

Audio is the usual Ultrabook fare. The speakers don't distort at full volume, but the sound really lacks bass and isn't particularly loud either, so this won't be a laptop for communal movie or streamed TV watching.

The Chiclet-style keyboard has a soft action, and the notches on the ‘f’ and ‘j’ keys feel a little too subtle, but it's comfortable enough for prolonged fast typing. There's backlighting available, should you need to be able to see the keys in the dark. The top row of function keys doubles up for useful operations including screen brightness, media playback control, volume and toggling the wireless radios. The reasonably large all-in-one trackpad is also sensibly positioned slightly to the left, so the palms of your hands don't brush it accidentally as you type. It's an accurate pointing device with a discernible click for button presses.

The U940 has a fairly standard set of ports. With a large cooling vent on the left edge, there is only room for a single USB 2.0 port and the Kensington lock slot. But the right side houses a LAN port, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, the SD card reader and discrete mini-jacks for headphones and microphone, rather than a single combo port. One omission is VGA, which will be a drawback for business users needing to connect to older projectors that only have analogue inputs. But otherwise all the important bases are covered, and you are unlikely to find yourself running out of USB ports.

With a processor that we have seen frequently before in Ultrabooks, the Satellite U940 doesn't provide any particular surprises when it comes to performance. The 2.37 score in the Maxon Cinebench R11.5 render test is exactly what we would expect, and the Cinebench OpenGL score of 13.62 is par for the course too. This notebook has more than enough grunt for everyday tasks, and could even run professional 3D software, albeit not very fluidly. Similarly, the Futuremark 3DMark11 result of 612 implies that you could play most recent games on the Satellite U940, but only at relatively low resolutions and detail levels.

Toshiba only claims a four-and-a-half-hour battery life from the Satellite U940, according to results it has obtained with MobileMark 2012, and our own testing implies that this is a fair estimate. In Toshiba's Eco mode, the notebook lasted a healthy 161 minutes of our intensive graphics and processor test, which is above average, although not up with the most enduring Ultrabooks, such as HP's Folio 13. The four-cell 45Wh battery is also removable, so you could bring another one along if you really needed to spend a long time away from the power outlet.

Verdict

The Toshiba Satellite U940-10M doesn't have the “bling” appeal of a premium Ultrabook, and it's also a little heavier and more portly. But otherwise it doesn't skimp on performance or features for a machine in its class. It's not quite a budget bargain, but if you are looking for a decently priced ultraportable with good enough performance for most everyday activities, the Satellite U940-10M would make a decent choice.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Product

Toshiba Satellite U940-10M

Processor

1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U

RAM

6GB DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4000

Hard disk

750GB Toshiba MQ01ABD 5,400rpm hard disk plus 32GB Samsung SSD as system cache

Optical disc

None

Display

14in TruBrite HD High Brightness LED-backlit TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels

Networking

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4

Interfaces

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

Width x Depth x Height

339.6 x 238.3 x 20.7mm

Weight

1.72kg

Warranty

1 year collect and return