Review: Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 Laptop

Review: Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 Laptop

Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 LaptopThough Toshiba has recently dominated the field of desktop-replacement media machines with its Qosmio line, the company's entries in the realm of gaming systems (most recently, the Satellite P35) have been less than stellar. But the latest Toshiba laptop aimed at gaming enthusiasts, the Satellite P105-S921, is a serious contender; its gaming performance matches that of the Dell XPS M170, which, until today's release of the XPS M1710, had been our top-performing gaming machine. Better yet, the Satellite P105-S921 costs hundreds less than the competing Dell XPS M170 and thousands less than the top-of-the-line Dell XPS M1710. If you're a hard-core gamer who needs best-of-breed hardware for demanding games such as Oblivion or F.E.A.R. (and you have an extra two grand lying around), the XPS M1710 is the best gaming laptop on the market; for everyone else, the Satellite P105-S921 is a solid, affordable alternative.

Though it's based on Toshiba's midsize Satellite M65, the Satellite P105's 7.8-pound weight places it firmly in the desktop-replacement category. Still, it's lighter than most desktop replacements - and considerably lighter than most gaming laptops, including the 8.8-pound Dell XPS M1710 and the 8.4-pound Gateway M685 (whose case is identical to that of the NX850XL). It's also sleeker than most other desktop replacements, measuring 15.5 inches wide and 10.6 inches deep, and ranging in thickness from slightly more than an inch at the front to 1.7 inches at the back. With its sizable AC adapter, the laptop weighs 9.2 pounds - unfit for regular travel, but manageable for moving from room to room.

The Satellite P105's gray-and-silver case looks like it would fit in at the workplace, but its gaming pedigree is obvious as soon as you boot up: cool blue LEDs glow from beneath the speakers and inside the vents, though to lesser effect than the resplendent XPS M1710's numerous lights. The P105's rounded edges, too, belie its intended appeal to home users, as does the reflective coating on its bright, 17-inch wide-aspect display. The screen's 1,440x900 WXGA native resolution gives it much less screen real estate than the much finer resolutions found on the XPS M170 and the XPS M1710; we wish Toshiba would up the resolution on this display and that of the Qosmio G35-AV600.

Toshiba takes advantage of the wide form factor by outfitting the Satellite P105 with a full-size keyboard and a 10-key numeric keypad (somewhat unusual for a laptop, though also found on desktop replacements from Gateway, HP, and Fujitsu). Given the amount of real estate the case affords, we were somewhat disappointed in the size of the touch pad and the mouse buttons, which felt cramped, and we wish the laptop had a button to turn the touch pad off when using an external mouse. But we did like the touch pad's embedded controls (also found on the Qosmio G35) that let you adjust the volume and launch applications. A fingerprint reader along the right side of the wrist guard lets you log on to Web sites with the swipe of a finger - a rare feature for a gaming laptop. Above the keyboard sit basic media controls (play, stop, forward, back) and two programmable application launch buttons. On the front edge, a small volume wheel controls two Harman Kardon speakers that produce well balanced, if not very loud, sound. Because some configurations of the Satellite P105 run on Windows XP Media Center Edition, Toshiba also includes a slim remote control that slides into the PC Card slot when not in use. The final design feature of note: a handy on/off switch for the Satellite P105's 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi radio sits along the laptop's front edge.

While the Satellite M65 offered fewer connectors than most multimedia laptops, the Satellite P105 leaves out very little. It has headphone, microphone, and S/PDIF audio jacks; VGA, S-Video, and DVI video output; as well as four-pin FireWire and four USB 2.0 ports. Networking options include the aforementioned Wi-Fi radio, Gigabit Ethernet, modem, and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate). The Satellite P105 has both a Type II PC Card slot and a slot for the latest ExpressCards, plus a 6-in-1 media card reader that recognizes Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Smart Media, MultiMediaCard, and xD formats. Rounding out the selection is a double-layer DVD burner - about the only things missing are a few more USB ports and a connector for a television cable. By comparison, the Dell XPS M1710 lacks a PC Card slot and an S/PDIF output, and its media card reader doesn't recognize Smart Media cards; however, it does offer two more USB 2.0 ports.

Toshiba loaded up our evaluation machine with Windows XP Professional, and we were a bit surprised that Windows XP Media Center Edition is not offered as an option on all P105 configurations. Otherwise, the Satellite P105 comes with a decent software bundle that includes Microsoft Office OneNote, the Microsoft Works 8.5 mini suite, apps for viewing and burning discs, and Toshiba's Express Media Player, which lets you access CDs and DVDs without booting the system.

We tested the Satellite P105-S921, which offers a mix of higher-end - though not top-of-the-line - components for a reasonable $1,999 price. The selection included a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 1GB of fast 666MHz memory, a massive 160GB SATA hard drive spinning at a sluggish 4,200rpm, and an Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS graphics card with 256MB VRAM. Predictably, the Satellite P105 delivered a strong performance. In our gaming tests, its scores were nearly identical to Dell's previous-generation XPS M170 (which cost about $3,600 when we tested it last November), but its numbers were well behind those of Dell's latest gaming laptop, the $4,215 XPS M1710, which was equipped with a faster processor, a superior version of the GeForce 7900 GPU, twice as much RAM, and twice as much VRAM. The Toshiba also outperformed the XPS M170, but it couldn't keep up with the XPS M1710's superior graphics configuration. The moral: unless you're a hard-core gamer who needs absolute top-shelf equipment to play new, demanding games such as Oblivion or F.E.A.R. at their highest settings, the Toshiba Satellite P105 delivers very strong multimedia and gaming performance at a far more palatable price than the Dell. In our battery-drain test, the Satellite P105 lasted for slightly more than two hours, about average for a desktop replacement.

Toshiba backs the Satellite P105 with a typical one-year warranty with return-to-depot service. The company's toll-free tech support line is available around the clock during that period. Extending coverage to three years costs $149, and upgrades to onsite service are available. Online support is always free, though we wish Toshiba's support Web site offered the ability to chat in real-time with a support rep.