If you’re looking for an inexpensive laptop with a large screen to park in the kitchen or use as a home-office PC, Toshiba’s Satellite L555-S7916 is worth a look. The expansive keyboard, which includes a dedicated numeric keypad, raises the comfort level for word processing, Web site navigation, and spreadsheet editing chores–and that’s about it. But you’d be hard pressed to find a desktop-replacement-size all-purpose laptop for less than the US$699 asking price (as of August 28, 2009) of our test unit–aside from the odd fire sale at Walmart.
This is no multimedia marvel: You won’t want to watch movies or listen to music without external speakers connected. The Intel T6500 cruises along at 2.1GHz, but the notebook’s limited (2MB) L2 cache hobbles performance. Still, the Satellite L555-S7916 chugged its way to a WorldBench 6 performance benchmark score of 81, only a few points behind the mark of the Asus N90SV-A2, which sports a 2.66GHz CPU and costs two-and-a-half times as much as the Toshiba.
Though the 17-inch-diagonal screen offers 1600-by-900-pixel resolution, the display’s overall image quality–particularly when playing back DVD movies–was poor. We popped in our test Serenity and Return of the King DVDs only to be greeted by blotchy colors, poor response times, and an extremely narrow range of tolerable viewing angles. The Toshiba fared a bit better in photo editing: Colors were bright and saturated, though the viewing-angle range remained very limited.
Unlike most laptops in the desktop replacement category, this Satellite relies on Intel integrated graphics; as a result, it’s not well suited for serious 3D games, though it might be fine for a casual Web-based round of Bejeweled. At first, we thought that the built-in Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 A/G/N would provide good networking performance, but even with a strong 802.11g signal, the L555-S7916 took 10 minutes to copy a 40MB file from a server.
On the positive side, the L555-S7916 ships with a surprisingly useful software bundle. Highlights include Microsoft Works, Picasa 2, Corel DVD MovieFactory, Toshiba’s own DVD playback software, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Symantec Norton Internet Security. It’s a wide-ranging package for light-duty office work and casual video or photo editing. The 320GB hard drive offers plenty of storage and seemed reasonably responsive for a 5400-rpm drive.
The Toshiba also includes a DVD-R drive and 3GB of RAM. Ports are situated on the left and right sides of the case, with none on the hard-to-reach back. The left side includes VGA, ethernet, audio, and a combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port, something we’re seeing more often in recent units. The right side includes two more USB 2.0 ports, a modem port, and the requisite Kensington lock slot. The dual-duty SD Card/Memory Stick slot is in the front, next to an analog volume control knob. Talk about old-school!
Hard-copy documentation is limited to a resource guide and a setup poster. The user manual–a PDF file on the system–is pretty good, but you’ll need to read it on-screen or print out a copy.
Despite the massive screen, the laptop weighs a surprisingly light 6.6 pounds, thanks in no small part to the relatively wimpy guts. Still, at 16.4 by 10.7 by 1.7 inches, the L555-S7916 feels a bit bulky and awkward to tote around town. Battery life was fairly impressive in our tests, at 3 hours, 32 minutes (the average for 17-inch power laptops is in the neighborhood of 2 hours, 30 minutes). Still, we’d trade in the battery life advantage for better performance, any day of the week.
The Satellite L555-S7916 alternately impresses and disappoints. It works fine for word processing, Web surfing, spreadsheet work, and light photo editing. But the laptop’s disappointing Wi-Fi throughput, lackluster performance, and mediocre display quality would make us hesitate before whipping out our credit cards.