Toshiba Satellite P755D multimedia laptop

The Toshiba Satellite P755D is a decent multimedia laptop, with a Blu-ray drive, Harman/Kardon stereo speakers, and a 15.6-inch widescreen high-def display. This “high-performance” model in Toshiba’s “everyday value” Satellite line lists for US$700 (as of April 2, 2012). Its quad-core AMD processor won’t set any speed records, however.

Toshiba pays attention to multimedia. The Dolby Advanced and Waves MaxxAudio systems produce great sound even at high volume, both from the speakers and over earphones. An HDMI port lets you hook up to your HDTV to play Blu-ray movies, too. Regrettably, the 15.6-inch display has a relatively low resolution of 1366 by 768–and since the screen is mirror-shiny, avoiding reflections is hard.

The microphone port has a potentially handy feature called Toshiba Sleep and Music, which lets you play your MP3 player through the laptop’s speakers, even when the laptop itself is powered off. In addition, you can charge your digital devices through the USB Sleep and Charge port, which also operates even when the laptop is turned off, though it will drain the battery unless you’ve plugged the laptop into the wall.

Ports are plentiful, including VGA, ethernet, three USB connections and one USB 3.0 port with the aforementioned Sleep and Charge, headphone and microphone jacks, a security lock slot, and a memory-card reader (on the front edge). The P755D also comes with Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0. The 640GB hard drive has a “Toshiba HDD Protection” impact sensor that automatically parks the drive head to protect the hard-drive surface from damage should you bump the laptop. A pop-up warns you if the machine is bumped and the heads are being parked; you will be surprised how easily you can provoke it into action.

Across the top of the keyboard are the power button and touch-sensitive buttons for wireless, the Eco power-saving utility, speaker on/off, and volume control.

The keyboard is nice: Its smooth, large, black keys are reasonably responsive, though their descent is not as deep as on a more expensive Dell Inspiron, for example. The multitouch touchpad is tricky to use–whenever I accidentally touched it with two fingers, the cursor froze, and each time I had to take a moment to figure out what was wrong. The touchpad buttons are a bit stiff, too. A button turns on a light for the control buttons across the top of the keyboard, as well as a light bar across the top of the touchpad, but the rest of the keyboard is not backlit.

Unfortunately, the performance of this affordable laptop isn’t exactly stellar. The AMD Fusion A8-3520M processor can’t keep up with Intel’s Core i5 or i7 CPU on general computing tasks, and in our tests the P755D limped along with a modest WorldBench 7 score of 54. AMD is known for its integrated-graphics performance, and here the system takes a step up–at modest quality settings, you can play modern games at a reasonable performance level (in our tests, it ran Dirt 3 at 28 frames per second at high detail and the native screen resolution of 1366 by 768). The battery lasted 4 hours, 42 minutes, which is a middling result for this category of laptop.

The Satellite P755D comes with Microsoft Office Starter 2010, which consists of Word and Excel with advertising. That’s the only major built-in application, though the laptop also comes with Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, plus Toshiba DVD playback software and a Corel Blu-ray player. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Corel Blu-ray player to work; I downloaded a free player to watch a Blu-ray movie, and that worked fine.

In addition to the Microsoft Live Essentials suite of Photo Gallery, Mail, Movie Maker, Messenger, and the Live Writer blogging application, Toshiba provides two custom programs: Toshiba Book Place for obtaining free and paid electronic books, and Toshiba Apps Place for accessing a lengthy list of small games, utilities, and applications (some are free, some are trials, a few are paid). Getting into Toshiba Book Place (a rebranded Blio book store) takes some time, however, as it requires moving through several lengthy and problematic software updates that you cannot bypass. Most of the programs in Toshiba Apps Place are minor, similar to those disks of freeware games and utilities you used to get with a computer magazine subscription.

The Toshiba Online Backup utility pops up early and cannot be dismissed; you must set it up whether you want to or not. I didn’t want to, so I found this tool almost as annoying as the included Norton Internet Security, a pest of a program that nags you about activating the 30-day trial every time you start the computer. I suppose it might be wise to browbeat new computer users into installing some basic level of security, but experienced users with security preferences of their own will not be amused. As for missing applications, I thought Skype was installed–a Skype sticker sits right there on the keyboard–but the laptop has only a link to download Skype. Odd that it wouldn’t be preinstalled.

The Toshiba Eco Utility, which you enable with the press of a button, automatically reduces the laptop’s power consumption by turning down the screen brightness, shutting off the hard drive when not in use, putting the machine to sleep if idle, and adjusting CPU use (for this quad-core AMD A8, presumably it disables one or more cores when the system is under low load, though the documentation is not specific). It also displays a live graph of your wattage use, and even estimates how much less carbon dioxide you are causing to be emitted under the Eco feature. Leaving aside the arguable virtues of saving the Earth by turning off CPU cores, I guess this button can serve as a handy shortcut for extending the P755D’s battery life when you’re on a cross-country flight.

Hardware documentation consists of a startup card and an online guide buried in a Toshiba subdirectory. I know we’re all about electronic documentation and preventing trees from being cut down just to explain the system, but at least the company could have put an icon to the online guide on the toolbar, or on the otherwise bare Windows 7 desktop. You get no software documentation at all.

At 5.4 pounds, the P755D is no ultralight, but it’s not too heavy for its size; some weight savings may be due to the all-plastic casing. Fortunately, the plastic is solid and doesn’t bend.

The Toshiba Satellite P755D is a decent all-purpose laptop, not too thick and, though plastic, pretty solid. Performance in our tests was quite modest, though it has some nice multimedia features. Faster performance, accessible documentation, less-annoying backup and virus utilities, and a plain touchpad without the quirky multitouch would generate more enthusiasm and higher scores, but this model is fine as a middle-of-the-road laptop with a modest price.

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