Toshiba’s Satellite M645-4055

If you’re looking for a mainstream laptop with above-average gaming capabilities, Toshiba‘s six-pound Satellite M645-S4055 is a worthy, albeit pricey contender for your computing dollars. It has top-notch input ergonomics, snappy performance, excellent sound, some nice usability flourishes and a reasonable size for travel. It retails for about $1,049, but you can sometimes find it online for just under $1,000.

The M645-S4055, along with most other M645 configurations, utilizes Intel‘s (NASDAQ: INTC) Core i5 450M CPU. An Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU with 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 memory is the source of its gaming prowess, as well as the reason the S4055 is the priciest of the 645 configurations.

The least expensive configuration, the M645-S4045 model opts for the cheaper Intel Core i5 350M CPU. All the M645 configurations, including the S4055, come standard with 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 500GB hard drive, and the same bright, crisp, 14-inch 1366 by 768 display.

The array of ports on board the M645-S4055 is roughly the current industry standard: two dedicated USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet (wireless is 802.11n), VGA, HDMI, and a combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port. The latter port always-on, so you can charge a cell phone or the like without leaving the laptop powered on. There’s also a SD/MS memory card reader and a slot-fed DVD burner–a rare bird this side of a MacBook.

If you like your keyboards quiet, you’ll like the Satellite M645’s. It’s a semi-chiclet design with good tactile feedback, but a slight muffled sound. I like the clicks, but I was still able to establish a nice typing rhythm with this unit. The keyboard is backlit which can be handy in dim lighting situations, but depending on where you are in relation to the unit, the light bleeding from underneath the keys can also be distracting. If you don’t like it, Fn + Z toggles it off and on but there’s no dimming which might be equally useful. The touchpad is responsive and the buttons are nicely placed, though the left button developed a squeak after only a modicum of use.

Toshiba touts the M645-S4055’s audio quality, and thanks to the Dolby Advanced Sound and Harmon/Kardon speakers, sound is indeed well above average. The highs are crisp and clear, and turning on SRS WOW effect in Windows Media Player creates an unusually spacious sound field, which is especially noticeable in movies. Alas, while there is decent lower mid-range punch, the M645 is lacking in resonant low bass tones–as is just about every notebook on the market with the exception of Toshiba’s own Qosmio series.

As to video, a 14-inch display is on the small side for today’s market, but there’s plenty of usable brightness and it fits the unit nicely. The GeForce GT 330M GPU helped all our videos, including full 1080p play as smoothly as you could wish. The webcam is low-res and nothing to write home about.

The M645-S4055’s battery life, at 3 hours and 27 minutes, is quite good for a notebook that turned in a 104 WorldBench performance. As mentioned, the unit also proved a capable gamer with Unreal Tournament frame rates in the 80-90 frames per second range in medium detail, and the 60s in high detail.

Though the M645-S4055 turned in good WorldBench numbers, the unit feels sluggish till the Windows 7 Home Premium OS has been up and running for a minute or so. Largely because Windows 7 shows its desktop before it finishes loading everything and Toshiba is one of those vendors who make sure it has plenty to load. There were a whopping 14 Toshiba branded apps loading at boot time. Some are necessary or useful like the hard drive shock protection and online backup, but more simply duplicated existing Windows functionality. Eliminating some of these and useless thrid-party boot apps with msconfig.exe added a lot of pep to the M645’s step.

The M645-S4055 is the beefiest of the M645 series, and if you like to play games occasionally, worth the extra bucks. It does just about everything proficiently, and is small enough to travel well.

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