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Toshiba's New Value-Priced Vista Notebook Shines

By John P. Mello Jr.
May 23, 2007 4:00 AM PT

Hard-core gadgeteers never need a rationalization to buy a new piece of hardware, but for those who need at least a tissue of temperance when seeking new tech, the introduction of Microsoft's new operating system, Vista, is an invitation to splurge.

Toshiba's New Value-Priced Vista Notebook Shines

Where should you start your shopping? How about a new laptop? Toshiba recently released a new series of Satellite portables that is impressive in both price and performance.

Notebooks in Toshiba's A135 series range in list price from US$900 to $1,500.

Avoid Low-Balling

I wouldn't recommend low-balling your conspicuous consumption tendencies. Go for the top-end of the series, the A135-S4499, which has a street price around $1,350. Vista can be very demanding on hardware, so it's better to cough up some extra cash now to avoid pulling out your hair later.

Moreover, the S4499 comes with the top-of-the-line version of Microsoft's new OS -- Vista Ultimate.

Can you get along with a version lower on the Vista food chain? Maybe. However, if you start at the top, you don't have to agonize about upgrading later.

Vista Hums

I was very impressed with my S4499 review unit. Frankly, after all I had read about Vista, I had some pretty low expectations for what I thought was a low-powered laptop.

Boy, was I wrong. The notebook's processor -- a 1.7 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo -- performed admirably for most common productivity and entertainment tasks.

No doubt it was helped out by a generous amount -- 2 GB, specifically -- of fast DDR2 RAM and a large L2 cache -- 2 MB of memory.

However, part of the unit's two gigs of system memory -- 256 MB, to be exact -- must be shared with the laptop's video subsystem. That can impact performance in the long run, but during my short tour of duty with the S4499, I didn't detect any ill effects from the arrangement.

Gorgeous Display

The new A135 laptops are mid-sized computers, and their dimensions make them very portable. They measure 14.2 by 10.5 by 1.47 inches and weigh a little over six pounds.

The unit has the kind of gorgeous display that laptop users have come to expect from Toshiba. It measures 15.5 inches diagonally and has a WXGA (wide extended graphics array) resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels.

The display is bright and sharp -- perfect for showing off Vista's visual pyrotechnics, such as displaying open windows in 3-D stacks and creating levels of transparency between windows.

Dual Hard Drives

As a writer, I'm partial to good keyboards, and this Toshiba has an excellent clavier. Its keys are large and not too spongy. It has "Windows" and "Context Menu" keys, in addition to control keys for playing, pausing and stopping a media player and jumping tracks on a CD.

In this age of mammoth media files, users never seem to have enough disk space. Toshiba's answer to that problem is putting two hard drives into the A135s. That's right -- there are two 120 gigabyte ATA serial hard drives in the notebook.

For filling up those hard drives with photos and such, the unit has a 5-in-1 reader that can handle Secure Digital, xD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and MMC cards.

Worried about security? The laptop has a fingerprint reader.

Touchpad on Steroids

No doubt one of the most mundane components of a laptop is its touchpad, but not with these Toshibas. Their touchpads have two modes of operation.

There's the cursor mode -- the one used for traipsing around the screen and scrolling horizontally and vertically within windows.

Then there's a button mode.

Embossed on the touchpad are six buttons that can be programmed to start an application and a bar for controlling the volume of the unit.

By default, one button launches an e-mail application, another starts up a configuration utility, and a third prints documents. The remaining buttons are unprogrammed.

You can bounce between modes by touching a membrane button in a corner of the touchpad.

This new line of Toshiba notebooks is an excellent value and an visitable temptation to gadgetphiles thirsting to take Vista for a stroll.

John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at reviews@jpmello.com.

Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.