More than three months after Toshiba launched its first desktop replacement that makes use of the Cell processor in Japan, the Toshiba Qosmio G55-Q802 has reached U.S. shores and received its first hands-on reviews from PCMag.com and ComputerShopper.com.
The Qosmio G55 series is part of a new wave of desktop replacements that use an 18.4-inch display, rather than the usual 17-inch display. Competitors include the Acer Aspire 8920G, HP Pavilion HDX18 and Sony VAIO AW series. The new display size offers several advantages. It has a true 16:9 aspect ratio, which makes it ideally suited for high-definition content, and it is more efficient to manufacture. All of the new 18.4-inch models have a 1080p native resolution (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) except the Qosmio G55, which has a resolution of 1,680 by 945 pixels, which is sufficient for 720p video.
What sets the Qosmio G55 apart, however is its Quad Core HD Processor (aka the "SpursEngine"), a co-processor that traces its lineage to the Cell processor jointly developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony, and used in the Sony PlayStation 3 game console. A version of the Quad Core HD processor is also used in other Toshiba products such as LCD TVs and upconverting DVD players. Here the main goal is to speed up video encoding and decoding when using video editing applications that are optimized for the Quad Core HD chip, a list that currently includes only the bundled Ulead MovieFactory 5. For example, Toshiba says the chip can convert high-definition video to a standard-definition format and burn it to a DVD up to 10 times faster.
ComputerShopper.com gets credit for putting the video encoding and decoding claims to the test. It tested the time required to import a 7-minute video clip from a camcorder, convert it to a new format and burn it to a DVD. When using the version of Ulead MovieFactory that is optimized for the Quad Core HD Processor, the task was about a minute and a half faster, but "the result fell far short of the elevenfold boost we were expecting." The Quad Core HD processor can do a few other tricks including upconverting DVDs and other standard-definition video content so that it looks better on a high-definition display, building a searchable index of faces from video clips and controlling applications using hand gestures and the 1.3-megapixel Webcam. The results here were mixed. The video upconverting and indexing are nice features, but neither ComputerShopper.com nor PCMag.com had much luck getting the gesture controls ("more trouble than it's worth") to work.
The Qosmio G55 is Toshiba's first laptop to offer either 32-bit or 64-bit Windows Vista, and the $1,550 G55-Q802 configuration that both tested came with the 64-bit version. ComputerShopper.com tested performance using FutureMark's PCMark Vantage, which is tuned for 64-bit Vista, but PCMag.com's standard SysMark 2007 and MobileMark 2007 benchmarks still don't support 64-bit Vista (BAPCO needs to get this patch out pronto). Both PCMag.com and ComputerShoper.com did plenty of application testing using iTunes, Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop CS3, CineBench, a test based on Maxon's Cinema 4D, a 3D authoring tool, and some popular game titles. Overall performance was fine, but not on the same level as the fastest desktop replacements. Then again, the G55-Q802 costs significantly less than other 18.4-inch desktop replacements, which tend to start at around $2,000 and include faster processors, as well as options such as integrated TV tuners and Blu-ray drives.
Toshiba's Qosmio desktop replacements have always been niche products that pushed new technologies geared toward entertainment applications. The G55 series carries on that tradition. The Quad Core HD Processor's functions are limited, but for a particular type of user who wants to do a lot of editing in a consumer-level package such as Ulead MovieFactory, the Qosmio G55 series offers a lot for the price. Ultimately most consumers looking for an entertainment-oriented desktop replacement will want a Blu-ray drive, so Toshiba will eventually need to adopt the format.