Toshiba's Satellite Pro S500 is not a notebook you'll want to carry very often or very far. It's simply too large and heavy for that. But the trade-off is a big 15.6in. screen and a keyboard with space for a separate number pad. With models costing as little as £490 (ex. VAT) and Intel's new Core i3 processor on-board, is the S500 a good choice for the mostly deskbound professional?
A 15.6in. notebook is never going to be compact or lightweight, and the Toshiba Satellite Pro S500 is no exception. Dimensions of 37.4cm wide by 25cm deep by 3.34-3.76cm thick will require plenty of desk space, while its 2.54kg weight won't appeal to mobile professionals used to sub-1.5kg ultraportables and netbooks. If you do want to tote the S500, it's worth noting that there's a fair amount of flex in the lid section: a separate carrying case or padded compartment in your laptop bag is advisable.
The businesslike black chassis (Toshiba calls it Precious Black) sports a slightly dimpled finish on the lid, which is repeated on the wrist rest. This adds a little distinctiveness without appearing too flashy. Unfortunately the same can't be said for the huge silver Toshiba logo on the lid.
Lift the lid and you're confronted by the 15.6in. LED-backlit TruBrite TFT screen. It's quite reflective, which will divide opinion. The native resolution of 1,366 by 768 (16:9 aspect ratio) makes it suitable for having two document windows open side by side, and is also handy for video playback. The Core i3 processor's integrated Intel HD Graphics will send a maximum resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels to an external monitor.
The keyboard is Toshiba's customary rather springy affair, which we don't think has a particularly comfortable feel. It's a little hollow-sounding under the fingers, and although this doesn't affect usability it just doesn't seem quite right.
The S500's chassis has enough width for a full-sized numeric keypad with double height '+' and Enter keys to its far right. There's also space for an inverted-T arrangement of cursor keys. These do not have any secondary Fn key roles. Media playback controls, which often feature on the inverted T, are not offered on this very businesslike notebook.
Above a separate two-thirds-height Fn key row sit four shortcut buttons and the main on/off switch. Two of these buttons are volume controls. Another is the Toshiba Presentation button, which allows you to select between monitor configurations (computer only, duplicate to an external display, extended display or external display only). The fourth is Toshiba's Eco button.
The eco button is a feature seen across Toshiba's range. It lowers some performance features in order to extend battery life. You can get reports showing how much power and CO2 you have saved over time — giving those who need such incentives a feelgood factor. With the Satellite Pro S500 idling, Toshiba's eco Utility reported our review sample consuming around 31-33W; with Eco Mode on, power consumption dropped to around 25W.
Toshiba's eco Mode reduces power consumption (and therefore extends battery life), as this eco Utility screenshot shows. The purple line shows readings with eco Mode off, the green line with eco Mode on.
The touchpad could do with being a little wider. It takes two full sweeps to get the cursor right across the screen. However it's responsive enough, and the horizontal and vertical scroll zones work well. The two mouse buttons depress easily and give a positive click when pressed.
There are two iterations of the Satellite Pro S500 currently listed on Toshiba's UK web site. Our review sample, the S500-11C, is the better specified and costs £549 (ex. VAT). The entry-level model, the S500-10E, costs £490 (ex VAT). Both share the new Intel Core i3-330M processor running at 2.13GHz. This has 3Mb of Level 2 cache and, with its integrated memory controller, can directly address DDR3 memory at up to 1,066MHz in dual-channel mode.
Both S500 models come with Windows 7 professional preinstalled and a downgrade option to Windows XP Professional via a provided DVD. A backup of Windows 7 is on the hard drive for recovery purposes. You may or may not like this system: for one thing, it reduces the total available hard drive space; it also means you have to create your own recovery disc before installing Windows XP if you think you'll ever want to go to Windows 7 in the future without incurring some payment.
Our review sample had 4GB of RAM (the cheaper S500-10E has 2GB), expandable to 8GB, plus a 320GB hard drive (the S500-10E has 250GB) spinning at 5,400rpm. There's a built-in optical drive too — a dual-layer Super Multi drive, on the right-hand side.
The two models differ in their wireless capabilities, our top-end unit including both Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth, along with Gigabit Ethernet for wired connectivity. The less expensive model omits Bluetooth — a strange omission which does not strike much off the price and yet could leave many users irritated. There's no support for integrated mobile broadband on either model, so anyone wanting this will need to invest in a USB dongle.
There's a good array of ports and connectors, although — as is often the case — we're not entirely happy about the arrangement of the USB ports. There are two USB ports on the front right edge, just behind the audio jacks. They are very close together: when in position, our Vodafone mobile broadband dongle makes the second USB connector inaccessible to even the smallest of devices.
On the left side, at the back, is a further USB port, with a combined USB/eSATA port supporting Sleep and Charge next to it. Again, these ports are so close together that using one renders the other inaccessible. In front of these is the notebook's cooling vent, a Mini DisplayPort and an ExpressCard slot.
The front edge has a manual switch for the wireless modules, and a card reader for SD- and Memory Stick-compatible cards. This is a little fiddly to access, as the front edge of the chassis curves inwards and the slot is under the curve. We found we had to tilt the notebook upwards to get to it. The back edge also houses the Ethernet port and a VGA connector for an external monitor. If either of these is in use you'll need to take special care when accessing the flash card reader.
Toshiba's Bulletin Board and ReelTime apps are useful ways of keeping tabs on your working environment.
Toshiba includes its Bulletin Board and ReelTime applications on the Satellite Pro S500, as it does on other new models. We've noted before that we like Bulletin Board, which is a simple but effective way of bringing together applications, lists and other data in one place. ReelTime provides a visually rich, thumbnail-based backup of recent documents and while it doesn't offer anything especially new, it could be useful.
A 1,280-by-800-resolution webcam sits above the screen. Touching the cursor to the left side of the screen opens up a control panel that allows you toggle the camera on and off, switch between video and stills mode, apply effects and use the camera for face recognition-based login.
Performance & battery life
The Satellite Pro S500's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 4.6 (out of 7) is very respectable. The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). All remaining subsystems gained scored over 5, and we saw our first 6.0 with this system, for Processor (calculations per second) — testament to the power of Intel's new Core i3 chip.
The other scores are 5.6 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 5.5 for RAM (Memory operations per second) and 5.2 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance).
Toshiba rates the 4,860mAh battery as good for up to 4 hours 40 minutes. We tested this by turning Wi-Fi on, putting the notebook into eco Mode, and asking it to play a DVD movie. Under these conditions the system ran for 2.75 hours. That's long enough to watch most movies, but it'll probably take very light workloads to get the additional two hours that Toshiba suggests are achievable.
The speakers deliver quite loud sound — certainly enough volume for presentations to a small group. The quality is a little tinny, but perfectly adequate for everyday business purposes.
Toshiba's Satellite Pro S500 is a solidly made 15.6in. notebook that, at 2.54kg, is not particularly portable. The inclusion of a separate number pad will please some, and there are benefits to the wide 16:9 screen for those who like to work on more than one document at a time. Processor performance is good, but battery life could be better.