- Good sound quality
- very good battery life
- good application performance and 3D graphics acceleration
- Bluetooth as standard.
- No expansion bus
- Wi-Fi not included as standard
- expensive compared to an equivalent desktop PC.
Even if you didn’t know that Toshiba’s Satellite 5200 was aimed squarely at the home buyer -- that it was a retail-only product, not marketed to business at all -- you would soon work it out for yourself. The first major clue is the styling: with the lid shut, you could be looking at the bonnet of an expensive car. The surface has a racy curve to it, and it’s as shiny as a day-old Porsche. It’s also finished in a nifty dark metallic blue, which highlights the metallic silver of the oversized Harman/Kardon speakers (another clue). In fact, viewed from the back, we’ve never seen a notebook that looks more like a sports car.
There are two versions of the Satellite 5200: the 701 reviewed here, and a more expensive (£2,127 ex. VAT, or £2,499 inc. VAT) 801 model that features a 1,600 by 1,200-resolution screen and a DVD-R drive as standard. The 701 has a 15in. XGA (1,024 by 768) screen and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive instead, and this makes it somewhat cheaper (£1,701 ex. VAT, or £1,999 inc. VAT).
This is very much a desktop replacement system, with a large 33.4cm by 29.7cm (W x D) footprint and a relatively hefty weight of 3.55kg. This is obviously not a notebook for the frequent traveller.
As you would expect from Toshiba, the build quality is good, and the system has a solid, durable feel to it. The lid surface is plastic, but it’s rigid enough to protect the screen when the notebook is closed.
Appropriately for a desktop replacement system, the Satellite 5200 is fairly beefy internally, with a 1.9GHz Mobile Pentium 4 at its heart, 512MB of PC2100 SDRAM and a 40GB hard disk providing the storage.
By notebook standards the graphics side of things is also fairly well catered for, thanks to nVidia’s GeForce4 460 Go graphics processing unit (GPU) with 32MB of video memory. It proved to be highly capable in 2D, and respectable enough in 3D, scoring 5,254 under 3DMark 2001 in 24-bit mode. This means playable frame rates -- for the time being at any rate -- although one has to bear in mind the speed with which the technology moves in this area.
The screen itself is well lit and colours are pleasingly vivid, and the combination of a 15in diagonal with the native 1,024 by 768 resolution works very well. There’s a reasonable amount of desktop area, and everything is a sensible size, so you can hit buttons, drag and drop and read icon text without resorting to a magnifying glass.
For those occasions when you don’t want the screen -- typically because you are watching a film on the DVD drive -- there’s a TV output, and for convenience you can toggle between LCD and TV via a key combination.
You can control playback either via software or from a set of hardware controls on the front edge of the case. To make life as easy as possible, Toshiba also throws in a remote, so regular film watchers will not even have to get out of their chairs.
The 701 model has a conventional touchpad with a useful scroll wheel located between the mouse buttons, and a roomy, comfortable keyboard that wasn’t too different from the main pad on a desktop keyboard.
The serial, parallel and PS/2 ports have gone, and in their stead you get three USB connectors, FireWire, a VGA output and a choice of analogue or S/PDIF digital audio, which will come in handy if you have a 5.1 speaker set and want digital surround effects from DVD film soundtracks.
Audio processing is handled by a Yamaha AC-XG chip, and the sound quality from the integrated stereo speakers was unusually good. There was plenty of volume, and the sound had depth and definition without the unpleasant harshness of many notebook speakers. A woofer tucked away in the base of the machine provided a noticeable and welcome boost to the lower frequencies.
There’s no expansion bus, which Toshiba says is because this is a consumer product and people don’t want port replicators and docking stations. We’re not entirely sure we’d agree, given the convenience of a one-shot connection/disconnection from all fixed peripherals, but time and market research will no doubt tell.
When you are away from base, the Satellite 5200 keeps going for a commendable length of time. Under BatteryMark 4.01 the machine’s capacious 6,300mAh Li-ion battery lasted a respectable 3 hours and 21 minutes.
Interestingly for a consumer product, the Satellite comes with an integrated LAN adapter as standard, in the form of the ever-popular Intel PRO/100 VE, so anyone organised enough to have a wired home network can plug straight in.
In the near future it’s rather more likely that you’ll have a simple wireless network at home, so it was something of a disappointment to discover that although the Satellite 5200 has a concealed aerial and a MiniPCI slot ready and waiting, WiFi (802.11b) wireless networking is an option rather than a standard feature. You do get Bluetooth however, but it would have been nice to see both technologies included as part of the package.
The Satellite 5200 comes with an external USB floppy drive, but it also has a multi-purpose bay which Toshiba for some reason calls the Style Bay. This can hold various optical drive options, although with a DVD/CD-RW combo already built into the system, it’s most likely to get used for a second battery pack or for a special module which has three slots allowing the use of Memory Stick, Smart Media and CompactFlash cards. You get a Secure Digital (SD) slot as standard, so using the card adapter module would give you a full house.
When we got down to testing the Satellite 5200, it performed rather well, delivering Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2002 scores of 45.9 and 30.4 respectively. The system’s generous 512MB of fast PC2100 memory seems to have helped, and both the Toshiba hard disk and the nVidia GeForce4 460 Go graphics processor help things along too.
Consumer notebooks can be something of a disappointment, but although there are one or two things about the Toshiba we’d change, on the whole it’s pretty good. The price differential between it and a conventional desktop PC will restrict it to the more affluent buyer, but if you have the budget and don’t want the clutter of a PC in the house, the Satellite 5200 makes a credible alternative.