- reasonable performance.
- No wireless connectivity
- relatively bulky and heavy
- no CD-writer.
Not so long ago, you had to part with a £1,000 (ex. VAT) to get anything approaching a decent notebook. Choosing a budget model for around £750 range was a false economy, as you’d have to put up with poor-quality displays, tiny hard drives and underpowered processors. But things have changed: increasing notebook sales and falling component costs, plus the introduction of processors designed specifically for low-cost/fair-performance systems, mean that prices keep on tumbling. Even so, £499 (ex. VAT; £586 inc. VAT) is a very low price for a usable notebook: so does Toshiba’s entry-level Satellite Pro A10 deliver the goods, or have too many corners been cut?
The hardware design, with black and silver the predominant colours, is pretty conventional. The front lower edge of the casing tapers slightly, making the hardware seem thinner than it really is. The 14.1in. display is surrounded by a further couple of centimeters of casing on all sides -- something we’re not used to seeing on more expensive notebooks. The Satellite Pro A10 is on the large side at 33.2cm wide by 29.3cm deep and a maximum of 4cm high; it’s also quite heavy at 2.8kg. These features dictate that the system is likely to stay put most of the time. There is a distinct lack of shortcut buttons and other extras: a series of system indicator lights is discretely placed on the lower front edge of the casing, along with a volume control dial and a button for turning on and off the Wi-Fi module that some models -- although not ours -- come with. The speakers are located on far left and right edges of the hinged section, with the grille coverings exposed to the elements when the lid is both up and down. Over time this may result in dust penetration, potentially causing problems. A similar fate awaits the connectors that sit on the back of the casing, as these, too are exposed. The keyboard is reasonably good. The Windows keys are located in the top right, which may confuse users of more standard layouts, but the keyboard is generally responsive and the keys are a good size. The touchpad is basic but functional, with just left and right buttons and no fancy extras like directional cursors or scrollers.
The Satellite Pro A10 comes in various configurations, of which ours is the cheapest and therefore the least highly configured. It’s powered by an Intel Celeron processor running at 2GHz and has 256MB of system RAM. This is enough to run a range of everyday applications, although you shouldn’t expect it to break any speed records. The graphics come courtesy of Intel’s 852GM chipset, the integrated module using between 16 and 64MB of system RAM depending on what it is up to, delivering a maximum resolution of 1024 by 768 to the internal LCD and up to 1,920 by 1,440 to an external monitor. The hard drive is 30GB in size, which isn’t all that large if you want to cram it with digital audio and images as well as plenty of software. Toshiba does not yet offer a larger hard drive in this series, so 30GB is what you are currently stuck with if you want a Satellite Pro A10. Where you can beef things up -- if you’re prepared to spend a bit more -- is in areas like choosing faster processors, swapping the combination DVD-ROM drive for a DVD/CD-RW combo, and upgrading the Windows XP Home for the Professional edition. You can also add in wireless connectivity which, as we have already noted, does not come as standard on the £499 (ex. VAT) model. Toshiba provides a reasonable range of ports and slots on the A10. There’s a single Type II PC Card slot, plus a modem connector, twin USB 2.0 ports (located next to each other rather inaccessibly on the back panel of the casing), a VGA connector and a parallel port. The slot for a TV-out port is covered in our review model, and if you have older hardware such as a PS/2 mouse or keyboard, you’ll find that this type of connector -- along with serial -- is missing. Anyone with FireWire devices will also be disappointed. There’s no floppy drive on the system, although Toshiba supplies an external USB floppy. The lead is barely long enough to conveniently locate the drive by the side of the main unit, though.
Performance and battery life
You wouldn’t expect an entry-level Mobile Celeron-based notebook to be a great performer, and it isn’t -- but neither is it desperately slow. Business and Content Creation Winstone scores of 39.5 and 24.1 respectively suggest that mainstream business applications will be handled comfortably enough, although the Satellite Pro A10 may struggle a bit with high-end applications. A memory upgrade to 512MB or beyond would help, though. With integrated graphics courtesy of the 852GM chipset, you wouldn’t mistake this system for a games-friendly machine. Nor, with a BatteryMark 4.01 score of 2 hours and 15 minutes from its 3,600mAh Li-ion battery, will it make much of a mobile companion. Neither of these performance factors are likely to prove critical, however, so long as you’re clear about what you’re buying -- a predominantly desk-bound entry-level notebook.
Service & support
The Satellite Pro A10 comes with a one-year international warranty as standard, and Toshiba offers a range of warranty upgrades and insurance options. The technical support section of the UK Web site provides warranty information, FAQs, documentation downloads, technical newsletters and BIOS updates.
So, does £499 (ex. VAT) buy you a notebook you can really use? If your needs are straightforward and you don’t want wireless networking immediately, then the answer is a tentative ‘yes’. But beware the lack of a CD writer for backup purposes, and the absence of legacy ports, which may mean you need to invest in USB converters. If you want to accomplish complex tasks, engage in fast and furious gaming, store lots of data or get involved in wireless networking, then you’ll need to consider spending more.