Toshiba's Satellite A300 is a visually striking system, especially in the age of netbooks, when vendors are striving for notebooks that are ever smaller and less noticeable. The A300 stands out, at least partially because it's pretty big; 362x267x38.5mm and 2.69kg isn't small in anybody's language, and the widescreen 15.4-inch display is counterpointed by the large quantity of space that Toshiba gives the generous keyboard. The A300 also stands out for the semi-business-like tone that the mixed black and "mercury silver" casing with stripes gives it, as well as the Harman/Kardon speakers that sit above the keyboard.
The Satellite A300 uses a latch-free system for the lid. After a certain point the lid just "snaps" down into place. We're always wary of laptop screens flying open in bags and inviting scratches and breaks, but Toshiba's take on this was mostly rugged in our minor tests. It's still not a toughbook, mind you.
Toshiba sells a huge number of configurations under the A300 branding, so it's important to check that what you're getting matches what you expect. The PSAGCA-09Y01N model we tested came with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz processor, a hefty 4GB of RAM, 400GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive and Windows Vista Home Premium. Fans of 64-bit Vista, with its admitted edge in stability will be pleased to note that it's an option within the A300's recovery partition.
The A300 15.4-inch WXGA display is run from an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 with 512MB of RAM and the ability to grab up to 2302MB of memory in total from the unit's 4GB of on-board RAM. Optical duties are handled by a DVD SuperMulti double/dual-Layer drive. The A300's also not lacking in ports, from a single ExpressCard slot, HDMI, VGA, S-Video, three USB 2.0 ports, one shared USB/eSATA port, one FireWire port, gigabit Ethernet and a five-in-one card reader. Wireless networking is covered by both Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11a/g/n WiFi.
One feature that we've long liked in Toshiba's laptops have been the keyboards, which are usually roomy and with great travel — well, for a laptop keyboard, anyway. The A300 doesn't disappoint, with a slick feeling keyboard that responds well to even quite quick typing speeds. Likewise, almost all of the A300's physical features, from the screen to the speakers offered up good clarity for most multimedia tasks. About our only physical issue with the A300 is that, like so many big and hefty laptops, it's something of a groin cooking machine when placed on the lap for any period of time.
The A300 did well in our basic performance tests, with a PCMark05 score of 5613 and 3DMark score of 3925. That's not right up there with the best gaming laptops you can get, but it's sufficient for most mid-range gaming titles to run.
You're going to want to keep it tethered to a power supply, however. Running our DVD playback benchmark with power-saving measures disabled and screen brightness set to maximum, the A300 lasted a scant one hour and 20 minutes. It's not really a portable laptop to begin with, but the battery life issue pretty much seals its fate as a desktop replacement unit.