Design and features
The Satellite L500D is one of the fancier looking laptops we've seen in the sub-AU$1000 category, with an understated fingerprint pattern on the lid which carries through to the inside. The touchpad sits flush with the wrist rest too — an uncommon design choice, although Toshiba gets around any potential issues of knowing where the edges are by having a silken texture for the wrist rest and a coarser, stippled texture for the touchpad itself.
There are a few quick launch buttons, with simple media controls, a volume mute button and the power button situated underneath the 15.6-inch, 1366x768 monitor.
On the left-hand side is a hot air vent, which left-handed external mouse users may find annoying. Also on this side is a VGA port, 100Mb Ethernet, combined eSATA/USB port, headphone and microphone jacks. On the right is a 56Kbps modem port, two USB ports and the DVD+-RW drive. The front features an SD card reader and a rotary wheel for adjusting the volume. Just like the Compaq Presario CQ61 (on top of choosing 100Mb instead of gigabit Ethernet) Toshiba has gone with 802.11g wireless instead of 802.11n, and not included Bluetooth or an Express Card slot.
Bundled in is a Norton Internet Security 2009 trial; Microsoft Office 2007 trial; Google Desktop, Earth, Picasa and Toolbar; and a bunch of trial games. More useful are Toshiba's bundled applications, including its best of breed "Configfree" networking utility and the aforementioned eco utility.
The Satellite is also the first AMD Athlon X2 laptop to cross our path in this price range, clocking in at 2.1GHz, with a 320GB hard drive and an ATI Radeon 3100 powering the graphics. It's also got 4GB RAM, but this is penalised down to 2941MB due to shared graphics memory and Toshiba opting for a 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium. Interestingly, Toshiba has included both the 32- and 64-bit versions of Vista in its recovery partition, giving the user the option to upgrade. Bravo, Toshiba.
Performance is quite good for a budget laptop, scoring 3688 in PCMark05, indicating it's fine for general use and web browsing, while its 1479 in 3DMark06 makes it the most powerful of the sub-AU$1000 laptops we've tested recently in the 3D graphics stakes, thanks to the Radeon video card, potentially opening up the laptop for older 3D games.
The Radeon though is a double-edged sword — while it allows for better 3D graphics performance, it punishes the Toshiba on battery life, lasting just one hour, 18 minutes and 53 seconds in our gruelling XviD video playback test, where we turn off all power-saving features and set screen brightness and volume to maximum to create a worst-case scenario. Less taxing activities such as web browsing and office work will see considerably longer battery life, and Toshiba even bundles an excellent "eco Utility", which measures power consumption in real time and helps you extended battery life.
If you'd like to see even more battery life, you'll need to spend another AU$200 for the version with the Intel Pentium 2.1GHz processor and GMA4500HD graphics.
We like the Toshiba Satellite L500D, it's amazing value for its price. However, we think it's worth paying the extra AU$200 for the version with the less power hungry GPU.