New to Toshiba’s Winter 2008 laptop line-up: 18 inch screens, quad-core HD video processors, 128GB solid state drives, inbuilt 3G, eSATA ports and FM radios!
Notebooks are flowing thick and fast in the wake of last week’s Centrino 2 launch, with Toshiba first off the blocks in unveiling its new laptop line-up for Winter 2008. And they haven’t spend the past few months napping. We’ve counted 16 models (it’s an even split between business and consumer models) with a dizzying 36 spec-based SKU variations among them.
The stand-out tech is Toshiba’s own ‘Quad Core HD Processor’, which works in tandem with the CPU and the GPU to take care of what Toshiba terms ‘multimedia processing’, although to be more specific it’s all about video (the GPU, by comparison, handles polygons).
Much of this is centred on high definition video, both in terms of crunching HD video during editing and also real-time upscaling of SD content from a DVD or MPEG capture into 1080i HD for playback. It should also make a meal out of transcoding video footage, such as converting a DVD into an iPod-friendly size and format.
Based on the Cell microarchitecture developed by Toshiba, Sony and IBM which found its way into the PlayStation 3, Toshiba’s iteration (preciously codenamed the ‘Spurs Engine’) is in effect four of those 65nm Cell processors clocked at 1.5GHz apiece and hardwired together. The superslab also contains encoders and decoders for MPEG2 and H.264 video streams.
The Quad Core HD chip is initially fitted only to the flagship Qosmio G50, which also cops a massive 18.4 inch widescreen panel designed for Full HD in 16:9 ratio rather than the 16:10 of a standard 17.1 inch panel. However, it will also land in updated versions of the 15.4 inch Qosmio F50 and the 17 inch Qosmio X300
gaming rig towards the end of this year, at which stage those notebooks will get a respective screen size bump to 16 inches and 18.4 inches to accommodate a 16:9 display.
Toshiba’s business fleet also scores a few firsts, including the world’s first 128GB solid state drive in the 12.1 inch Portege R500 ultra-portable. The previous benchmark was 64GB in competitors such as the MacBook Air and ThinkPad X300, with 128MB only possible by coupling two 64GB SSD modules together.
Solid state drives are also an option in three other business notebooks, along with integrated 3G modems designed for both the 850MHz (Telstra Next G) and 2100MHz (just about every other carrier in the world) bands. The HSDPA modems are rated for 3.6Mbps out of the box but with the potential for a firmware upgrade to 7.2Mbps.
But rest assured, there’s plenty of new tech and noteworthy touches peppered right across almost the entire consumer range. For example, most models now support eSATA connections to peripherals in the form of a combo eSATA/USB port sitting alongside the normal USB ports. It’s a serious speed boost for external hard drives – eSATA’s rated ‘raw bandwidth’ is 3000Mbit/s with a transfer speed of 300MB/s, compared to 480Mbit/s and 60MB/s respectively for USB 2.0.
Those USB ports also a handy ‘Sleep and Charge’ mode which provides power to the port even when the notebook is switched off. This is a delightfully simple yet smart idea that lets you top up the tank on rechargeable devices such as an iPod or mobile phone without having to leave the notebook running. ‘Sleep and Charge’ mode runs only when the notebook is connected to an AC outlet, so there’s no risk of draining the laptop’s own battery in the peripheral recharge process.
A further creature comfort is the integrated FM tuner in all models bar the budget Satellite L300, which has been swapped into the space previously occupied by the 56K dial-up modem.
Another neat trick on the business models is the facility for wireless login via Bluetooth. After being paired to your Bluetooth mobile phone or smartphone, your notebook can recognise the presence of the phone as a sign that you’re near. Walk up to the notebook while carrying your phone and you’ll automatically be logged onto Windows. Walk away, out of Bluetooth range, and you’ll be logged off. Toshiba has also cooked up a natty customisation feature: you can upload a favourite photo to be flashed into the BIOS and appear on the startup screen.
So how much does all this cost? Toshiba’s entry-level is now $749 for the 15.4 inch Satellite L300 fitted with a puny and battery-sucking Celeron M processor but an otherwise decent 120GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM. The next step up is where the Core 2 Duo chips kick in, at $1299 for the Satellite A300 (15.4 inch) and Satellite P300 (17 inch).
$1699 gives you a choice between the 14.1 inch Satellite M300, available in three colours – dusky crimson, white and a ‘mercury silver’ – and the cheapest iteration of the ultra-portable 13.3 inch Satellite U400. Asking price for the 15.4 inch Qosmio F50 is $2199, and $2799 for the 18.4 inch Qosmio G50.
Pricing for the Qosmio X300 gaming laptop and the entire business line (Satellite Pro, Tecra and Portege M800) have not yet been announced.