Toshiba clearly thought its Satellite range of laptops wasn't big enough, so it's churned out a few more machines to plug the gaps. One such device is the Satellite A660, which is part of the company's entertainment and gaming line-up. That means we're expecting it to be able to handle high-definition movies and some of our favourite games. Our review model is the Satellite A660-15T, which features an Intel Core i7-720QM CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It can be yours for around £900 from John Lewis.
If you asked a six-year-old child to draw a laptop, they'd probably doodle something resembling the A660. It couldn't really look more generic -- it's a solid black rectangle, with a big chrome logo on the lid. But, while the A660 might not grab your attention at first, closer inspection reveals plenty of interesting details.
The lid and keyboard surround have a textured, brick-like pattern that we've seen on other Toshiba machines in the past. The effect is subtle, but we like it. The inside of the lid is made of glossy black plastic, with a brushed effect lurking just below the surface. We didn't notice either of these surfaces picking up many fingerprints.
The trackpad is large, with a glowing white strip at the top, and, in the lower left-hand corner, there's an illuminated Satellite logo. Above the keyboard, which has isolated keys, you'll find a range of touch-sensitive buttons.
On either side of these buttons sit built-in Harman Kardon speakers. Set below a black grille, they look like proper speakers, and they're the A660's most distinctive visual feature.
The A660's connectivity is pretty comprehensive. Around the sides are VGA and HDMI outputs, an Ethernet port, a Blu-ray/DVD rewritable drive, three USB ports and a SATA/USB port for plugging in an extra hard drive. There's also a 3.5mm socket for headphones or a microphone. Finally, there's a multi-format card reader on the front.
Every configuration of the A660 runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
We were positively delighted by both the A660's keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard is comfortable, and each key has a pleasingly grippy feel. Typing at speed is a breeze, and we made very few mistakes.
The trackpad is large and incredibly sensitive, which makes complex cursor movements simple. The trackpad buttons are the pièce de résistance -- they're extremely sensitive and easy to press, so you won't end up with a cramped, crippled hand after a long day of computing.
None too bright
The A660 sports a 16-inch, LED-backlit screen, with a maximum resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's a decent resolution for a screen of this size. When we looked at some photos, however, we noticed that the display isn't especially bright, and we've certainly seen screens that project more vivid colours. The A660's screen could definitely benefit from a higher contrast ratio. The vertical viewing angle is also pretty poor -- putting the screen at just a slight angle beyond your direct line of sight will cause it to become too dark to view.
It's got guts
The A660-15T is powered by a beefy Intel Core i7-720QM CPU. It's quad-core, with a 6MB cache, and a clock speed of 1.6GHz, or 2.8GHz when it goes into turbo mode. Your storage needs will be catered for by a 500GB hard drive.
The A660-15T offers 4GB of DDR3 RAM. Although some laptops offer more memory, the A660-15T should still keep things moving along at a decent speed. We certainly didn't notice any lagging or slowness.
But we're only pathetic, squishy human meatbags. As such, we need to verify our perceptions. So we subjected the A660-15T to our full suite of automated benchmark tests. This PC scored an impressive 7,114 in the PCMark05 CPU test, and a decent score of 6,983 in the 3DMark06 test, which rates a PC's graphical capabilities. We tested out some 720p footage and Blu-ray video on the A660-15T and found playback to be very smooth indeed.
The Harman Kardon speakers sound miles better than the usual tinny rubbish built into laptops, but they're still no substitute for a pair of desktop speakers or headphones. If you're watching a movie or some catch-up TV, you'll want better-quality audio than these speakers can provide.
In terms of multimedia performance, then, the A660-15T scores highly. But is it any cop when it comes to gaming?
The A660-15T sports a pretty decent Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU. Running Crysis with the settings turned up high, the frame rate was between 11 and 15 frames per second, dipping down to around 10 during more intensive scenes. We don't think the game's really playable at these frame rates, but we achieved a much more reasonable 24 to 30 frames per second when we dropped the graphics settings down to medium.
Bear in mind that Crysis is a graphically intensive title, and less punishing games will probably run very smoothly. All in all, we were impressed with the A660-15T's gaming prowess. To get better performance, you'd probably have to spend at least an extra £200 to £300 on a dedicated gaming machine, like the Alienware M15x.
If you can't stand the heat...
During our gaming testing, we noticed that the A660-15T ran very hot. Indeed, hot air was positively pumping out of the side vent, and, while the laptop didn't shut down or melt due to overheating, you might want to position it on a table if you're undertaking any particularly fearsome computing -- unless you fancy scalding your crotch.
At 2.6kg, the A660-15T is fairly light for a laptop that's this packed with goodies. But it doesn't rank too highly in terms of portability, because its battery life is rubbish. Running the Battery Eater Reader's test, which simulates light usage, we found the A660-15T lasted only 1 hour and 58 minutes.
There's an eco mode that might help you eke out slightly more usage time, but don't expect this beast to last very long away from the precious mains charger. Running the CPU at 100 per cent capacity in Battery Eater's Classic test, the A660-15T gave up the ghost after just 50 minutes.
Although we'd have liked a brighter, more vivid display, there's really very little to dislike about the Toshiba Satellite A660-15T. It's well built and pleasantly designed, with great multimedia capability and the ability to handle all but the most intensive of current-generation games. At around £900, it's not exactly cheap, but it offers decent value given its components. Overall, it's a great all-rounder.
Edited by Charles Kloet