Review: Toshiba Satellite P105 gaming notebook

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For a long time, the notion of a “gaming laptop” was a contradiction in terms. After all, everyone knew that notebooks had to compromise on features and performance to achieve maximum portability, right? And even with advances in chips that make it possible for today’s laptop PCs to outpace the desktops from 12 minutes ago, you’re still faced with awkward controls and a screen that’s too small. Am I right?

“Dude, you’ve been misinformed,” is what Toshiba would say to that. The notebooks in the company’s Satellite series are designed with gaming in mind, as the P105-S9722 shows. It sports a 17-inch widescreen LCD monitor (1,440 x 900 pixels) and some serious multimedia hardware, including an Nvidia graphics card with 256 MB of memory and dual-core processing power. We’re way beyond Pong here.

Not everything’s in the specs, though. When it’s all said and done, the P105 has one simple mission: Convince me that a laptop can serve as a primary gaming platform. After all, if you’re spending 2 Gs on a rig, it damn well better not be a “secondary” one. Let’s see how it did.

Flat Tax

Turning on the Toshiba for the first time, I was greeted by a dialogue box asking me if I wanted to disable CD burning in case I wanted to record on DVD-RAM discs, obviously referring to the built-in SuperMulti drive, which can write data to any of the five recordable DVD formats floating out there. Um, awesome, but I’m not interested in burning DVDs right now, thanks. Let’s just hit Cancel. Oh, you mean that box is always going to come back to greet me every time I restart? Great. Although I’m sure there’s a way to remove it permanently, who wants to bother with this right out of the box? In fairness, this is more of a Windows problem (XP, not Vista) than a Toshiba problem, but it sure made me immediately long for my MacBook.

One way-cool perk on many of Toshiba’s Satellites is the built-in fingerprint reader to the right of the mousepad. After you set it up, it provides a nice way to speed up any logins and add security to your computer. It also has the effect of making you feel like James Bond for a few seconds. Even though it sometimes took two or three swipes to work, I’m a fan.

A bit further down my list of “noteworthies” is the Dual Mode mousepad, which adds some extra functionality via a few “virtual” buttons. They light up when you touch the pad in a specific spot and do things like call up Outlook or a turn up the volume. Three of the buttons are customizable, though they can do only simple stuff like launch applications or skip tracks in a media player. I was hoping I could make them do fancy gaming actions like switching weapons or skipping a turn (depending on which game I was playing), but not so much. Plus the pad is just kind of small — or maybe it only looked that way right next to that brightly colored sticker touting the P105’s features. Nope, it really is tiny. Strike three: the pad seemed to click things from time to time when my finger hadn’t gone anywhere the mouse button. Yeah, not a fan here.

Game Time

Okay, the gaming. After a quick install of Guild Wars: Nightfall, I was ready to save the people of Elona with my party of warriors while accepting a quest… you get the idea. To fully get your war on, the Guild recommends a 2-GHz Pentium 4 processor, an Nvidia GeForce FX5700 graphics card, and a gig of RAM to play. Since the Toshiba is equipped with a pair of 2-GHz Centrino chips, an Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS card, and 2 GB of RAM, I think I was well covered. And with a colossal 200-GB hard drive, you’ll never run out of room for saving games.

Gameplay was as silky smooth as you’d expect from such a system. Guild Wars is an action-packed fantasy role-playing game; not only does it have a lot of elements moving at any moment, but also a fully customizable “camera” view that you can change on the fly. The P105 handled every spear throw, axe strike, and magic spell deftly. To be completely honest, when my party came to a village with dozens of online players present, there were some hiccups, but this was probably due to the speed of the network connection, not the hardware.

The only issue I had was that tiny mousepad. It could be just my style, but it was just too small and awkward to play a dynamic game like Guild Wars as effectively as I’d like. And, hey, if the monitor’s widescreen, why doesn’t the pad match its aspect ratio? Sure, you could hook up an external mouse, but then you might as well have a desktop. Whether or not this is a deal-breaker depends if you think you could get used to it. For me, it would take a while.

At the End of the Day…

There’s no question the Toshiba P105-S9722 has tools to impress. It’s no Dell XPS tower, but the guts of this baby will run most anything you can throw at it — even Vista. The performance is impressive given the price tag. A big, bight screen and other perks help to make you forget it’s a laptop, although eventually you’ll run into some inherent limits of portable computers. Stil, if you need to ditch the desktop for a notebook, the P105 won’t stop trying to win you over. Given enough time, it may even succeed.

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