Toshiba Satellite C50 £299
10th Mar 2014 | 17:21
A powerful processor and terrific price point make this a fine buy
Introduction and features
Most people don't need flashy, light Ultrabooks or monster gaming laptops – and many can't afford them, either. If that's you, then a laptop like the new Toshiba C50D-A-13G could be a much better bet. It costs less than £400, but it still has an AMD APU that promises to tackle work and play with equal aplomb.
The chip is the star of this machine. It's an A6-5200, which is the top part from AMD's Kabini range – a selection of APUs designed for use in cheaper, smaller notebooks.
The Toshiba's A6-5200 has four processing cores that use the Jaguar architecture – that's the same hardware that underpins the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's processors – and they're clocked to 2GHz, which is the highest speed of any Kabini chip.
Because it's an APU, those processing cores are partnered with a Radeon GPU. The HD 8400 uses the same Graphics Core Next hardware as many of AMD's current discrete cards and desktop APUs, and here the core runs at 600MHz – more than 100MHz quicker than any other Kabini chip.
The rest of the Toshiba's specification ticks the right boxes, too. Eight gigabytes of memory is ample, and the 1TB hard disk is similarly capacious. This machine has a DVD writer, which is something no Ultrabook can boast.
The Toshiba sounds good on the outside, but the Satellite hasn't been furnished with dazzling design. This machine is made entirely from plastic, and the lid and wrist-rest are both covered with a plain, lined pattern. The screen, meanwhile, is a non-touch 15.6-inch unit with a 1,366x768 resolution – about what we expect from this class of system, but hardly enough to truly impress.
It's not exactly a looker, but at least the Toshiba is sturdier than many other budget machines. The wrist-rest doesn't depress when it's pushed, and there's only a little give in the underside, too. The screen is weaker, with distortion visible on the screen, but it's a better showing than many other cheap notebooks.
The Toshiba's ergonomics are good, too, especially considering this system's sub-£400 price. The keyboard is a traditional, flat-topped unit with a sensible layout and a numberpad, and we like typing on the C50D.
The keys have a consistent action that successfully straddles the line between light and comfortable, and we were soon typing quickly. The flimsy base doesn't make much of an impact. The trackpad, too, is good, thanks to a smooth surface and two responsive buttons.
The C50D has a single USB 3 connection, a pair of slower USB 2 ports, D-SUB and HDMI outputs, and Gigabit Ethernet, and connectivity also stretches to single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Satellite exudes practicality, and that continues on the base: a panel is held in place with just one screw, and beneath lies the two memory slots, a single hard disk bay and CMOS battery, all of which are easy to access for upgrades or removals.
The low end of the laptop market is packed with contenders, many of which square up to the C50D with tempting specifications of their own. Spend a little more and you could buy Toshiba's own Satellite M50-A-11C, which swaps its AMD silicon for an Intel Core i5 chip and has a sleek metallic enclosure. Or, if that doesn't take your fancy, there's the HP Pavilion TouchSmart Sleekbook 15: a machine with similar AMD hardware and a more stylish exterior.
All of these systems have 15-inch screens, but smaller machines are available for similar money. TheAsus X102BA currently costs less than £300 – a significant chunk less than this machine – but still includes an 11.1-inch touchscreen. And, finally, there's another Toshiba. The Satellite NB15t is an 11.6-inch system that's got a touchscreen and, like the Asus, also dips below the £300 mark.
Ice Storm: 32455
Cloud Gate: 2410
Fire Strike: 353
Home score high performance: 1,811
Home score power saver, no GPU: 1,374
Home battery test, high performance: 3hrs 6mins
Home battery test, power saver: 4hrs 4mins
Video looping battery test, power saver, full screen: 5hrs 27mins
Ultra Low, 1,366x768: 23.94fps
Ultra Low, 1,366x768: 37.39fps
Low, 1,366x768: 34fps
Medium, 1,366x768: 24.77fps
AS SSD sequential read: 95.8
AS SSD sequential write: 82.2
AMD might claim that its APUs are the ideal product for mixing business and pleasure, but Kabini is a mid-range product – and it showed in our benchmark tests.
The Toshiba scored 1.97 in Cinebench's processor test – it's a reasonable result, and it's able to outpace the sluggish AMD chip inside the Asus and the Celeron silicon used in the NB15t, both of which scored less than one point. It can't match the Toshiba M50, though, which deployed a more powerful AMD APU and delivered a 2.37 result. In PCMark 8's Home test, this machine scored 1,811 – but the M50 hit 3,472.
In the real-world, the C50D has enough power to handle a wide variety of tasks: Windows 8's Start screen and its apps loaded and ran smoothly, we had no issues in desktop mode, and this machine proved capable of web browsing, office work, movie playback and photo editing – and while multi-tasking, too. Only more intensive applications such as HD video editing will prove too taxing.
This Toshiba's APU proved middling in graphics tests, too. Its 3DMark Ice Storm score of 32,455 is a long way ahead of the two smaller machines, but it's still behind the M50 – Toshiba's own machine and its more powerful GPU managed 52,142 in the same benchmark.
That means this machine is only suitable for more modest titles. We ran driving title DiRT 3 at its Low quality settings and the Toshiba's native resolution, and the C50D ran at 34fps – but opting for Medium quality saw the average drop to a juddering 25fps. This system might be good enough for games like DiRT and World of Warcraft, but it can't cope with more advanced games like BioShock Infinite; the Toshiba could only manage 24fps even at the game's lowest quality settings.
This particular Toshiba sits in second place among this group when it comes to performance, and that didn't change in our battery benchmarks. The C50D lasted for just over three hours in PCMark 8's Home battery test when running in High Performance mode, and an hour longer when we used Power Saver – better than the Toshiba NB15t and Asus X102BA, but about half an hour less than the M50 in both benchmarks. The best we could do with this machine was just under five and a half hours, which was with streaming video running in Power Saver mode with the screen dimmed.
This Toshiba might be cheaper than the M50, but it's got a better screen. The C50D's measured brightness level of 231cd/m2 is a little better, and the contrast ratio of 359:1 is superior, too – although, in the wider world of laptops, neither of these results is particularly good. The screen's sRGB coverage level of 74.6% is average, but better than the M50, and this machine's 2.9 Delta E is excellent – it guarantees accurate colours.
The C50D's screen may be better than its more expensive rival's panel, but it's still an average bit of kit. It's not a touchscreen, which makes Windows 8 less useful, and that brightness figure is still a little low. The resolution of 1,366x768 is entirely average for 15-inch laptops, and the panel has a bit of obvious grain, too. It's a screen for web browsing, casual games, on-demand TV and basic work – but there's not the quality or desktop real estate to handle anything more intensive.
The C50D isn't designed for media – as its speakers clearly demonstrate. They've only got enough volume to fill a small bedroom, and the sound pumped out of the two units above the Toshiba's keyboard is tinny, with no bass and a lack of depth throughout the range. We wouldn't use it to listen to the odd song on YouTube or games – we'd plug in some headphones or external speakers.
Toshiba's latest budget laptop clearly knows where its bread is buttered: it's bland on the outside, but it's a well-built machine that has a reasonable processor, decent battery life and a screen that's able to edge past its main rival when it comes to quality. If you're searching for a budget laptop and don't want a slimline machine, this is a capable mid-ranger.
If we had a little more money, though, we'd opt for the M50 – it's got better battery life, better looks, and a much better processor.
AMD's A6-5200 APU has enough power in its processing cores to handle web browsing, office applications and multi-tasking, and its Radeon GPU is capable of playing relatively modern games, albeit with lesser quality settings.
The rest of the specification includes 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard disk and a DVD writer, which helps solidify this machine's status as a good all-rounder.
The screen has better brightness, contrast and colour accuracy than the C50D's main rival, and it's got good ergonomics: a comfortable, well-designed keyboard and trackpad saw us quickly get up to rapid typing speed.
The C50D has one of the most uninspiring exteriors we've seen for some time: the entire machine is coated with black matte plastic, and the lid and wrist-rest are barely decorated with a plain lined pattern – even the Toshiba logo on the lid is dull grey rather than shiny metal.
Its battery life is entirely average, and beaten by the M50, and Toshiba's more expensive machine also has more power than the C50D thanks to its A10 processor – that's the system to save for if you want to play top-level games rather than older or casual titles.
The speakers are particularly poor, with tinny output that makes games and music sound insipid, and we'd have preferred more than one USB 3 port on this machine.
This is a reasonable budget machine that will satisfy anyone looking for a mid-range laptop. It's got a 15.6-inch screen, a reasonable processor with Radeon graphics, comfortable ergonomics and decent battery life. Toshiba's own M50, though, illustrates the extra power, longevity and style that can be had for a bit of extra money – and we'd save up for that unless we were on the tightest of budgets.