Toshiba Satellite P70 £1199
10th Oct 2013 | 12:18
High-end 'larger laptop' lines up against the ultrabooks
The laptop landscape is dominated by sleek Ultrabooks, but we're pleased to see machines such as the Toshiba Satellite P70-A-109 emerge - it's a larger laptop that has more versatility and power than any ultraportable notebook can hope to match.
It's built around a high-end Haswell processor, and the rest of the specification is suitably impressive: a discrete Nvidia graphics core, two hard disks, 16GB of RAM and a Blu-ray writer. The 17-inch screen has a Full HD resolution, too.
The Toshiba Satellite P70 needs to impress, though, because it's up against some heavyweight competition. The Samsung Series 7 Chronos - now known in some circles as the Ativ Book 8 - includes a powerful processor and a superb 15.6-inch screen in a sleek chassis, and the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart arrives with a swish all-aluminium build.
The 15.6-inch Asus Zenbook U500 mixes power with the reassuringly expensive stylings only found in Ultrabooks, and the final contender comes from Gigabyte. Its chunky P2742G has plenty of power, a 17-inch display, and reasonable battery life.
The Toshiba doesn't get off to a great start. Brushed aluminium is used for the base and the lid, and it looks good, but much of this machine is made from plastic - something that similarly priced rivals such as the Samsung and HP machines manage to avoid.
We don't like the look of the visible seals around the edges, either - it looks cheap in an age where unibody laptops are becoming more popular.
Build quality is only average, too - we pressed the base and the wrist-rest and there was a little too much flex for our liking. It's not as if the Satellite P70 is a lightweight laptop, either: its 34.1mm girth and 3kg weight make it bulkier than the 2.5kg Series 7 Chronos and the 2.25kg Spectre XT TouchSmart, and it's not far off the 3.2kg P2742G.
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So it's not good-looking or light - but the Toshiba makes up for this with practical additions elsewhere. The keyboard has a firm base and a snappy, fast typing action, and the sheer size of this machine means there's room for a full-size number pad and no dodgy layout options - so you get large Return and Space keys.
The Satellite P70 allows for more internal access than we're used to seeing from more stylish unibody machines. A single large panel can be lifted away from the base, and it grants access to two RAM slots, the pair of hard disk bays and the wireless card.
The Toshiba Satellite P70 makes up for its lack of eye candy with powerful core components.
The Core i7-4700MQ is one of Intel's new Haswell chips, and it deploys a 22nm manufacturing process and several architectural improvements to boost both performance and battery life when compared to last year's Ivy Bridge silicon.
The chip used here is a quad-core, 2.4GHz part that uses Hyper-Threading and, via Turbo Boost, reaches a top speed of 3.4GHz.
It compares well with the chips used in rival laptops: the Samsung Series 7 Chronos has a similarly specified Ivy Bridge part, while the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart has to make do with a weaker low-power Core i5 processor.
Graphics power is delivered by an Nvidia GeForce GT 745M. It's a step ahead of most integrated graphics cores, but it's not exactly a high-end GPU: it's only got 384 stream processors, which is half as many as Nvidia crams inside its mid-range GTX 760M core, and they're clocked to a modest 837MHz.
The Toshiba's graphics core falls in the middle of its rivals. The Chronos has a more powerful AMD Radeon HD 8800M GPU, and the Zenbook U500 has an Nvidia GT 650M chip, but the Spectre relies on Ivy Bridge integrated graphics.
The pair of hard disks - one from Hitachi and another from Toshiba - ensure that there's a huge amount of capacity for games and media, but there's no room in the budget for an SSD - so systems with solid-state storage will feel more responsive when booting and in Windows 8.
The Satellite P70 has 16GB of RAM, which is more than the amount included in most other machines, and there's a Blu-ray writer - a step ahead of the Blu-ray readers included with most high-end laptops.
Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 4 get connectivity off to a good start, but there's no excuse for single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi in a machine at this price.
3DMark Fire Strike: 1372
Battery: 1hr 17m high performance; 1hr 33mins power saver
The processor and graphics card are both decent, but neither component first captured our interest - instead, it's the screen that steals the show.
It's not a touchscreen, but the 17-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 TFT panel impressed in virtually every department.
Our X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter returned stellar quality results: the brightness level of 332cd/m2 means that this screen virtually seared our retinas at the top level, and the average Delta E of 2.5 is excellent. It means that colours are both vivid and extremely accurate.
The contrast ratio of 613:1 is reasonable, too - the only black mark here is the measured black level of 0.54cd/m2. It's a little higher than the best screens, and it means that black tones aren't as inky as they could be - and also that it's difficult to distinguish between the deepest shades. Still, it's a minor criticism.
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The Toshiba further enhances its media abilities with a good set of speakers. The four units are provided by long-time Toshiba collaborator harmon/kardon, and there's more than enough volume to fill a room - we've rarely heard laptop speakers this loud.
The treble and mid-range sounds are both high-quality and well balanced, although we do wish that the bass was a little more substantial.
The Core i7-4700MQ is one of Intel's most powerful mobile processors, and it didn't disappoint in Cinebench. Its benchmark score of 5.9 is one of the best we've seen: the Core i5 processor inside the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart could only manage 2.25, and the Gigabyte P2742G - which has an Ivy Bridge chip - scored 4.7.
Only one laptop has scored more, and that's the games-focussed Schenker XMG P703 - it used a more powerful Haswell chip to score a mighty 7.21.
The Nvidia graphics core is a mid-range part, but it's still a better option than the integrated graphics on offer in rival machines. In 3DMark's Fire Strike benchmark the Toshiba scored 1,372 - around twice the score of the Samsung Series 7 Chronos, and far ahead of the HP's 399 result.
It's a little less powerful than the Gigabyte, though, which deploys an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M core for a score of 1,525.
We like the 2TB of storage included in the Toshiba, but it's not exactly quick: the two disks used in this machine had average sequential read and write speeds of 93MB/sec and 78MB/sec - below the pace we've seen from desktop hard disks and some mobile parts.
There's one particular sting in the tail, though, and that's battery life.
The 4,200mAh unit included with the Toshiba isn't what you'd call capacious, which was demonstrated in our tests: in High Performance mode the Satellite P70 lasted for 1hr 17mins, and this figure rose by just 16 minutes when we enabled Power Saving mode.
This isn't a laptop you'd want to take away from the mains for long - the Samsung and HP machines, while less powerful, have much better longevity.
The Toshiba Satellite P70 eschews the style and lightweight dimensions of its rivals for power and versatility: it's got a Core i7 Haswell processor, a discrete graphics core, plenty of storage and a Blu-ray writer - but the half-aluminium and half-plastic chassis won't win any awards for style, and it's not exactly portable, either.
The quad-core Haswell processor is one of the fastest around - it's got the power to best most of its rivals, and its four cores and decent speed make light work of even high-end software.
The graphics core has just enough power to handle games and image-intensive applications, and the rest of the specification includes 8GB of RAM and 2TB of storage - more than enough for anyone. There's also the option to replace many of these components thanks to a panel on the base that can be removed.
The screen, too, is a stunner. The combination of an extremely bright backlight and high colour accuracy makes work and play a joy on this panel and, while it's not a touchscreen, it's very crisp.
The Nvidia graphics core is a mid-range part that's unable to match the pace of GPUs included in similarly priced rivals. And that's not the only thing we didn't like about the Toshiba's specification - its single-band wireless puts it at a disadvantage that simply shouldn't happen at this price.
The battery life isn't great, either, and the Toshiba's design is a mixed bag: the aluminium lid and base look good, but they're undermined by glossy plastic and ugly seams around the Satellite's exterior.
The Toshiba doesn't win any prizes for style or longevity: its design is a mix between classy aluminium and cheap-looking plastic, and battery life results were poor.
Instead, this machine has a potent processor, a versatile specification and a high-quality screen and speakers. It's not cheap, but it's worth the investment if you prize power and practicality over the charms of lightweight, low-power Ultrabooks.