Budget DTR: The Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7206

Since Llano's introduction, the value of AMD's new APU has been the subject of some debate, even between editors here at AnandTech. With notebooks sporting the new A-series processors trickling out from vendors (and Toshiba waving the banner) it's been fairly difficult getting a good feel for what the chip brings to the table for the end user, but thankfully that's changing. Today we have on hand the Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7206, a budget 17" model that also gives us our first look at the AMD A6-3400M.

We had a chance to meet with Toshiba reps and preview their refreshed mobile line a couple of months back, and now I'm happy to say we have one of the new notebooks on hand for testing: the catchily named Satellite L775D-S7206. More than that, it's also an opportunity to further explore AMD's Llano APU and what it means for consumers at every point on the continuum as well as determine whether or not AMD's new offering can be price competitive with notebooks featuring Sandy Bridge processors and low end discrete NVIDIA graphics. Our review unit is equipped as follows:

Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7206 Specifications
Processor AMD A6-3400M
(4x1.4GHz, 32nm, 4MB L2, Turbo to 2.3GHz, 35W)
Chipset AMD A60M
Memory 1x2GB Samsung DDR3-1333 and 1x4GB Samsung D(Max 2x8GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6520G
(320 Stream Processors, 400MHz core clock)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1600x900
(Samsung 173KT01-T01 Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Hitachi Travelstar 5K750 640GB 5400-RPM HDD
Optical Drive HL-DT-ST BD-ROM/DVD+-RW Combo Drive
Networking Realtek PCIe FE 10/100 Ethernet
Atheros AR9002WB-1NG 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth v3.0
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Mic and headphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 48Wh battery
Front Side Speakers
Left Side AC adaptor
Exhaust vent
DisplayPort
VGA
Ethernet
USB 2.0 (Chargeable)
HDMI
MMC/SD/MS Reader
Right Side Headphone and mic jacks
2x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Kensington lock
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 16.3" x 10.6" x 1.1"-1.49" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.2 lbs
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB charging
Blu-ray
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing MSRP $699

Let's start at the top: the AMD A6-3400M APU is the second-fastest 35W mobile Llano chip available, behind the A8-3500M we've already reviewed with our introduction to Llano. AMD's Fusion initiative started grassroots with Zacate and the E-350 and its kin, sporting a single chip dubbed an APU to handle the CPU and graphics and then a single chip for the chipset, which AMD dubs an FCH or "Fusion Controller Hub." This is a major consolidation compared to what we're used to seeing from AMD in the mobile market: we've gone from a processor, northbridge, and southbridge down to just a single 35W-45W part and a low-wattage "northbridge" serving roughly the same functions as Intel's mobile 6 series chips.

Unfortunately, sacrifices were made. The A6-3400M sports four slightly-modified Stars cores with L2 cache per core bumped from 512KB to 1MB and no L3 cache, effectively putting the CPU half on par with an Athlon II. These cores are clocked at a low 1.4GHz, and while AMD has instituted a turbo feature to speed them up to as high as 2.3GHz depending on the workload applied to the chip, none of our monitoring software is yet able to actually track the processor speeds as they turbo up. We don't need to tell you the CPU half of Llano is nowhere near as powerful as Intel's Sandy Bridge, and if you've been following coverage of Llano this is going to be old news to you.

Yet I suspect AMD knew they were going to take it on the chin where the CPU half of Llano was concerned, and they dish it out royally in the GPU side. Llano sports a modified Redwood core (Radeon HD 5670) with 400 stream processors in the VLIW5 configuration, 20 texture units, and 8 ROPs. In the A8 chip, this entire GPU core is present, while the A6 is slightly crippled, sacrificing 80 stream processors and 4 texture units, putting its specs roughly on par with the Radeon HD 4650/4670 (but with DX11). GPU clocks also take a hit from the spec of 444MHz, but it's a mild one, dropping down to 400MHz.

Essentially AMD hedged their bets, trading off processor power for GPU power, and this is one of the places where our opinions of Llano start to diverge. While it's true Llano's CPU half is hopelessly outclassed in every respect by Intel's processors, and I do honestly think two faster AMD cores would've been a better call than four slow cores, the vastly more capable GPU opens new avenues for mobile users, and the processor half is going to be fast enough for general use and light gaming. Essentially what Llano does is enable laptops that can game south of $600. Llano may not make much sense on the desktop (where I still feel the CPU and motherboard are priced out of competition), but in laptops it basically serves an entirely different market from Intel. It's not direct competition, but it's a foothold.

Moving on from Llano, it's a shame Toshiba has essentially crippled the L775D from every other angle but RAM, which is a generous 6GB. There are two available mobile chipsets for the APU: the A60M and A70M, with the key differentiator being that the A70M supports USB 3.0 while the A60M does not. The L775D uses the A60M and thus is missing USB 3.0, and worse, Toshiba has even forgone gigabit ethernet in favor of ancient school 10/100 ethernet. The inclusion of Blu-ray is some consolation but not really enough, though if you need a Blu-ray-capable notebook for under $700 these sacrifices might make some sense to you. Finally, I'm happy to report Toshiba eschewed one of their own dog slow hard drives for a slightly better (though still 5400RPM) Hitachi drive.

Here's where things get difficult. All of the above would make for a fairly decent entry level laptop capable of moderate gaming, but the $699 MSRP would push into competition with better equipped offerings. Luckily, you can already find the similar L775D-S7226 for $599, which is very reasonable for a Blu-ray equipped notebook. As long as that sort of pricing holds, the L775D has plenty to offer.

Baby Steps into the Present
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  • Slaimus - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Can you add a gaming battery life test? I think there is an area where this laptop should have a trump card compared to one with a dedicated graphics card. Reply
  • Beenthere - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    I think it's clear that Llano is a good laptop APU and that AMD has created a specific market segment as a result. Llano is OK for an inexpensive desktop systems but low end Bulldozer CPUs and discrete graphics would be far better. Trinity will follow Llano so AMD has many good products in the pipeline, which is great for consumers. Reply
  • DudleyUC - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    People (anandtech staff) are putting too much value in CPU performance. Yes, the SB i7s kick the bejesus out of any Llano in CPU tasks. Truth is, the vast majority of users don't make use of that kind of performance the vast majority of the time (or ever). Good enough performance for less money is a much better choice than more performance than you need for considerably more money. I'll take a Honda Civic for 20k over a McClaren for 1M, because I'm never going to drive at 240mph either way. Reply
  • joe_dude - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    LOL... Intel: faster spell check, can't play games. You winner! Reply
  • BSMonitor - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    You are absolutely wrong. MOST people don't play FPS on their $600 laptop, nor would they EVER want to. That kind of gaming is so niche that it really doesn't register in the grand scheme.

    People want all their applications to run quickly and smoothly. They want their iTunes to convert songs as fast as possible. And they want to do these things simultaneously.

    CPU performance is EVERYTHING. If you want GPU performance, you don't want an IGP or APU, you get a dedicated chip.
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    While both yours and the O.P.s points are gross generalizations, I tend to agree with the O.P. more. Everybody knows that CPU speed reached a point of diminishing returns years ago, with the newest, fastest processors hardly distinguishable from budget processors in most tasks. And although I don't know this for sure, I espect that most people who buy laptops, let alone people buying budget laptops, don't do very CPU-intensive tasks with them very often. These two points alone make CPU speed highly insignificant for most users.

    GPU performance is definitely noticeable though; if you do any gaming at all, you are going to easily be able to tell the difference between GPU performance at every level.

    I think that for most people, having a laptop that is "good enough" in every category is a vast improvement over a laptop that is overkill in one department (CPU) and lacking in another (GPU).
    Reply
  • jabber - Saturday, August 13, 2011 - link

    As I've said before I could put a Athlon II 3Ghz dual core in a PC and i7 in another and my customers wouldnt be able to tell the difference for what they do. They just dont care. Ultimate CPU performance for many is a non issue. As long as they dont keep seeing the old eggtimer like they did with their old single core 3Ghz P4s they are happy.

    What does bug them is slow HDD access. If I put a 64GB SSD in the Athlon box and a 1TB 7200rpm in the i7 box they will take away the Athlon one everytime even if I sold them for the same price.
    Reply
  • joe_dude - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    For most regular users, accessing e-mail, Youtube and Facebook is all they really need or want. If that wasn't the case, no one would buy MBAs or tablets.

    The A6 and A8 with quad-core is more than smooth enough. AMD demoed it earlier in the year to show how good multitasking is compared to Core IX.

    Raw CPU power is for bragging rights and server applications.
    Reply
  • DudleyUC - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Oh but I'm not absolutely wrong. Not wrong at all in fact, although I did overgeneralize as bji pointed out. People DO play games on their laptops. They're called college kids (between classes, during classes, always with the world of warcraft/sims/whatever they're hooked on). And like I said, i7 vs. APU is no contest CPU-wise, but both processors run applications quickly and smoothly; it's the HDD that slows you down the most. I'd also wager a bet that more and more websites and programs will start to utilize hardware acceleration (i.e. gpu) more frequently and effectively.

    If you want your iTunes songs converted faster and never want to run anything GPU intensive, go ahead and spend the extra money on an intel cpu.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Where you're completely missing the point is that there's no need to give up CPU performance just to get a better iGPU. So this Toshiba laptop can be had for around $600 ($700 MSRP). Who would pay $700 for an A6 laptop when you can grab an i5-2410M with Optimus GT 540M starting at under $700:

    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtool...

    But it's not quite so simple, is it? Toshiba gives you a Blu-ray combo drive for $600, and that's currently about a $90 upgrade if you do it on your own. Which is of course part of the reason we feel the Toshiba L775D is priced appropriately, at least when you can get the S7226 model for $600. Would you really want to pay $700 for an A6 (or even A8) when you could get Sandy Bridge with Optimus graphics (e.g. faster in applications and applications, with better battery life provided you're not trying to play a game untethered) for the same price? If so, I'd question your judgement, just like I would question the judgement of an average joe going out and buying a $100,000 car he can't afford.

    But that's why we have the Gateway NV55S05u selling for $580 after a $120 instant rebate, and HP Pavilion dv6-6140us for $600 after $100 instant rebate and $50 mail-in rebate. Both of those come with A8-3500M, and the HP gets you Blu-ray combo thrown into the mix. To those that think I/we are biased in favor of Intel, we're not. Llano is a good product for the target market, provided it's priced appropriately. Manufacturers know this as well, so they're dropping prices on Llano laptops and cutting margins, because otherwise the laptops won't sell.

    Your analogy about vehicles, incidentally, is absurd. Sure, a Honda Civic for $20K is definitely more practical than a McLaren F1 for $1M, but that's stupid -- nobody is talking about a McLaren F1 here. If Llano is a Civic, the McLaren F1 would be a desktop GTX 580 SLI with hex-core i7-980X all stuffed into a 13" chassis with an amazing display, but a keyboard that's a bit difficult to use (which obviously doesn't exist because nobody has even tried to make a $30000 laptop). An Alienware M18x SLI notebook is "only" six times the cost of a Llano laptop, so that would be something like a tricked out Landrover or Hummer. And if we're looking at stuff like mainstream $1000 laptops--Dell XPS 15 for instance--we'd be talking about sedans and minivans. Those certainly have a place in the world.

    What if you could find a vehicle that gets better gas mileage than the Civic, has a top speed and acceleration that are twice that of the Civic, and better handling as well, and it's available with essentially the exact same features, size, etc. as the Civic at a very small price premium. Like the McLaren F1 equivalent laptop, such a car doesn't actually exist (that I know of), but if you could have that for $22K, wouldn't you pay the extra $2k (10%) to get improved gas mileage and performance? Okay, you might want a better keyboard than the Acer linked above, so what about if it costs $24K, or $26K?

    And that is the real question you have to answer. It's also why making blanket statements about how Llano is awesome, or Llano sucks, or Intel laptops are too expensive, or Intel IGP sucks, etc. are pointless. Depending on the specific needs of an individual, one or more of those statements might be true, but we are all individuals. Last time I checked, we aren't all clones with identical needs/wants/desires.
    Reply

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