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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  • DudleyUC - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    I never said I thought you or any anandtech staff members were biased; I don't think that is the case. I said that too much emphasis is placed on the CPU benchmarks. These synthetic numbers don't afford "real world" bearings and what you end up with is a pissing contest.

    Take the PCMark 7 Entertainment score for example. What unit is that benchmark in and how does that correlate to a users entertainment experience? What will be the observable differences to the user?

    I don't argue the quantitative rigor of these benchmarks, I just doubt they are an accurate measure of the value. While value is in the eye of the consumer (as you said, we're all individuals), I think "twice the performance" according to these tests doesn't account for much in daily use. If I'm wrong on that, please let me know and come up with a way to translate these abstruse numbers into something comprehensible.

    And yes, my Civic vs. McClaren analogy was preposterous. I intentionally chose an absurd comparison in order to succinctly make my opinion clear. I thought it was a better option than going on for two paragraphs.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    You're correct that the application performance results are hard to apply in the real world. If you do 3D rendering, obviously the CPU speed is important; same goes for video encoding (though frankly I'd give up some quality just to use Intel's Quick Sync, because it's so stinking fast -- and YouTube/Vimeo/etc. will munge the quality of your resulting video regardless).

    How much faster is an Intel CPU than AMD CPU for doing email, surfing the web, running Office apps? For a lot of people, it doesn't matter. Now my dad for instance has an Excel spreadsheet with a crapton of data, and he definitely noticed a difference when he upgraded from Core 2 Duo to Core i5 -- saves faster, calculates faster, etc. I'm guessing he'd see a difference between Llano and Core i5 as well for what he does, but I don't have a good way of benchmarking this.

    The other thing is that I really do believe Llano's iGPU is bottlenecked by CPU performance in some games. At higher quality, it doesn't really matter (and isn't playable), but I've actually got a Core i5-2410M with AMD HD 6630M in house for review, so at least we'll be able to put a specific figure on how much the faster CPU matters in gaming soon enough.

    Would I prefer a $600 Llano system or a $700 Intel i5 system? Actually, I'd have to say neither! Personally, I want a good keyboard and a good display first and foremost, so I'd recommend a Dell XPS 15/15z with the 1080p display. Performance is fine, but it's the overall build (particularly of the 15z) that I find compelling. That's another forthcoming review. :-)

    If I had to choose between $600 Llano and $700 for a family member or friend, most of my family doesn't care about gaming performance at all, so the major advantage of Llano isn't its better graphics but is simply the bottom line. $600 for a decent laptop? Yup, that works for me. Then again, I'd start looking at the budget $400-$500 laptops as well to see if there's something "good enough" for even less money than Llano.
    Reply
  • Roland00Address - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    But when you get an ASUS with an a6+ a dedicated gpu for $450 like best buy had on sale this week

    Staples also has a similar laptop to what you tested here with only two changes for $500. For the lost of $200 dollars mark up you lose the blu ray and you only get a 500gb hard drive.

    Llano is great for the average user. The average user is pretty much buying for price and is going for the $400 to $600 dollar market.

    If you want an awesome screen instead of a crap tn go with intel, for laptops with nice screens they are already costly and once you are spending $800 or more what is another $100 or so for a better cpu and gpu.
    Reply
  • jabber - Saturday, August 13, 2011 - link

    Hmmm Optimus...from what I've seen its a 50/50 gamble whether it works or not.

    Seen a few customers struggle with that.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Saturday, August 13, 2011 - link

    Our experiences with Optimus have been pretty positive. It hasn't been 100%, but it certainly works well enough to be out in the wild. Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Something as simple as a Windows Update can be CPU limited for a significant portion of the time. Or even reopening that large spreadsheet that you just closed which is reading from RAM. Many of these actions can be blocking actions too, such as waiting for your scheduled Windows Update to do whatever it is that pegs your quad core at 25% processor for some horrible reason so your computer can start up.

    If you're not interested in ultra fast response times, then this may not matter to you. If you're the type of person who just recently realized that 28kbps DSL from AOL is not as great a deal as you thought it was, then you probably won't care about the myriad tasks that complete slightly faster with a fast threaded processor.
    Reply
  • thetuna - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Maybe I'm missing something here, or maybe I just got a good deal.
    I just picked up an HP dv6 which is superior in every way to this toshiba... for $585.
    A8, 6GB ram, 7200rpm HDD, bluray, gig-e(since when does that even have to be mentioned?).
    The only difference is a smaller screen, which many don't even consider a con.
    Reply
  • DudleyUC - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Yeah, the dv6 and the g4 (also by HP, but only at best buy) are substantially cheaper than Llano offerings from other manufacturers. Not sure why, I have the g4 and it is the best budget laptop I've ever seen. Reply
  • Novaguy - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    The dv6 is what I've got, and I went for the 1080p and 6750M options, plus 640gb 7200 rpm. I did pay for the A8-3530MX, but it appears that either the A8-3510MX or the A6-3410MX are the best bang for bucks if you are going to do the undervolt/overclock thing. And the 3530MX is apparently unavailable. As far as I can tell, there is not much difference in overclocking potential between the MX's with the latest version of k10stat, and the potential gpu bandwidth increase is appreciated for future memory upgrades.

    My feeling on the screen - I really like the 1080p, and for me it's the must buy upgrade because I have no problem reading at that resolution. But if you like/need the 1366x768, do that. 6750M is probably overkill, but you really either want to go with the 6620g/6520g or the 6750M - the 6400M discrete crossfire doesn't seem to work well and I don't think there is much difference between the 6400M discrete and on chip 6620/6520 graphics.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    So what did you end up paying for the dv6 with A8-3530MX, 1080p, and 6750M? Looking at HP's configuration utility, I can't even select the A8-3530MX on the dv6zqe (dv6z Quad Edition), but maybe you used a different model -- link please!

    With the A8-3510MX, dual-graphics (I'm guessing 6750M, though HP doesn't specify), 6GB RAM, 750GB 7200RPM HDD, and 1080p LCD, the price from HP comes out to $1100. That's not exactly an inexpensive laptop at that point, though I suppose it's less than $1150 for a Dell XPS 15 L502x. I configured the Dell with 1080p and GT 540M graphics paired with an i5-2410M CPU.

    So that's $50 in savings to downgrade CPU performance (it's probably pretty close in multi-threaded tasks) and have somewhat faster GPU performance. I'd have to handle both laptops before making that call. Of course, if you paid more like $1000 (or less) for the dv6 you purchased, then it's a much better deal.
    Reply

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