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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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  • alxnet - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    There's a number of 30% off or $300 off coupons floating around which gets you a substantial discount off a minimum $1000 custom laptop purchase from HP. Just google HP-30%-Coupon. Got my 9cell dv6z with an A8-3500 and a 1920x1080 screen for under $800. I've got a OEM Vertex 3 240GB which I got for less than $400 after rebate. Combined, it's one hell-uv-a laptop. Eight hours of runtime on average and it boots so quick I don't even bother putting it into sleep mode. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Yeah, that's pretty slick. The SSD is of course a huge upgrade, but even without it, $800 for that sort of setup is far better than most $800 laptops you normally find. Since I'm not usually in the market for buying laptops, I don't scour around for coupons much. Maybe we need a guy dedicated to doing that and making little Pipeline posts? :-) Reply
  • Novaguy - Saturday, August 13, 2011 - link

    My HP A8-3530MX system was $820 pre-tax/shipping using one of the 30% coupon, like alxnet mentioned. Base configuration price was $50 at the time (I should demand a price correction) but that works out to a $35 difference once you factor in the coupon. Not worth the aggravation of spending a couple hours on the phone with customer service.

    If I had to do it again, I might have aimed the processor lower (an A8-3510MX, probably) and maybe skipped the 6750M (maybe, it's kind of fun to have it just to see if it ever works).

    I wouldn't skip the 1080p, though. It's my must buy upgrade, especially since the HP comes with blue-ray and one of things I use the laptop for is a portable DVD/blue ray player for when I travel. One negative - just like the toshiba here, HP has glossy plastic crap on the bezel. Why?

    Also, I think that the 30% coupon only kicks in at the 999.00 base price, so when you get close, there is an incentive to get over it.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    If it runs cool then it should be overclocked. If it cannot be overclocked then it is useless. Again, the benchmark results seem to indicate that the chip only turbos up to 1.8GHz. Clearly the turbo is not functioning as it should. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    I'd say the Turbo is functioning exactly as expected. 2.3GHz is the max it can hit, but just like Intel I'm guessing you mostly won't get max -- maybe max minus a bin or two. Then again, with a 17.3" chassis the CPU ought to have more than enough cooling to be able to run faster. Personally, though, I don't believe in overclocking laptops at all. They may work fine for six months, or even two years, but most laptops already start to run pretty toasty when you start running games or other CPU/GPU intensive apps. I never find laptops to be so slow that I'd worry about a 10% overclock, and 33% usually pushes too far (outside of CULV, where that just made a CULV into a slightly lower clocked Core 2). Reply
  • DudleyUC - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    I know companies like things in sets of 3, but I'm not sure there's a lot of need for the A6. The A4 gives you 2 cores at a higher clock (1.9 GHz) translating into better performance on single threaded CPU applications. It also gives you a faster clock (444 MHz) but on fewer shaders, yielding only slightly lower graphics performance.

    If you need 4 cores, it's not that much extra money for an A8 that gives you slightly better CPU performance than the A6 and substantially improved graphics performance.

    So what niche does the A6 fill? Does the lower clocked GPU improve battery life? Is this just a marketing tactic (appealing to customers who don't want buy the cheapest option or the most expensive option)?
    Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    I think I can agree on this one. A proper (read: not with disabled cores) dual core Llano would result in less power usage and lower temperatures, so they could easily afford to throw out a much higher clocked variant. The productivity scores wouldn't suffer (they might actually be an improvement) as long as the Turbo Core implementation isn't significantly reduced.

    Having said that, I still can't help but wonder what a different cache implementation would achieve - unified L2 isn't an AMD thing so we can rule that out, but some L3 cache, perhaps? We've also learned that fast, low latency RAM is a big help for APU performance, and with the relative proximity in terms of pricing, the only thing you'd need to worry about with faster RAM would be the power usage... but again, if we're going dual core, that's nicely offset provided you don't go completely mad with the CPU clock. Manufacturers also have to remember that, with a discrete-level card, we can't have anaemic batteries on these machines, something we saw all-too-often with Phenom II laptops, so it's good to see some common sense with some Llano implementations. Regardless, look at how well they've gotten the power consumption down from 45nm to 32nm.

    Llano is certainly niche, but some people will find value in the principle of a good enough CPU for most tasks paired with a decent GPU. Of course, for those with more money, it won't be as attractive, but not everyone is in that position (especially nowadays).
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    It's been my experience looking at the differences between the Athlon II X4 and corresponding Phenom II X4 that the L3 cache doesn't actually have a major impact on performance, maybe 10% at most. The problem is that the Stars core just sucks. :|

    Also, Llano's memory controller is actually ridiculously efficient for the GPU. DDR3-1600 may help but I don't know how much and I'm not sure it's worth it in a notebook.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, August 13, 2011 - link

    Would you say that Llano's revised Stars cores are close in performance to those in Phenom II thanks to the extra L2 and the architectural tweaks?

    Additionally, one thing people have to remember about Llano is that it won't have a DDR2 memory controller taking up space, so that's good for reducing cost.

    You're probably right as regards the memory controller. The laptop version of Llano has a much lower clocked GPU than is present on the desktop so that would reduce the need for faster RAM, but it'd be nice to see the effect.
    Reply
  • Jawadali - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    The article did point this out, but I just want to reiterate that similar versions of this laptop are often on sale. I have noticed that Staples' version goes on sale for $500 quite often (like it is now):

    http://www.staples.com/Toshiba-Satellite-L775D-S72...

    I think I even saw it for ~$450 at one point. Compared to the one linked at Office Depot, I think the main differences are that is has a 500GB drive (instead of a 640GB), and does not have Blu-Ray. It also doesn't seem to have bluetooth.

    I'd say it's a pretty decent general-purpose DTR in this price range.
    Reply

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