Introducing the Toshiba Satellite U845W

It's sometimes very easy to discount Toshiba as an also-ran when it comes to the latest and greatest. They have a strong retail presence as a budget notebook company, and in many ways their first ultrabook, the Portege Z835 maintained that tradition by gaining traction as one of the most affordable ultrabook options available back when Intel first launched the initiative. It's important to note, though, that oftentimes Toshiba has been willing to experiment where others haven't. Toshiba launched a 13.3" version of its Excite tablet to see if the market would be interested in accepting a notebook-sized tablet, and their Portege R700 was an affordable ultraportable option even before ultrabooks themselves became available.

Today we have one of their most compelling experiments on hand. We lament with some regularity the common 1366x768 resolution of notebook screens and its effect on productivity, but vertical real estate continues to be hard to come by. What if we went the other way, though? What if we stretched things out further along the X axis? That's the question Toshiba's asking with their shiny new double-wide ultrabook, the Satellite U845W. This ultrabook is the first widely availabe notebook that features a display with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Was this a wise gamble for Toshiba or a misfire?

Toshiba only adds a W to the model number to indicate the difference between the conventional Satellite U840/U845 (which we've reviewed here) and this new essentially "double-wide" ultrabook, but the differences between the two designs themselves is massive. As you'll see from the spec table below, the U845W is internally very conventional, but the difference in aspect ratio on the display results in some very tangible changes felt across the entire design.

Toshiba Satellite U845W Ultrabook
Processor Intel Core i5-3317U
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, 2.6GHz Turbo, 22nm, 3MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 4GB Samsung DDR3-1600 + 2GB Samsung DDR3-1600 (on-board)
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(350-1050MHz, 16 EUs)
Display 14.4" LED Glossy 21:9 1792x768
CMN N144NGE-E41
Hard Drive(s) Hitachi Travelstar Z5K500 500GB 5400-RPM 3Gbps HDD

Samsung PM830 32GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD (cache)
Optical Drive -
Networking Atheros AR8152 PCIe 10/100 Ethernet
Intel Centrino 2230 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 + HS
Audio Realtek ALC280 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Mic and headphone jacks
Battery 4-Cell, 54Wh (not user replaceable)
Front Side SD/MS Flash reader
Right Side Headphone and mic jacks
USB 3.0
HDMI
AC jack
Left Side Kensington lock
Ethernet port
2x USB 3.0
Back Side Venting
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit
Dimensions 14.5" x 7.9" x 0.83"
368mm x 201mm x 21mm
Weight ~4 lbs (1.81kg)
Extras Webcam
Backlit keyboard
Flash reader (SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB 3.0
harmon/kardon speakers
21:9 aspect display
SSD cache
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing $999 MSRP (on Amazon for $700)

Toshiba's internals for the Satellite U845W are fairly conservative. The Ivy Bridge-based Core i5-3317U is a capable enough processor, featuring a nominal clock speed of 1.7GHz across its two cores but able to turbo up to 2.4GHz on both cores or 2.6GHz on a single core. Attached to it is 2GB of DDR3-1600 affixed to the motherboard and an additional 4GB in a non-user-serviceable slot. Storage duties are handled in the typical budget fashion, with a 500GB 5400-RPM mechanical hard disk being sped up through the inclusion of a 32GB SSD cache; Toshiba offers models that do skip the caching and go directly to a 256GB mSATA SSD, but those start at a much pricier $1,249 in retail.

Where things feel unusually skint are in the peripheral ports. Three USB 3.0 ports (and no USB 2.0) are generous, and I can forgive a basic Intel Centrino wireless solution that only has support for 2.4GHz networking, but why in 2012 do we have a dedicated ethernet port capable of only 10/100 speeds? And this is common across the line; there are no gigabit ethernet capable U845W notebooks. Skimping on gigabit ethernet pretty much defeats the purpose of including a dedicated ethernet port; copying our testing suite over through the wireless would take the same amount of time as using a wired connection.

Of course, if you're looking at the U845W it's because of the unique display. Despite being advertised as a 14.4" ultrabook, the U845W is actually an inch shallower than conventional 14" ultrabooks due to the odd aspect ratio of the screen. As for the display itself, that's a relative unknown. It's clearly a TN panel, but we'll have to examine it further to see if it has the same unfortunate specifications that inexpensive ultrabooks typically do.

And speaking of inexpensive, in an effort to make the U845W more accessible, Toshiba has actually made it available in retail at an affordable price. Niche products tend to command higher premiums, but $699 for an ultrabook with an extra-wide display (for the only ultrabook with an extra-wide display) actually seems pretty fair. The $999 starting MSRP doesn't even seem that bad for specs that are relatively within the realm of expectation for an ultrabook alongside its unusual selling point.

Around the Toshiba Satellite U845W
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  • processinfo - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Come on, now you can have all your icons pined to taskbar. They also removed a need for horizontal scrollbar. Maybe 45:9 would be even better (or 5:1 if you like).

    Kidding aside I agree this is horrible idea. Get us back 19:10 or 4:3 laptops!!

    Kind of reminds me a joke about bus that was 30ft wide and only couple of feet long because everybody wanted to sit next to driver.
    Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    It's time to move out of the '90s. Thunderbolt should be a standard item at this point. Reply
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    There's one thing I am missing in this review, and that is a look at how the form factor affects portability.

    Ultrabooks are meant to be just that: ultraportable. They are meant to weigh little, fit in every pocket (figuratively), and easy to hold and handle, with one hand if necessary.

    How does this form factor rest on the lap? Does it feel heavier, or more unwieldly in size, when compared to the regular 16:9 model? Does it fit into bags and backpacks just the same? What's the general feel of it in a day to day usage and carrying scenario?

    I suppose it's a nice thing that this model has so much space to dedicate to cooling, but really: that space doesn't come out of nowhere. This thing is very large for an ultrabook, so the handling should be examined.
    Reply
  • Calista - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    The FW11E I'm using as a HTPC is 16" with a 16:9 aspect screen is roughly 1 cm wider than the U845W and it's very clumsy to bring along the few times I for one reason or another have to have it with me. And so I have to assume the U845W will be fairly clumsy as well even if it's both much thinner and lighter.

    The development we have had for the last few years saddens me. I guess 16:10 is workable, but from a portability and ergonomic point of view the old 4:3 format makes much more sense with one exception and that's among 12" laptops since they are small enough as is.

    Obviously depending on what you do but I find a vertical resolution of 1600 (as in 30" at 2560x1600 or 20" at 1200x1600) to be the sweet spot even if 1050 is workable on a laptop. But 768 is a far cry from 1050 and even more so from 1600.
    Reply
  • Avendit - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I had a toshiba libretto L1 (http://tinyurl.com/ck4f9yo) that got me through a lot of uni and a few coding jobs. 1200 x 600 wasn't ideal, but you could swap height for width with little effort. Tool bars on the side or floating, work full screen, autohide etc.

    The wide res really worked for coding - you could get long lines of code all on the screen, and the PPI of 1200 on a 10" screen was stunning. System was reasonably powerful for its day too (played quake!), just wish I'd been able to get a later version with onboard NIC.

    Superwide can work, you just need to be willing to change your work habits a little. What worries me is the size of this - I don't think I would put up with such an odd screen res without some other compelling feature tho - at the time the L1 was a ~1kg laptop that appeared to sacrafice very little for its size, the screen was a resulting oddity that you learned to live with and like to some extent. At 2kg there are probably other alternatives that I'd want to try in person first.

    Avendit
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    ...is because someone typed the wrong horizontal resolution number into a screen order and they ended up with 30000 non standard screens.

    As mentioned, though you get a machine with a odd feature as its main USP and the review doesn't even showcase it so we can see what the fuss is about.

    You know some of us do care about other factors than pretty pointless benchmark graphs.

    What next? Anandtech get a laptop in that has the ability to be used underwater yet it never leaves the testbench?
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I wish you were right. With Follywierd producing ever more content at 2.37:1; this is probably a trial balloon for the next step in degrading computer screen usability for anything except consuming their garbage. Reply
  • Mugur - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Maybe they should call it "Portable 2.35:1 Movie Player"... :-) Reply
  • Mugur - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Oh and it has ONLY USB 3.0, which means that most probably you cannot install Windows from a USB stick... It happened to me a few times when I accidentally plug the stick into a USB 3 port on various notebooks. Reply
  • xTRICKYxx - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Uhh, That shouldn't affect your installation. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible. I've installed Windows 7 on three notebooks using 3.0 ports and it went fine. Reply

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