Toshiba A660D-ST2G01: AMD Goes Quad-Core with the Phenom II P920

It's been a long time coming, but the Toshiba A660D-ST2G01 finally gets us an up-to-date AMD mobile platform. It has all the latest and greatest AMD enhancements, including switchable graphics and a quad-core processor. Running at 1.6GHz, the P920 happens to have the same base clock speed as the i7-720QM, but it lacks Intel's Turbo Boost technology. The result is going to be interesting; we expect slower performance overall, particularly in single-threaded workloads where the 720QM can Turbo up to 2.8GHz; we're also looking at the mobile equivalent of the desktop Athlon II X4 processors, since the P920 lacks L3 cache. On the other hand, AMD specs the P920 for 25W compared to 45W on the 720QM, and unlike Arrandale the quad-core Intel chips are still manufactured on a 45nm process.

The new Danube platform also makes the switch to DDR3, which should further reduce power requirements. Will the A660D finally give us reasonable battery life from a midrange AMD system? More importantly, how does it stack up to other options—with a $950 MSRP it goes up against far more than entry-level laptops. Before we get to the answers to those questions, let's go over the basic specs.

Toshiba Satellite A660D-ST2G01 Specifications
Processor AMD Phenom II P920
(4x1.6GHz, 45nm, 4x512KB L2, 25W)
Chipset AMD RS880M Northbridge, AMD SB850 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250
(40 Stream Processors, 500MHz Core, Integrated)

ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650
(400 Stream Processors, 450MHz Core, 1600MHz GDDR3)
Display 16" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Samsung 160AT06-U01
Hard Drive(s) Toshiba 500GB 7200 RPM Hard Disk
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW Combo Drive with LabelFlash
Networking Realtek RTL8139/810x 10/100 Ethernet
Realtek RTL8191SEvB 802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Harmon Kardon stereo speakers
Headphone (shared with optical) and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 48Wh battery
Front Side MMC/SD/MS/xD Reader
Left Side ExpressCard/34 slot
USB 2.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port (with Sleep and Charge)
HDMI
Ethernet jack
VGA
Exhaust vent
Right Side Microphone/headphone jacks
2x USB 2.0
Optical drive
AC jack
Kensington lock
Back Side Nothing
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.98" x 10.0" x 1.18" (1.48" with feet) (WxDxH)
Weight 6.5 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
101-key LED backlit keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD/xD)
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing $949 MSRP
Currently $949 Online
A665D-S6049 for $799 Online

While many of the basic features are similar to the Toshiba A505D, the package as a whole is very different. For one, despite using the same size 16" LCD panel, the dimensions of the A660D are still slightly smaller in width and depth, and about a quarter inch thinner. The exterior is also a textured plastic that's not quite as much of a fingerprint magnet. The big changes are in the components, with a quad-core CPU, a discrete GPU with the ability to switch to the IGP, and DDR3 memory. The modem port is also gone, and the slot-load DVDR is swapped out for a standard DVDR. The eSATA/USB combo port also has Toshiba's Sleep and Chard functionality, which allows you to charge USB peripherals even while the system is powered down. Similarly, the speakers can be used with the system powered down if you connect to the line-in jack.

The remaining components and features are what we find pretty much everywhere, though with a few additions you don't always find. ExpressCard and eSATA are nice extras, as is the LED backlit keyboard. The internal speakers are better than most laptops, though they still won't beat a good set of external speakers or headphones. The battery is also rather small for a 6-cell unit, and downright puny when compared to some of the ASUS laptops that are using 84Wh batteries, but otherwise the specifications look reasonable.

For those interested in branding, the A660D is part of the AMD Vision Ultimate line. We talked about AMD Vision with the Toshiba T235D, and the A660D belongs in the higher performing Ultimate bracket. You can read the specifics of AMD's Vision Ultimate, but the quick summary is that notebooks with this branding should provide advanced multitasking, advanced photo editing, enough power to create and edit HD movies, and enough graphics horsepower to play modern games. We could say that any reasonable laptop meets many of those requirements, but the gaming requirement in particular means you need a discrete GPU (at least for now), and the HD 5650 definitely fulfils that requirement. It's not the fastest GPU on the block, but in the mobile world the number of graphics chips that are clearly faster is very limited.

While the $949 price is going to be too high for most, there's also an A665D-S6059 that has the same feature set but with a 500GB 5400RPM drive. You can find the A665D on Newegg for just $799, making it a far more attractive buy. We actually started this review way back in July, but we ran into complication when we received pre-production hardware that had a few glitches, creating some unfortunate delays. The problems we encountered on the early samples of the A665D have been fixed in the retail A660D—and presumably the A665D as well—so unless you really want to spend $150 for the upgrade to a 7200RPM drive there's no reason to choose the more expensive model. There's also an A665D-S6051 model that drops the HD 5650 and lowers the price about $60; while we have concerns with the 5650 drivers that we'll get to shortly, the $60 saved isn't enough to make the S6051 a better option.

Frankly, the $949 MSRP is far too expensive compared to the competition, but hopefully when the A660D starts showing up at vendors other than Toshiba Direct we'll see that price drop to around $850. As we pointed out in our mobile DTR buyers' guide, you can find the Acer 7740G with an i5-430M and HD 5650 for $750, or the Acer 7551 with a faster Phenom II N930 and HD 5650 for about the same price as the A665D. Toshiba also has the A505 with an i7-720QM for $900 online right now, with a GT 330M in place of the HD 5650. The 5650 should be faster and it has DX11 support, but the GT 330M is a decent mobile midrange part that should handle 1366x768 gaming quite well. We'll want to keep an eye on how performance of the P920 compares to the i5-430M as well as the i7-720QM, not to mention checking on battery life, to see if the A660D-ST2G01 and A665D-S6059 are a good value.

Toshiba A660D-ST2G01 Inside and Out
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Jarred, you are clearly a huge nerd. I'm obviously working with the right people.

    I'm pretty much drawing the same conclusions you are about this notebook. While I can't stand Toshiba's finishes, the real problem isn't Toshiba necessarily but that no one seems interested in producing a proper AMD notebook. The best you can do, I think, is custom-order one from HP (where at least you'll get an attractive build) or be prepared to make a lot of compromises.

    It leads one to conclude that AMD's poor notebook market share can't solely be attributed to them...if the manufacturers don't make and market compelling machines using the available hardware, what can AMD really do?
    Reply
  • Goty - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Sue Intel? Oh, wait, they did that already.

    Should be interesting to see the designs that come out with Bobcat.
    Reply
  • fabarati - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Haha, Jared really is a big nerd.

    Too bad that Toshibia gimped the GPU in this one, and that the CPU still can't keep up. The AMD situtation is a bit of a catch 22: AMD has a (fairly rightly deserved) rumour of bad performance/batterylife, so people aren't willing to spend money on AMD laptops. The manufacturers see this, so they aren't willing to invest money in laptops people won't buy. That leaves us with cheap AMD laptops, or compromised expensive ones, that people won't buy.
    Reply
  • fabarati - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    "Computer, belay that order." Seriously, we need an edit button.

    I really miss the glory days of 16:10 as well. At least the manufacturers haven't gone further... yet. They might though. If they can get away with it, they'll probably go as far as 22:9, or at the very least 25:12 like in the Vaio P.

    Personally, I'd pay extra for Intels performance, but that's me.
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    I think this is the thought process...

    Toshiba Assistant: "We made $XXXXXXX in profit for Intel notebooks last year and $XXX for AMD."
    Toshiba Manager: "I guess we need to make better margins (lesser cheaper and charge more) on those AND or AMD or whatever you said that isn't making much money"

    The result is us not getting a great well-rounded AMD notebook from any OEM (minus the custom build option mentioned). Shame really, and the 1366x768 on a 16 inch notebook is proof positive of that thought process. It isn't like if they build great AMD notebooks they wouldn't sell, it's just the ones they (the OEM's) make now aren't all that good - which is why they don't sell... and round and round we go...

    Seriously, put in a better screen res and better 6 cell (or take a page from ASUS and put in an 8 cell) and sell it for $699 and watch it fly off the shelves.
    Reply
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    The real question is why would you evenwant to consider a Phenom II X4 N920 in a laptop in which cost $950 dollars when you can get a Core i7 720QM laptop that cost roughly around the same price that would eat the Phenom II X4 N920 for lunch????? Nevermind the Core i5 series or even the Core i3 series for that matter that can rival the Phenom II X4 N920 in performance and has bettery battery life on avg for a lot less. The Phenom II X4 N920 would be much better suited in the $600 dollar price range where the Core i3's are than in the $900 dollar price range it's in now. Reply
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    You are mixing your model numbers up.

    The P920 is a 1.6 ghz AMD Quad Core with a 25w TDP
    The N930 is a 2.0 ghz AMD Quad Core with a 35w TDP

    The N930 is 25% faster and is a much better cpu if you don't mind the extra tdp (which is not necessary the same as battery life). Pretty much the N930 is competitive with intel i line of chips but the P920 is not competitive.
    Reply
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Um not i'm not. the Toshiba Satellite A660D-ST2G01 cost $950 with the N920 cpu. Reply
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Here is the direct link of the model on toshiba website
    http://laptops.toshiba.com/laptops/satellite/A660/...

    Note the processor is a P920. Also read the first page of the review note Jared said the processor is the P920 at 1.6 Ghz. There is no such thing as a N920 processor from AMD, there is only a P920 and a N930 (which is 25% faster but has a 35w tdp instead of 25w)

    The price is 949 which no one disagrees with. The speed sucks compared to the intel which no one disagrees with. The N930 processor speed is comparable to the Core I series of intel processors.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 01, 2010 - link

    Given the A665D has an MSRP of $899 and sells at Newegg for $799, the real issue is the MSRP; I suspect the retail outlets will carry this notebook for a price closer to $850. It's still too much I think, but some will like the inclusion of ExpressCard/34 perhaps.

    The problem is that I figure there's only about $350 in the cost of a quad-core i7-720QM Intel chip (and that's being generous as OEMs probably get it for a lot less--wouldn't be surprised if they pay closer to half that much). But AMD's mobile parts aren't even remotely competitive with 720QM, so let's look at i5-520M. Intel pricing there is $225, and again OEM pricing has to be less than that.

    Motherboards, chipsets, chassis, power, LCD, HDD, etc. are pretty much the same whether you get Intel or AMD. If you put together reasonable costs on all of those, a notebook like the A660 series (Intel or AMD models) costs something like $450-$550 just in materials without a processor. So the bottom line is you're looking at trying to build a laptop where the most money you can easily cut off by switching from Intel to AMD is maybe $100, and possibly not even that. AMD notebook bill of materials comes to perhaps $650 in this case, while the Intel notebook might come to $750 (depending on build order discounts).

    If this notebook were priced at $699 as someone suggested above, it would be very close to losing money on each one produced. Though I suppose my math and estimates could be off, but R&D costs money too....
    Reply

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