Introducing the Toshiba Satellite M645

Toshiba has spent the last half a decade carving out an interesting niche as a notebook manufacturer, with many consumer-grade notebooks that are ostensibly budget offerings but often feature a markedly different look and feel from the kinds of laptops vendors like Dell, HP, and Acer produce to serve this market segment. Oftentimes they can feel stylistically behind the curve, but every so often they produce a big winner as they did with their Portege R700 series.

Now, a trickle-down of style couples with modern hardware in a respectable new entrant in their venerable Satellite line: the M645. Our review unit features a shiny new Sandy Bridge mobile dual-core processor along with a healthy amount of memory, an Optimus-enabled NVIDIA GeForce 500M series GPU, and a Blu-ray combo drive, all in a reasonable 14-inch chassis. But it threatens to set you back a grand: is it worth it?

The elegantly titled M645-S4118X we have on hand for review is the most expensive unit in Toshiba's M640 line, and as you'll see from the specifications, it largely earns that. This is as decked out as Toshiba's 14-inch consumer notebooks get, featuring a lot of power and flexibility. Here's what you get:

Toshiba M645-S4118X Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-2410M
(2x2.3GHz + HTT, 2.9GHz Turbo, 32nm, 3MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM65
Memory 4GB DDR3-1333 and 2GB DDR3-1333 (6GB Total, Max 2x4GB)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 1GB DDR3 (Optimus)
(96 CUDA cores, 475MHz/950MHz/1.8GHz core/shaders/memory)

Intel HD 3000 (12 EUs, 650-1200MHz core)
Display 14-inch LED Glossy 16:9 1366x768
(Chi Mei N140B6-L02 Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Toshiba 640GB 5400RPM SATA 3Gbps Hard Disk
Optical Drive BD-ROM/DVD+-RW Combo Drive w/ Labelflash
Networking Realtek PCIe FE 10/100 Ethernet
Atheros AR9002WB-1NG 802.11n Wireless
Bluetooth 3.0+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD audio
Stereo speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 48Wh battery
Front Side Indicator lights
SD/MS/MMC reader
Left Side Kensington lock
2x USB 2.0
Ethernet jack
Optical drive
Right Side Headphone jack
Microphone jack
HDMI
USB 3.0
VGA
Exhaust vent
AC adaptor jack
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.3" x 9.0" x 1.12"-1.39" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.4 lbs
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
Blu-ray drive
Backlit keyboard
USB 3.0
Bluetooth
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing MSRP at $1,099
Available online at $999

Starting from the top we have one of Intel's midrange Sandy Bridge mobile processors, the Core i5-2410M. Like its kin it features 3MB of L3 cache along with Hyper-Threading, and depending on thermals and workload it can turbo up to 2.6GHz on two cores or 2.9GHz on one core. Its only real weak point is that its HD 3000 GPU tops out at 1200MHz instead of the 1300/1350MHz you get on some of the faster models, but given our next major component that shouldn't be a huge issue.

The M645 benefits greatly from the inclusion of the NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M with 1GB of DDR3 running at 900MHz (1.8GHz effective) and Optimus technology to maximize battery life while allowing the end user to enjoy both a decent mobile gaming GPU as well as Intel's Quick Sync hardware video encoder. Unfortunately, this is a point where the unit also falters: Toshiba runs the GT 525M at clocks well below spec. NVIDIA specifies the 525M to run the core at 600MHz (and thus the 96 CUDA cores at 1.2GHz), but Toshiba has substantially reduced its core clock to just 475MHz (reducing the CUDA cores to a paltry 950MHz). The cut is a brutal one that you'll see reduces performance below even a GeForce GT 420M.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Toshiba includes a generous 6GB of DDR3-1333, and while the 5400RPM spindle speed on the hard drive is slow, at least the 640GB of storage is copious. Better still, Toshiba also includes both a Blu-ray drive and a USB 3.0 port. The backlit keyboard is also a welcome touch, but the inexplicable lack of gigabit ethernet connectivity is troubling, and the mediocre 48Wh 6-cell battery is unfortunate.

In terms of the internal hardware, we really wind up with mixed feelings all around as Toshiba has been generous in some places while frustratingly stingy in others. At the price Toshiba is asking, some of these trade-offs just shouldn't have been made.

Finally, a Little Less Gloss
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  • Icabus - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I don't know if I speak for everyone, but I would love to see 2 additional graphs. On the performance page a graph showing the current price, or price range for the other comparable offerings would be nice so you could see what kind of performance increase you are getting for the increase in price. I know this would not be easy as the price can very across the internet, and I understand price can change with rebates and sales all the time.

    The other graph is a little easier, but on the power usage page I would love to see the weight here. Since the different offerings come with different size batteries, it would be nice to see just how much of a difference there is between to offerings when on has a 4xWHr battery and another has a 8xWHr battery.
    Reply
  • Chris Peredun - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    "NVIDIA specifies the 525M to run the core at 600MHz (and thus the 96 CUDA cores at 1.2GHz), but Toshiba has substantially reduced its core clock to just 475MHz (reducing the CUDA cores to a paltry 950MHz). The cut is a brutal one that you'll see reduces performance below even a GeForce GT 420M."

    Thanks for highlighting this issue on page 1, Dustin.

    In a dream world, NVIDIA would come kick them in the groin and tell them not to label or refer to the GPU in this unit as a "GT 525M" when it is *not obeying specs.*

    Is there a particular reason we can't have that dream come true? I'm sure there's some country where a "false advertising" suit would land a hit.
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I'd love to see a "durability roundup" in which you take all the $699 budget wonder notebooks and put them through a series of impacts, drops, and spills followed by a photographed teardown detailing internal damage to see how these mass produced plastic consumer notebooks stand up to abuse. Reply
  • TegiriNenashi - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    With processors, memory and the other stuff stagnated these days perhaps it makes sense for vendors to differentiate on their screen offering. Is it hard to comprehend how many users can't stand 16:9? Reply
  • jah1subs - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    You can complain all you want about 16:9 and it will make absolutely no difference. Several years ago, I noticed a story on digitimes.com that said panel manufacturers realized that they could lay out more 16:9 panels than 16:10 panels in later generation manufacturing plants, perhaps 6th generation. The difference was 5% or 10%

    I have a question. For those who have seen 14" or 15.6" panels, is 1600x900 more or less readable than 1366x768, all other things being equal (ceteris paribus)?

    P.S. ceteris paribus is correctly spelled. I searched it before posting the message.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    "I have a question. For those who have seen 14" or 15.6" panels, is 1600x900 more or less readable than 1366x768, all other things being equal (ceteris paribus)?"

    The answer is: 16:9 sucks
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, April 30, 2011 - link

    Readable? Bigger will always be more readable! The trade off is workspace.

    btw, the poster didn't even "complain" about 16:9. But I will: it sucks :) And if 1 manufacturer still offered 15.4" 1680x1050 or 14.1" 1400x1050, it would be a huge differentiator and there's a good chance they'd get my business. Make it IPS, too. I'll happily pay the premium.
    Reply
  • Letros - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Hey guys, long time reader first time poster, great site BTW =)

    I have a similar model of this laptop, the customized M640, didn't care for the Blu-ray player on the retail model, so I saved a few bucks, while opting for a back-lit keyboard, 7200 HDD, and extended cell battery, came out to $920.

    Anyway, I was pretty upset myself when I saw the GT525M at 475 Mhz, however Nvidia System Tools lets you bring the clock back up, I actually have it overclocked at 630/950, up from the 525M spec sheet of 600/900. My GPU temps don't get above 80 C and the laptop does a good job at cooling(had it running for a few hours to confirm stability). My 3dMark 06 was 7600 marks. I don't play too many games on it though, have a desktop for that, but it's nice for some mobile SC2.

    I'm satisfied with my purchase, even with the BS clock reduction, a higher res screen would have been nice...
    Reply
  • TrackSmart - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Good to know that the clock speed is easily modified and that it stays within reasonable temperature limits (for a GPU running at full tilt in a laptop). I don't do any mobile gaming, so I opted for the Portege series (only 3.2 lbs). I also lament the low resolution, low quality displays that Toshiba uses, but I couldn't find any alternatives in the same price range and weight. Reply
  • Beenthere - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I'm not gonna buy any InHell product after their criminal convictions. Reply

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