Toshiba A660D-ST2G01 Inside and Out

Toshiba's A505D that we reviewed in Junewas something of an eyesore, and thankfully the A660D does a lot to remedy the situation. There's still a glossy LCD, naturally, but the main chassis is now a textured (but still glossy) plastic. The texture goes a long way towards making the design more palatable. The keyboard has also been modified with chiclet-style keys, though they still have a slick glossy surface. The design is dubbed "Fusion X2" by Toshiba, and it definitely improves on the original Fusion, but there's still a lot of items that will be a matter of personal taste. Having used the laptop for the past month, I can say that after the initial reaction of "Gah! Glossy plastic keys!?" I have grown accustomed to the A660D. It's not my favorite laptop keyboard, but it works. Still present are the Harmon Kardon speakers, which offer good sound quality for a laptop. The keyboard also has LED backlighting, and eSATA and ExpressCard/34 expansion options are present.

While we had issues with the glossy plastic keys, the keyboard layout remains very good. There's a full size numeric keypad on the right, with the proper arrangement of keys. Dedicated Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys are above the 10-key, and there are a smattering of multimedia a quick access keys along the top. As Dustin mentioned in the Studio 17 review, a vertical column of Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys between the keyboard and 10-key would be preferable in our view, but it's not a huge issue. One interesting feature is a software utility that pops up whenever you press the Fn key that gives you a quick list of all the Fn shortcuts as well as access to a Toshiba configuration utility. It can be a bit in-your-face, but for less computer savvy users it might be helpful.

Unfortunately, the keyboard and chassis as a whole show some flex, giving the notebook a slightly cheap feel. This seems like a compromise in the quest for lighter weight, and we would be happier with a few extra ounces to give the chassis better rigidity. A better LCD—and a higher resolution panel—would also be welcome extras at the $950 price point.

We thought the touchpad on the A505D was decent, and again this is an area where the A660D ups the ante. The mousing surface is larger, the two dedicated buttons are slightly smaller, and the textured surface feels nice to the touch. Multitouch functionality works well, with the standard scroll/flip features available. We're still missing the four-finger gestures found on Apple MacBooks, and it would be interesting to see an OEM try to get an equivalent of Exposé on Windows, but the Toshiba A660D touchpad is as good as any of the other Windows laptops we've tested. A button above the touchpad allows you to enable/disable the device, for times when you're doing a lot of typing and errant touches get in the way.

The ports are the same as the A505D, with three dedicated USB 2.0 ports, a shared eSATA/USB 2.0 port, VGA and HDMI, and the other items like headphone and microphone jacks. The only real change in this area is that the ExpressCard slot is now /34 instead of /54, though it appears most ExpressCard devices are opting for the narrower form factor so this shouldn't matter much. The heat exhaust is on the preferred left hand side, out of the way of right-handed mouse users. A few other changes relative to the A505D are the use of a standard DVDRW in place of the slot load drive, and the lack of a physical WiFi switch. Some will miss these more than others, but overall the design is improved over the A505.

LCD quality is okay—slightly better than average, but nothing to write home about. The viewing angles are still poor, but it's nothing we haven't discussed with TN panels in the past. Something else we'll see later is that battery life is definitely improved over the previous AMD notebooks we've tested. That's particularly impressive when we consider the presence of a quad-core CPU. The down side is that the processor is clocked at a relatively low 1.6GHz, so short of multimedia enthusiasts and content creation, most tasks will end up slower than if Toshiba had used a faster dual-core CPU. The Turion II P520 has a 2.3GHz clock speed and the same 25W TDP, and with C-states and only two cores it seems likely that battery life could be improved even more while also improving single-threaded performance.

If you're in the market for a higher performance AMD-based notebook, the Toshiba A660D looks decent. The quad-core CPU, HD 5650 GPU, switchable graphics, and improved battery life are all positives, but it's also important to keep things in perspective. You can find a variety of Acer notebooks with a similar GPU for around the same price, but your options are generally limited to Intel Core i3(dual-core without Turbo Boost) or i5and a 17.3" LCD for a slightly lower price. There are also AMD Phenom tri-corenotebooks—again at a lower price—and other options from HP and Acer at higher prices. What none of the competition appears to offer is the same selection of components, features, and size. In fact, the biggest competition in this price range is far more likely to come from smaller laptops like the ASUS K42JV, which goes with Core i5-450M(2.4GHz plus 2.66GHz Turbo Boost) and Optimus NVIDIA GT 335M for $120 more. This really comes down to priorities, and we hope to have the K42JV or N82JV for review shortly, but the A660D does present an interesting platform.

Toshiba A660D-ST2G01: AMD Goes Quad-Core with the Phenom II P920 Graphics and Driver Shenanigans
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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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

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

    Here is the direct link of the model on toshiba website

    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.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 1, 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....

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