Gone are the Atom processor’s days of monopolizing the low-cost mobile-computing market. This should come as welcome news to folks who want the price and portability benefits of a netbook but more robust performance.
Take Toshiba’s Satellite T115 as an example. To say that it has an 11.6-inch diagonal screen, weighs 3.6 pounds, and is coated in a high-gloss black finish inlaid with a subtle geometric pattern is to describe any number of netbooks on the market today. The fact that the T115 costs $480 only drives home the similarity.
And yet, the T115 is different from netbooks in one very significant way. It houses a traditional notebook processor. It’s just a single-core, single-threaded, 45mn, 1.3GHz Pentium M, but that proved plenty sufficient for making mincemeat of our zero-point netbook’s benchmark scores. That machine’s Atom N270 is clocked 23 percent higher at 1.6GHz, but the Pentium beat it by massive margins—from 27.4 percent in MainConcept all the way up to 128.7 percent in 3DMark 03.
The T115 also outperformed our zero-point at streaming high-def video. We compared the two machines playing a high-def video clip from Vimeo.com in full-screen and found that, despite the occasional dropped frame, the video was altogether watchable on the T115, but not so on our zero-point, where the screen would frequently freeze and drop large chunks of content.
Not surprisingly, however, the T115 is no match for an Ion-enabled netbook when it comes to gaming. While the T115 was vastly superior to the HP Mini 311 netbook (February 2010) in our Photoshop and MainConcept benchmarks, the latter’s Nvidia graphics chipset made it 35 percent faster in Quake 3 and a whopping 77 percent faster in Quake 4, albeit at a just-barely playable 34fps.
The thing is, are you buying a machine of this size more for games (and old ones, at that) or for general computing chores? If you tend toward the latter, there’s really no contest. Besides offering more processing power than a netbook, the T115’s 1366x768 screen, 2GB of DDR3/800 (upgradeable to 4GB), 250GB HDD, and Windows 7 Home Premium OS trump the typical specs of its Atom-based counterparts—for little or no extra cost in some cases. What’s more, the T115 features competitive battery life, delivering more than five hours of continuous video playback on a full charge.
Like any budget portable, the T115 has its compromises. The keyboard feels a little cramped, and the function buttons are particularly small; worse, the single bar that serves as the right- and left-mouse buttons is stiff and a bit awkward to use—it definitely takes getting used to; and the speakers are weak. But overall, the T115 offers excellent value for the price.