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Toshiba's Nile-powered Satellite T235D notebook

AMD's back, baby

Manufacturer Toshiba
Model Satellite T235D-S1345
Price (Street)
Availability Now

AMD has always fought an uphill battle to make a name for itself in notebooks. Even at Intel's darkest hour, when Pentium 4s were getting a well-deserved whupping from the Athlon 64 series, the excellent Pentium Ms reigned supreme among early thin-and-light laptops. Intel widened its lead again with its Atom and Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage offerings, which have given us previously unheard-of combinations of power-efficiency and affordability.

The tide is slowly turning, though. In May of this year, AMD announced its biggest mobile launch to date: 135 systems from all of the big names in the industry—Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, MSI, and Toshiba—adopted its new Nile and Danube platforms. According to the latest figures from IDC, AMD's paltry notebook market share became slightly less paltry last quarter, as well, climbing from just over 12% to almost 14%.

Toshiba's Satellite T235D-S1345 is one of the 135 newcomers—part of the fresh onslaught of AMD champions out to prove themselves against Intel's finest. Toshiba has based this 13.3" ultraportable on the 2010 AMD Ultrathin Platform, also known as Nile, outfitting it with a dual-core Turion II Neo processor, Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics, and a suitably slim chassis. At least on paper, the T235D compares favorably to similarly priced CULV designs, especially when you look at the integrated graphics.

We'll be putting the T235D through the paces to see whether AMD finally has a serious challenger to the Intel CULV family. Is Nile the slam-dunk AMD needs? And should the T235D itself be on your shopping list this back-to-school season?

From Congo to Nile: a change of pace
Over the past couple of years, AMD's ultrathin efforts have taken it from the great white north to an African safari. Yukon, the company's first stab at the concept, managed to beat Atom netbooks on graphics and CPU performance while retaining very attractive pricing. However, as we found, those perks came at the cost of notably poor battery life. Later, the Congo platform added dual cores and DirectX 10-class integrated graphics, but sluggish and power-hungry 65-nm processors continued to be a handicap—and by that point, AMD was competing against not just netbooks, but Intel CULV ultraportables, as well.

Nile is a much bigger step forward than Congo. It brings together DirectX 10.1 integrated graphics, CPUs based on a 45-nm fabrication process, DDR3 memory support, HyperTransport 3.0, and AMD's latest south bridge. The chart below, which we nabbed from an AMD PowerPoint slide, shows how those additions affect power efficiency:

Internal AMD tests suggest Nile delivers 22% better clock-for-clock CPU performance and 36% higher 3DMark06 scores than Congo, so the greater power efficiency goes hand-in-hand with greater speed. Sounds like a winning combination.

There's not a whole lot of special sauce here, mind you. Nile is more or less a mobile version of AMD's entry-level desktop platform. The Turion II Neo X2 processor in the Toshiba T235D features a Geneva chip, which is the notebook equivalent of Regor, the silicon inside Athlon II X2 desktop processors. That means two cores, no L3 cache, and a DDR3 memory controller, all in a die measuring about 117 mm². Similarly, Nile's RS880 chipset can be found in 880G desktop motherboards like the Asus M4A88TD-M. The mere fact that AMD is using the latest tools in its toolbox is good news, though, since Congo's 65-nm CPUs were really starting to grow long in the tooth.

Although the Toshiba T235D is a prime example of Nile in action, AMD's current branding strategy makes it a tad difficult to find other Nile-based notebooks out in stores. Unlike the elaborate dual-logo stickers that adorned Yukon systems, this Nile machine has a single AMD sticker with a Vision Premium logo much like the one we saw on Congo-based systems. The difference, AMD tells us, is a subtle one: "spotlights" in the red backdrop that set Vision 2010 notebooks apart.

AMD's definitions for the various Vision labels remain uncannily vague, too:

Were this not a Vision Premium notebook, we would apparently be unable to use a webcam, convert CDs to MP3s, or do basic photo editing. Interesting. I must have an overactive imagination, since I distinctly remember doing all of those things on comparatively antiquated home PCs a decade ago.

In all seriousness, rallying all of AMD's assets under a single, distinctive banner is probably a good thing. Not long ago, the Centrino label did a similar job of unifying different Intel sub-brands into one platform. It's just a shame you may have to pull up spec sheets to make sure you're not getting a Congo laptop with last-gen tech. Keep your eyes peeled for Nile-specific processor names (that's the Turion II Neo K600 series, Athlon II Neo K325 and K125, and V series V105) and Radeon HD 4200-series integrated graphics

With all that platform talk out of the way, we should take a closer look at the true star of our review: Toshiba's T235D.