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 industryAcer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, MSI, and Toshibaadopted 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 newcomerspart 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 handicapand 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.
The T235D in the flesh
As someone who still considers 13″ notebooks to offer the best blend of portability and functionality, I immediately saw a lot to like in the T235D. Weighing less than four pounds and measuring only 0.7″ at its thinnest point, this system feels more grown-up but nearly as svelte as its sub-12″ ultraportable brethren. Here, the larger form factor gets you not just a bigger LCD panel, but also a larger keyboard and touchpad.
Internally, the T235D ticks all the right boxes, too. Our review sample is the T235D-S1345 model, which packs a 1.5GHz dual-core Turion II Neo, four gigs of DDR3 RAM, and Windows 7 Home Premium x64. Toshiba largely didn’t skimp on bells and whistles, either:
|Processor||AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz|
|Memory||4GB DDR3-800 (2 DIMMs)|
|Graphics||Mobility Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics|
|Display||13.3″ TFT with WXGA (1366×768) resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 2.5″ 5,400 RPM hard drive|
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec|
|Ports||2 USB 2.0
1 eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
1 RJ45 10/100 Ethernet via Realtek controller
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Communications||802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Atheros AR9285|
|Input devices||Chiclet keyboard
Synaptics capacitive touchpad
|Dimensions||12.7″ x 8.8″ x 0.7-1.03″ (323 x 224 x 18-26 mm)|
|Weight||3.9 lbs (1.8 kg)|
|Battery||6-cell Li-Ion (61 Wh)|
Yes, there’s even a powered eSATA port that doubles as a USB port. The only notable omission here is Bluetootha disappointing one, especially since the front of the chassis has an LED spot specially reserved for Bluetooth activity. Toshiba omitted an optical drive, too, but those are very rare on ultraportables in general. And let’s face it: when was the last time you had to load up something from an old CD or DVD?
This particular variant of the T235D sells for $599.99 at Newegg. The cheapest 13″ laptops with Intel CULV processors, like Acer’s Aspire AS3810TZ or Toshiba’s own T235-S1310, are priced almost identically at around $590-600. Looks like AMD is up in the big leagues, gettin’ its turn at bat. Think of the T235D’s price tag as a flashing banner with the words, “Nile notebooks are just as good or better than CULV notebooks.” We’ve included a slightly more upscale sibling of the AS3810TZ in our comparison today, so we’ll be putting that implied claim to the test.
Aesthetics are subjective, of course, but I can’t say I hate the look of the thing. Jeez, though. Could Toshiba have put any more stickers on the palm rest? I count not one, not two, not three, but four stickers attesting to the system’s eco-friendliness. There’s even a sticker advertising Skype “voice & video calling” near the power button, for goodness’ sake.
Toshiba hasn’t escaped the temptation to give the T235D’s top lid a glossy finish, either. The dark tones and textured patterns should help conceal smudges and fingerprints to some extent, but don’t seek the solace of brushed aluminum or bamboo here.
In my book, the T235D gets a pass on its aesthetic faux-pas for its delightfully compact build. Note the comparison shot above, with the system propped on top of my 13″ aluminum MacBook. While the Toshiba does look thicker overall, note how thin the lower portion of the machine is by comparison, especially near the front. In everyday use, those dimensions make the T235D feel much tighter and more portable.
My only real grievance here is with the power plug. Just look at that thing. It’s huge! The solid part protrudes almost two inches to the left of the laptop, just begging to get snagged onto something when you’re sitting on the couch. At least couch use won’t be further impeded by neutering heat. The T235D stays relatively cool when it’s not under a particularly strenuous load, with the fan exhaust rarely blowing out air much hotter than room temperature.
The display and the controls
We’ve already talked a little bit about the Toshiba T235D’s display, keyboard, and touchpad, but let’s go into more detail. After all, those are components you’re pretty much stuck with, as is the case with any laptop. The human-interface components have to be good, or using the system is going to feel like a chore.
Let’s start with the display. The T235D has a TN panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio, a 1366×768 resolution, and LED backlighting, so it resembles pretty much all of the newer laptop screens out there in those respects. 13 inches happens to be a pretty good size for that resolutionany larger, and I tend to get frustrated that the manufacturer didn’t throw in a higher-res panel. Any smaller, and pixels can feel a little too tiny. This particular display really could be of higher quality, however. Vertical viewing angles are poor, contrast isn’t great, and luminosity really should be higherespecially considering the glossy finish, which impedes use in brightly lit environments. Also, looking at the panel up close shows dark vertical lines between pixel columns, which gives the image a sort of weaved look, like fabric. It’s a little strange and not terribly pleasant to look at.
I suppose one’s expectations shouldn’t be too high when shopping for a laptop in this price range. This display isn’t particularly terrible, relatively speaking, but it certainly doesn’t stand out from the swaths of mediocre TN panels. That’s really too bad.
If the display gets you down, you need only look a few inches down to be cheered up again. The T235D has an excellent little chiclet keyboard with crisp, clicky keys painted with a semi-glossy silver finish. The keys themselves may look small, but their relative size means nice, wide gaps between them, which in turn helps set your fingers in place and prevent typos. Some laptop makers have taken to using chiclet keyboards with very wide keys and small gaps, which I find much less comfortable to use.
The 13″ form factor means no compromises as far as the non-alpha keys go, so you should really have no trouble doing real work on this thing. Toshiba gets points for its attention to detail, too, like with the LED light on the caps-lock key itself, how you can hit FN-ESC to mute, or the large CTRL key, which ensures you (probably) won’t hit FN by accident when trying to cut and paste something.
Speaking of FN, holding down that key brings up a heads-up display of sorts with a list of functions and the FN+key combinations that activate them. You can even use your mouse to click on the tiles instead of completing the keystroke. That’s a brilliant touch, since having to stare down at tiny symbols etched on F-keys can be headache, especially in a dark room or airplane cabin. Toshiba loses points for not having a heads-up display for volume control, though. The only way to be sure you’ve set the volume right is to try playing back something.
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||294 mm||97 mm||28,440 mm²||167 mm||49 mm||8,203 mm²|
|Versus full size||102%||88%||90%||97%||86%||84%|
Compared to our reference, non-chiclet keyboard, the T235D’s keyboard appears to have almost the same alpha key width, but with a wee bit less height. Out of pure curiosity, I compared the surface areas of the T235D’s alpha keys and those of my Apple desktop keyboard. It turns out the Toshiba has about 94% of the Apple keyboard’s alpha-key area, which really isn’t that small.
Moving down to the touchpad, and we have another win for Toshiba. I’ve complained endlessly about poor-quality touchpads in notebook reviews, but it’s hard to find a flaw with this one. It’s not too small; the surface has a good coefficient of friction, with very little break-in required; and the buttons curve down with the lip of the palm rest, so hitting them with one’s thumb requires no extra effort. By virtue of being a Synaptics pad, this unit provides multi-touch scrolling, pinching, and pivoting functionality, tooand I’m pleased to report the touchpad surface is smooth enough to make two-finger scrolling feel solid and reliable.
The only downside? The glossy finish on those buttons:
Come on, laptop designers. You should know the drill by now. Glossy paint attracts smudges, so don’t put it on areas the user is supposed to touch. Like the friggin’ touchpad buttons.
Connectivity and expansion
Because of its small size and slim form factor, the T235D doesn’t have too much going on in terms of connectivity. What’s there is, however, reasonably complete:
On the left side, we have the AC port, the fan exhaust vent, HDMI, eSATA/USB, and an all-in-one card reader.
On the right, Toshiba gives us 3.5-mm headphone and mic ports, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, VGA, Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot .
Flipping the T235D on its back exposes the battery and expansion area. Freeing that six-cell battery doesn’t require too much dexterity: just pull that small right latch to unlock it, and then pull the left latch while pulling the battery toward you.
Only a single screw stands between you and the memory and storage compartment. In practice, removing that compartment door is a little scary, because it involves prying loose a myriad of little L-shaped clips with some force. I almost thought I was breaking them at one point, but no, I just had to keep pulling.
I don’t suspect most folks will be upgrading the memory, since four gigs should be plenty for an ultraportable like this one. Replacing the mechanical hard drive with an SSD might be a more worthwhile upgrade, and it shouldn’t prove too difficult. The hard drive sits in a little tray held in place by two screws, so just undo those and pull the drive horizontally to disconnect it. Put your SSD in the tray, and then just slide it back in.
Most laptops these days come with piles of pre-loaded crapware, from bloated anti-virus software trials to cheesy game demos. All that crapware can make even peppy systems feel sluggish at times. In the interest of full disclosure, we’re going to be looking more closely at these software bundles from here on out.
The Toshiba T235D-S1345 is no exception to that trend. Here’s the “Uninstall a program” control panel after its very first bootup:
Toshiba has its bases covered. We’ve got Norton Internet Security, Microsoft Works and a Microsoft Office trial, the Google Toolbar (wouldn’t wanna forget that one), Skype, and Quickbooks. Somewhat shockingly, the bulk of the pre-loaded software comes from Toshiba itself. I count more than two dozen entries that start with the PC maker’s name. Believe it or not, though, some of those apps can come in handy.
Take the Toshiba PC Health Monitor, which in the company’s words, “proactively monitors a number of system functions such as power consumption, battery health and system cooling.” That kind of information is probably too much for your computer-illiterate uncle, but enthusiasts should appreciate having that kind of information from the get-go. Too bad Toshiba doesn’t show the actual CPU temperature, though.
In a similar vein, Toshiba’s eco Utility lets you keep track of how much power the system is consuming. You can also switch on the power-saving “eco” mode from here and see how it impacts power consumption.
Other useful apps include the Toshiba Service Station, which looks for system updates; Toshiba Online Backup, which does exactly what it says on the tin; and Toshiba HDD Protection, which serves only to warn that “vibration has been detected in the PC” and “the hard disk drive head is temporarily moved to a safe position.” I’m not sure about the Toshiba Web Camera Application, which sets up camp permanently in an auto-hiding pane on the left of the screen and doesn’t let you do much besides tweak the facial-recognition feature and take pictures of yourself.
Some of Toshiba’s other applications are, unfortunately, much more frivolous. Take ReelTime (pictured above), a “graphical history/indexing tool that enables you to view recently accessed files in a fun and easy-to-use format.” Yeah, I don’t know who’d want to use that. The same goes for the Toshiba Bulletin Board, which lets you pin pictures, files, or notes to “visually organize [them] in a fun and creative way.” Toshiba goes so far as to pin both of those applications to the Windows taskbar. Too much, man. Too much!
Our testing methods
We’ve compared the Toshiba T235D-S1345 against a pair of netbooks, a collection of grown-up laptops, and the Eee PC 1201T, which doesn’t really fit in either categoryand doesn’t ship with an operating system.
The comparison to watch out for here will be with the Acer Aspire AS3810, which is a little quicker but otherwise comparable to the $600 AS3810TZ we talked about on the first page. The 3810 we tested has a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo, while the 3810TZ ships with a 1.3GHz dual-core Pentium.
Now for a few test notes. Asus’ default power management profile underclocks the Eee PC 1005PE and 1000HA’s Atom processors to 1.33GHz and 1.25GHz, respectively, when those netbooks are running on battery power. We tested both with this profile and the “high performance” mode, which lets CPUs scale up to their top speeds even on the battery. The Toshiba T235D and the Asus U30Jc, UL80Vt, and K42F all have special “Battery-saving” modes, too, results for which we’ve included in our battery life comparisons. We tested the UL80Vt in its “Turbo” mode, which overclocks the processor, as well. Other laptops were run in their default configurations.
With the exception of battery life, all tests were run at least three times, and their results were averaged.
|System||Acer Aspire AS3810-6415 Timeline||Asus Eee PC 1000HA||Asus Eee PC 1005PE||Asus Eee PC 1201T||Asus K42F||Asus U30Jc||Asus UL80Vt-A1||Dell Studio 14z||Samsung R480||Toshiba T235D-S1435|
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 1.4GHz||Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz||Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz||AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 1.6GHz||Intel Core i5-540M 2.53GHz||Intel Core i3-350M 2.26GHz||Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3GHz||Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz||Intel Core i5-430M 2.26GHz||AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz|
|North bridge||Intel GS45||Intel 945GSE||Intel NM10 Express||AMD RS780MN||Intel HM55 Express||Intel HM55 Express||Intel GS45||Nvidia GeForce 9400M G||Intel HM55 Express||AMD M880G|
|South bridge||Intel ICH9M||Intel ICH7M||AMD ID439D||Intel ICH9M||AMD SB820|
|Memory size||4GB (2 DIMMs)||1GB (1 DIMM)||1GB (1 DIMM)||2GB (1 DIMM)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||3GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)||4GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz||DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz||DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz|
|Audio||Realtek codec with 184.108.40.20607 drivers||Realtek codec with 6.1.7600.16385 drivers||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.1148 drivers||Realtek codec with 18.104.22.16848 drivers||Realtek codec with 22.214.171.12439 drivers||Realtek codec with 126.96.36.19929 drivers||Realtek codec with 188.8.131.5298 drivers||IDT codec with 184.108.40.20617 drivers||Realtek codec with 220.127.116.1169 drivers||Realtek codec with 18.104.22.16872 drivers|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X4500MHD with 22.214.171.1246 drivers||Intel GMA 950 with 126.96.36.1999 drivers||Intel GMA 3150 with 188.8.131.529 drivers||AMD Radeon HD 3200 with 8.635.0.0 drivers||Intel GMA HD with 184.108.40.2065 drivers||Intel GMA HD with 220.127.116.111 drivers||Intel GMA X4500MHD with 18.104.22.1682 drivers
Nvidia GeForce G210M with 22.214.171.12488 drivers
|Nvidia GeForce 9400M G with 126.96.36.19919 drivers||Nvidia GeForce GT 330M with 258.96 drivers||AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 with 8.723.2.1000 drivers|
|Hard drive||Toshiba HDD2HD21 500GB 5,400 RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.4 160GB 5,400 RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.4 160GB 5,400 RPM||Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 250GB 5,400 RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400 RPM||Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 320GB 5,400-RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400 RPM||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320GB 5,400 RPM||Seagate Momentus 5400.6 500GB 5,400 RPM||Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5,400 RPM|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Starter x86 x64||Windows 7 Starter x86 x64||
Windows 7 Home Premium x86
Ubuntu Linux 10.04
|Windows 7 Ultimate x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x64||Windows 7 Home Premium x86||Windows 7 Home Premium x64|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- Firefox 3.5.3
- Adobe Flash 10.0.32.18 and 10.1.82.76
- x264 HD Benchmark 2.0 with x264 version 0.59.819
- 7-Zip 4.65 x64
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
The dual-core Turion II Neo is off to a good start in our browser tests, standing pretty much neck-and-neck with the Acer’s 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400.
What happens when we crank up the heat and step into 7-Zip’s built-in compression and decompression benchmark?
Same deal, pretty much.
Turning up the heat further with a purely CPU-intensive video encoding test yields similar results. The T235D either inches ahead of the AS3810 or shadows it. Of course, we should note that both of those offerings are well, well behind Core 2010-powered systems like the U30Jc and R480. AMD’s Turion II Neo K625 does well enough against Core 2-based CULV processors, but it’s no match for a Core i3.
We tested video playback performance by playing the Alice in Wonderland 720p trailer, the Avatar 1080p trailer, and a standard-def DivX video in a maximized Windows Media Player window. The 720p YouTube trailer was played with Flash 10.1 in a maximized Firefox window. In each case, we kept an eye on the Task Manager and recorded the lowest and highest CPU utilization numbers.
|Alice in Wonderland QuickTime 720p||0-9%||Perfect|
|Avatar QuickTime 1080p||0-12%||Perfect|
|DivX PAL SD||7-18%||Perfect|
|720p YouTube HD windowed||4-23%||Perfect|
The Toshiba’s Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics chew through even 1080p video without much effort. In this case, we actually saw higher CPU utilization when playing back our DivX clip. High-definition YouTube video is similarly smooth, presumably thanks to Flash 10.1’s support for hardware-accelerated H.264 video playback.
Here comes Nile’s make-or-break moment. Each laptop’s battery was run down completely and recharged before each of our battery life tests. We used a 40% brightness settings on all displays except for the Aspire Timeline’s, which we cranked up to 50%. (We found the Timeline’s 50% setting more directly comparable to the 40% settings of the K42F, UL80Vt, and Studio 14z.)
For our web surfing test, we opened a Firefox window with two tabs: one for TR and another for Shacknews. These tabs were set to reload automatically every 30 seconds over Wi-Fi, and we left Bluetooth enabled on systems that include it (the T235D and U30Jc do not). Our second battery life test involves movie playback. Here, we looped a standard-definition video of the sort one might download off BitTorrent, using Windows Media Player for playback. We disabled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth across the board, too.
The bad news is that, even with a relatively meaty 61Wh battery, Nile fails to catch up to the year-old Aspire 3810 and its 56Wh battery. The good news is that Nile doesn’t fall too far behind, and it does quite a bit better than Congo, as represented by the Eee PC 1201T (which had a 47Wh battery and a single-core, 1.6GHz Athlon Neo MV-40). Toshiba’s eco power profile doesn’t help much, thoughI think its impact on performance doesn’t justify the small battery life improvement.
Now, there’s still one facet of Nile we haven’t explored: gaming. CULV laptops with Intel integrated graphics are, let’s face it, basically unworkable in anything resembling a modern game. Not so for Nile and its integrated Radeon HD 4200-series graphics. Before we reach our conclusion, let’s put those graphics capabilities to the test, shall we?
Nile shows its gaming chops
The Mobility Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics in this Nile notebook aren’t exactly designed for hard-core gaming. GPU-Z reports only 40 stream processors, four ROPs, and a 382MHz core clock speed. The integrated GPU also shares 256MB of the system’s DDR3 memory. Still, that’s better than nothing. To see how far we could push this system, we tried to play a handful of PC games. We started with Gearbox’s Borderlands, which has become a staple of our mobile gaming benchmarks as of late.
If you were expecting to get your wasteland bandit-killing on with this laptop, prepare to be disappointed. Even with the resolution scaled back to 640×480 and all the detail settings turned down, the T235D could only produce frame rates in the 20-30 FPS range. We could play, but the game was just a shadow of itself.
Next, we tried Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2. The co-op zombie shooter was surprisingly playable at 1024×768 with trilinear filtering, low detail levels, and no antialiasing, film grain, or vsync. Frame rates hovered between 22 and 39 FPS, with rare drops into the teens during uniquely heavy action (or with spitter goo on-screen). For a quick, on-the-road zombie killfest with your friends, the T235D is certainly usable. Just don’t think too much about the eye candy you’re missing.
Codemasters’ DiRT 2 proved quite a bit more demanding than the Valve title. We had to drop the resolution to 800×600 and select the ultra-low detail level to get a semi-stable 24-25 FPS, at which point the game was playable but a little choppyand quite pixelated. Not really the kind of racing experience I would recommend.
Don’t let the top-down perspective and the lack of a price tag fool youValve’s Alien Swarm requires a fair amount of graphics horsepower. At 1024×768 with all detail settings at their lowest, the game’s offline training level chugged along at around 14-30 FPS, with dips to as little as 10 FPS. That was more playable than you might think, since the top-down perspective means you can aim and fire without moving the camera. Still, the game felt far from smooth, especially with aliens on screen. Again, not a terribly great experience.
Discouraged by our experiences with DiRT 2 and Alien Swarm, we fired up Introversion’s Darwinia, a low-tech indie game that’s gained a cult following. Unsurprisingly, this title was perfectly smooth. In fact, the Toshiba cranked out about 40-65 FPS at 1366×768 with everything maxed out. Light indie gaming shouldn’t be a problem on this laptop.
What about older PC blockbusters? Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is nearing its third birthday, but it can still be a lot of fun, especially in multiplayer. We started the game’s first post-training level, which takes place on stormy seas with rain and plenty of action. With the game at 1280×720 with normal textures and models, low water detail, and all the other bells and whistles disabled, the Toshiba managed frame rates in the 20-40 FPS range, with some detours into the teens here and there. I’d call the experience fairly playable, although I wouldn’t be afraid to take the resolution down a notch to get a smoother experience in multiplayer.
We’ve reached the end of our journey up the Nile. Toshiba has a great little notebook here, but let’s talk briefly about AMD’s new platform first.
With Nile, I think it’s safe to say AMD has largely bridged the gap with Intel’s CULV offeringsbut with a different mix of qualities. Processor performance is equivalent, graphics performance is quite a bit better, and battery life is a little bit worse. If you don’t need to stay unplugged all day, that might not sound like a bad trade-off at all, especially considering just how bad Intel’s GMA 4500HD integrated graphics really are. Being able to play Left 4 Dead 2 at all is a pretty big deal on this class of system.
Now if only AMD could deliver CULV-like power efficiency and solid integrated graphics, it would have something going. As it is, Nile is a good alternative, but not the slam-dunk some may have been hoping for.
As for the Toshiba T235D, this system’s great form factor, excellent touchpad and keyboard, and solid platform make it a very tantalizing choice for the back-to-school season. If it weren’t for the lack of Bluetooth and the lackluster display, this little laptop would have been an easy Editor’s Choice candidate. We think it still deserves a Recommended award, though, simply because few other systems manage to get so much right. You’ll just want to do some house-cleaning in the “Uninstall a program” control panel before getting to work on this thingbut what laptop couldn’t that be said about?