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
USB 3.0
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
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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  • Jmegapac - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    If you don't mind a Dell, I'd consider Dell Vostro 3450. It has the same configuration as the Toshiba laptop mentioned above except for a) Radeon HD 6630M, b) 320GB 7200RPM HDD, c) DVD writer instead of Bluray drive.

    It does have backlight keyboard and a fingerprint reader.

    I believe the total cost is around $780 or so excluding tax. If you can find a Dell coupon, you should be able to reduce the price even further.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks -- I've added a mention in the conclusion. Not seeing the $780 price for those features, though; where did you find that? I'm coming up with $964 at the time of writing, though perhaps you're talking about using a Dell business account to get a lower price?
  • Eidorian - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I remember Laptop Magazine had a link through Logic Buy that discounted $220 the Vostro 3450 back in early April. It was rather tempting to get one of those with a Radeon 6630M and a three year warranty for $779.
  • ekerazha - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    About upcoming 14-inch notebooks with Sandy Bridge and a more powerful NVIDIA GPU (I've had too much issues with ATI GPUs), I'm aware of:

    - Acer Aspire TimelineX 4830T (GT 540M), but some reviews say that it has overheating/throttling issues and poor build quality.

    - Lenovo IdeaPad Y470 (GT 550M), but only 4 hours of battery life?

    - Asus U41SV (GT 540M)

    Unfortunately I think that they lack backlit keyboard.

    Did I miss any other notebook?
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    You missed the main trifecta of business laptops, though they are now available for order.

    Dell Latitude E6420
    Lenovo ThinkPad T420

    The HP EliteBook 8460p has ATI Radeon Mobility 6470 graphics, but to me it qualifies as well. nVidia isn't without its issues on the mobile graphics front either.

    Both the Dell and Lenovo can have Optimus graphics. The Lenovo is lighter, and smaller; the Dell probably has better customer support. Both are built toughter than the models you mentioned, though. The Dell can have a backlit keyboard, and the ThinkPad has its ThinkLight which can shine down on the keyboard to illuminate it, and works well.
  • royalewihcheese - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    It's a pretty frustrating time to be in the market for a notebook. My previous one just bit the dust, and I'm on a five year old Acer now during the search. They're really dragging on getting Sandy Bridge notebooks to market, and when trying to browse for them, they're all grouped in with the older Core i3/i5/i7 models. It seems like there's a total lack of interest in putting out new notebooks.

    How much stock do you guys put in the Squaretrade reliability ratings? I've been happy with my two Acers, the last failure being the result of four years of pretty rough use, and they're rated pretty dismally there. Is it worth holding out for an ASUS (which I have a good impression of from using their motherboards for decades) or Toshiba (decidedly less favorable impression) to put out the dream-specced notebook?
  • jabber - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    ...all the stickers?

    Note ot manufacturers (including Microsoft) I really dont care or want them on my laptop!

    Just makes your products look cheaper out on the shelves, not smarter or better.

    Joe Average user doesnt have a clue what most of those "Turbo Boost" "Sonic Tunnel" i5" strickers mean anyway.
  • Ushio01 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    WD40 is your friend here, it easily removes the loathsome sticky residue after you peel off all those annoying stickers.
  • jabber - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Oh its not the taking off that bothers me its just they look so damn ugly and tacky stuck all over the chassis.

    You dont see that crap stuck all over Macbooks so why do it on non Mac kit?

    A simple spec sheet on the store shelf will do.

    Also most kit is probably bought online so it makes them even more pointless.
  • erple2 - Monday, May 2, 2011 - link

    Perhaps that's part of the Macintax - no labels costs a little bit more?

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