Toshiba isn't the first company I usually think of when it comes to performance laptops. The Satellite series has consistently been a strong performer in terms of value for money, but you haven't always been able to rely on them for outright computing grunt. But times are changing. The new Satellite P50t is a slickly designed, but super-powerful, 15-inch business and home notebook.
What Is It?
Toshiba has put some serious thought into hitting just the right compromise between high-end specs and a reasonable price tag with the Satellite P50t. I tested the highest-end spec, centred around a beautiful 4Kx2K display -- 3840x2160 pixels across 15.6 inches of screen real estate, with an effective 282 PPI. A gutsy Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor can boost any or all of its four discrete cores to a turbo speed of 3.4GHz, a full 1000MHz above its 2.4GHz default clock.
16GB of RAM is, by and large, more than enough for everyday business and workstation tasks, although there's no option for swapping in larger capacity sticks. There's no discrete SSD storage, but the 1TB default spinning disk hard drive comes with a 8GB dynamic cache for frequently accessed files. A standalone AMD Radeon M265x GPU is worlds ahead of any integrated Intel graphics chipset, but isn't built for all-out gaming or rendering.
The $2499 Satellite P50t-B00R is joined by the lesser $1799 P50t-A00E stepping down in specs slightly, then the $1499 P50t-A09M being slightly cheaper again. All three systems use Intel's latest Core i7 CPUs, although the B00R uses a step-up version. Similarly, 1TB hard drives are standard, but there's a halving of RAM and a slight step down in graphics power. By and large, the three systems are similar, but there's a definite rise in computing power as you spend incrementally more cash.
What Is It Good At?
Some people have called the P50t's design uninspiring, but I think it looks great. It hits that just-right note of being a computer that doesn't jump out at you from a generic office desk, but still looks nice enough to leave on the couch at home without your guests laughing at you. There are a lot of smart design cues with the P50t's key and trackpad layout, for example -- the entire keypad is set into a recessed panel, while the offset touchpad matches up directly with the centre of the keyboard (but not the dedicated 10-key pad on the right).
Great Harman/Kardon speakers built into the Satellite P50t's shell, above the keyboard and with a low-frequency woofer underneath the machine, do an excellent job of transforming this laptop into a movie-watching powerhouse when you need it. There's a small amount of bass distortion at higher volumes, but this can be tuned out with a little bit of equaliser adjustment in Windows.
The P50t's black, glossy bezel around its glossy 15.6-inch touchscreen does a good job of creating an effective contrast boost for the already vibrant display. And what a display it is -- mostly excellent colour reproduction, vibrant colours, good 10-finger multi-touch, and no pooling when you try to flex the screen. All that sits on top of this particular Satellite P50t-B00R's 3840x2160 panel, which boasts four times as many pixels as any competing 1080p display. The 4K screen is great for some uses, less great for others (more on that later), but for working away on a presentation or browsing the Web or editing photos or watching a movie, you won't be disappointed with the P50t's display.
In terms of everyday outright performance, the Satellite P50t is strongly competitive with equivalently-priced Dells and Apples and other mid-range notebooks. Its Core i7-4700HQ processor is more than grunty enough for everyday tasks and regular photo/video editing, while the AMD Radeon M265x GPU certainly isn't a gaming powerhouse, but functions well enough to handle basic gaming -- forget about running anything but a not-too-intensive 2D or older 3D title at the display's native 4K resolution, obviously. 16GB of RAM is becoming standard for laptops of this class and spec and while I'd like the option to slot in 32 or even 64GB, the P50t does fine with what it has allocated.
Toshiba Satellite P50t: Performance
CPU: Cinebench: 245 Cinebench (OpenGL): 29FPS Graphics: 3D Mark Fire Strike: 1914 3D Mark Fire Strike Extreme: 1478 Gaming: Tomb Raider: 45fps Metro: Last Light: 23fps Battlefield 4: 33fps Crysis 3: 17fps Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 174MBps CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Write): 161Mbps Battery: Gizmodo Torture Test: 3hr 59min Gizmodo Torture Test Extreme: 2hr 35min
Gaming is obviously the P50t's weakest strength -- its mid-range GPU struggles with modern graphics effects. Apart from that, these benchmark results are pretty solid, and indicative of good performance for any everyday task you could give to Toshiba's newest Satellite. Beyond its solid internal specifications, the machine has an impressive four USB 3.0 ports and a built-in Blu-ray disc drive, HDMI output and integrated Ethernet.
Toshiba's warranty plan for the Satellite P50t includes a single year of voluntary warranty as standard, but you can upgrade to a year, two years or three years of extended support. If you're running a business and need assured support and priority servicing, there's a step-up 2- or 3-year on-site warranty service option. Pricing for these upgrades is well within my expectations, so you won't be shelling out too much for ongoing peace of mind.
What Is It Not Good At?
Windows 8.1 on a 15.6-inch, 3840x2160 pixel screen is necessarily doing a lot of image and text scaling to bring you a readable display. The problem with this is that Windows 8.1's scaling isn't great -- it's a far cry from the consistent, OS-wide scaling when you're using a retina MacBook Pro in Mac OS X, for example. Some great (and arguably mandatory) Windows programs like Chrome don't play ball properly with DPI scaling, giving you relatively blurry fonts and images in order to fill the screen. There are some caveats when you buy the 4K model of the Toshiba Satellite P50t; you'll have to learn how to switch off DPI scaling on some programs, leave it on others, and just put up with a slightly blurry display sometimes.
As a general rule, DPI scaling sits most effectively at the 150 per cent level across Windows, but some programs like Adobe Lightroom and Premiere Pro are happier and more productive with DPI scaling disabled entirely. I want it disabled in Chrome to eliminate the dodgy post-processing scaling that Google is doing within the program, but doing so renders webpages almost unreadable due to the now-tiny fonts and images.
Battery life from the P50t also isn't great. I only managed to eke out two and a quarter hours of all-out, full-power performance from this particular Satellite, largely as a result of the massively high-res, surprisingly bright LCD screen and quad-core processor.Boosting to a mid-power workload nets four hours of life -- a lot better, but still inferior to competition leaders like the MacBook Pro (despite its similarly high-res display).
Should You Buy It?
The Toshiba Satellite P50t is a good all-rounder. It's not too expensive, but has some modern and powerful general purpose home and business specs -- it's equally at home playing games (at non-native resolution, of course), doing a spot of delicate photo editing, or running regular workplace productivity tasks. It's mostly well constructed, doesn't present any huge obstacles (apart from the occasional 4K niggle) and Toshiba is backing it with a good range of included and optional warranty plans.
For $2499 it faces some stiff competition, but the P50t generally acquits itself well. If you particularly want a super-high-res screen, and you're willing to make a few compromises for that spec, the Toshiba Satellite P50t stands toe to toe with the MacBook Pro and other well-regarded 15-inch professional notebooks.