The Bottom Line
Dec 12 2012 - Toshiba has made their 14-inch ultrabook even more affordable with their second revision. To achieve this, they did sacrifice some of the metal exterior which doesn't really impact the feel of the laptop but in the process also reduced the battery size. They did make a number of improvements however including better storage performance and two USB 3.0 ports instead of one. The biggest problem here though is that the 14-inch display and corresponding laptop doesn't really provide much in terms of benefits over a 13-inch model. Still, there aren't many ultrabooks to be found under $700.
- One Of The Most Affordable Ultrabooks Available
- Improved Storage Performance From Increase SSD Cache
- Battery Life Dropped From Previous Version
- Display Panel Doesn't Offer Much That 13-inch Ultrabooks Already Have
- Intel Core i3-3217U Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
- 500GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Drive With 32GB Solid State Drive Cache
- 14" WXGA (1366x768) Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 Integrated Graphics
- Fast Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- Two USB 3.0, One USB 2.0, HDMI, 7-in-1 Card Reader
- 13.4" x 9.1" x .8" @ 4.1 lbs.
- Windows 8, Office Starter, Norton Internet Security
Review - Toshiba Satellite U945-S4380
Dec 12 2012 - Just several months ago, Toshiba launched the Satellite U845 ultrabook laptop. Fast forward to the launch of Windows 8 and Toshiba revamped their 14-inch ultrabook to make it even more affordable yet the Satellite U945 looks pretty much the same as the previous model. The most notable change is the exterior moved from some metal to an all plastic exterior which likely reduced its price to under $700. It still is relatively thick for ultrabooks at eight tenths of an inch thick through the whole body but this does allow for more peripherals ports.
Powering the entry level Satellite U945-S4380 is the Intel Core i3-3217U dual core mobile processor. This is the ultra low voltage version required for the ultrabook specifications which means that it does offer a limited amount of performance. Combined with the 4GB of DDR3 memory, it is sufficient for the majority of the basic tasks like email, web browsing, media watching and productivity software. It will struggle though on more demanding tasks such as desktop video work. Thankfully the memory can be upgraded to smooth out more demanding tasks but it does require replacing one or more of the existing memory modules.
The storage setup has pretty much stayed the same as the past U845. It combines a 500GB traditional hard drive with a 32GB solid state drive for caching to improve performance. The only real difference here is that the cache has been upgraded from the previous 16GB to 32GB which means it can hold more information in that cache. It has boosted the cold boot speeds up to roughly twenty-five seconds from the previous thirty but that is more likely from Windows 8 vs. Windows 7. If you do need additional space, there are two USB 3.0 ports for use with high speed external storage drives. This is an improvement as the past model had just a single port.
The LCD panel used for the Satellite U945 is pretty much the same as the past model and this is a bit disappointing. The 14-inch panel still has a native resolution of just 1366x768 which doesn't really give it any benefit over smaller 13-inch ultrabooks. Colors and brightness are decent but viewing angles are pretty limited on the vertical adjustments. Of course the pricing of the unit is the major reason for the mediocre display panel. The graphics are driven by the Intel HD Graphics 4000 that is built into the Core i3 processor. This is fine for your basic graphics needs but does still lack 3D performance for any gaming beyond casual at the most basic detail and resolution settings. It does offer support for accelerated media encoding when using Quick Sync compatible applications.
The keyboard and trackpad remain unchanged at all from the past model. It still uses the isolated keyboard layout that also features large shift and enter keys which is nice but it does place a few keys to the right hand side that can be confusing to some. Travel is short from teh shallow keyboard but it does offer a fairly accurate experience. There is no backlight to the keyboard which is common among the low cost ultrabooks. The trackpad design is slightly recessed to help prevent accidental palm brushes of it and features integrated buttons. This all seems to work well enough but the multitouch gesture support does have problems at times.
Another aspect that changed for the Satellite U945 is the battery. The past U845 featured a 54WHr battery pack. The U945 by contrast uses a smaller capacity 45Whr battery pack. This does mean that the running time is going to be less. In my digital video playback testing, the system was able to run for just over four and a half hours. This is a reduction of roughly forty-five minutes over the past version. It is still better than many of the other 14-inch low cost ultrabooks but falls short of the six and a half hours the more expensive Dell XPS 14 achieves.
While there are a lot more 14-inch ultrabooks on the market, there are still a relative few priced around $700 that compete with the Satellite U845. The closest options are the ASUS VivoBook S400CA, HP Envy Ultrabook 4 and Lenovo IdeaPad U410. Each of these is priced closer to $800. The ASUS offers a slightly faster processor and a touchscreen display which is beneficial with the Windows 8 operating system. The HP offers a slightly faster processor and a more premium aluminum clad finish. Finally, the Lenovo offers better performance and a much higher storage capacity but with shorter running times.