You asked: Satellite A100-TA9 review

ThereThe A100-TA9 we go again: you ask and I’ll take a look at it.

To start right off: It appears that Toshiba has been rushing to get laptops out before the official Vista release, last week. Their current A100 high-end laptop (the VA-9) features almost exactly the same case (the black/silver coloured one) but comes with slighly different hardware: for example the VA9 comes with a T5500 processor, while the TA9 has a T5600. Both are (as you probably know) Duo Core 2 processors (wikipedia). Other slight differences between the two is that the VA9 apparently comes with a 200 Gig harddrive, while the TA9 comes with ‘only’ 160 gig: additionally, the VA9 comes with Windows Vista Home Premium. Since the TA9 is basically a slightly older model (Fall 2006), it comes with Windows XP (or Media Center, generally). You may (or you may not) consider upgrading to Windows Vista (as discussed here).

You may have noticed that Toshiba sells two laptop types: the A100 and P100. All A100 models feature a 15 inch wide screen, while the P100 models, generally are fitted with a 17 inch one. For any of the A100s, this means that the highest resolution you can run these laptops on is 1280 x 800. If your eyes are a bit worse, don’t count on running the laptop on lower resolutions: the alternatives 1024 x 768 and 800 x 600 makes you want to poke your eyes out.

Since A100 models are considered “home-consumer” models, expect some disappointments: the biggest one is that the TA9 comes with a RealTek soundcard. It does not support a wave-out audio mixer. If you’re not sure what that exactly does for you, it allows you to record music or sound from within your favourite sound editor (see also Volume control: Properties : Audio Input. If there’s no Wave Out mixer listed there, you’re out of luck). A wave out mixer is (nowadays) such a common feature on all music cards, so I’m not sure why Toshiba opted to go for a soundcard that doesn’t support this: The P100, for example, which comes with a totally different but excellent audio card, does in fact support a Wave Out mixer. To make matters worse, there’s no line-in available.

The other disappointment is that it appears that Toshiba laptops now come with DVD players that won’t allow you to play DVDs from other regions because it’s set in the hardware of these players. If you used VLC to play your (legally bought) Region 2 or 3 DVDs: tough luck.

That said, for the rest the TA9 feels like a Toshiba: it has the typical mousepad (that lights up blueishly), the Harman Kardon speakers and it comes with a Centrino Duo sticker (instead of the appropriate Duo Core 2 sticker). I’m kind of curious about the cooling in general: the laptop is so small. There’s only one tiny air outlet on the left hand, which makes me suspicious if that’s really enough. There are a couple of ‘misplaced’ USB ports on the right hand, that’s right where the DVD drive is, yes. I know that a lot of laptops have these ports on the right side, but I think they’re more appropriate on the backside of a laptop, out of the eyesight, preferably.

Performance-wise the major bottleneck (once again) appears to be the harddrive, which is a 5400RPM Toshiba MK1637GSX. You’d also say that 2 Gigs + that extra Nvidia card (Go 7600, 128 MB) would do Oblivion (the game) good. On the contrary, playing the game on the highest resolution does not go well, and I had to go down to 800 x 600 for a more responsive gameplay. However, the TA9 makes a perfect development platform: having multiple programming platforms open, compiling and building goes without a snitch, thanks to that extra 1 Gig.

So, the low-down? I’m not sure if this machine would do well as a multimedia machine. Consider going for something else: Generally, the sound under-performs (and compared to the P100 it utterly fails to keep up with) and then there’s the missing audio mixer plus the missing Line-In slot. While current PC games will be playable, you’ll probably have to go a ‘resolution lower’. In my case, there were several botched ‘finishing’ details, like the earlier mentioned ‘Centrino Duo’ sticker (instead of the Duo Core 2 one) and the (mini) heat/fan outlet (which does not seem to be able to keep up sometimes either). Battery-life (2.5 hours+) is a lot better than the P100, but that makes sense because of the smaller screen surface. Having lugged around other Toshibas, the A100 cases are light but do look a bit more fragile than the ‘A40 Tank’ and ‘P100 Giant Air Sucker’ laptops. After lugging this one through customs to customs, cross-ocean, stairs up-and-down, the left front corner (around the PCMCIA slots) seems to come apart a bit. However, if you’re a programmer and you are prodding along code in multiple environments, this machine will probably serve you quite well. Heck, now is a good time to run multiple virtual sessions and have (hopefully) flawless Linux setup (more on this later1). And, on top of that, especially for Homeland Canada, Toshiba laptops now come with bi-lingual keyboards.

Yes, that picture was made with the 50mm lens and at my favourite stop at f1.8). And no, you can’t use it
1 OK. Running on Knoppix with the identical boot command as before, which is “knoppix screen=1280×600 noacpi”. Sound detects OK this time for a change.