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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  • james.jwb - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    There are plenty of corporations that behave exactly the same, in fact most do. Prepare to buy amost nothing ever again on that position. But i do agree with your general theme, it's just i can think are far worse companies to get angry with than intel, so i hope you have also informed yourself on some of those and are staying away, like coca cola, for instance.
  • bji - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I will never read a notebook review past those awful, horrendous display specs. Which cuts out alot of reviews.
  • alephxero - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Any word on when HP plans of releasing the Sandy Bridge update to their Envy14 line? I know the 17-inch models have had it for awhile now.
  • TrackSmart - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    This keyboard looks suspiciously similar to the keyboards on the Toshiba Portege series laptops, yet the Porteges don't have backlit keyboards. It makes you wonder why their high-end ultraportable models are lacking this feature.
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I don't call the glossy plastic still there, or the lack of a 1600x900 display or Intel wireless for a grand progress. My ThinkPad T420 didn't cost a lot more (it would have cost less had I skipped Optimus graphics) and I got all of those and a real Intel gig NIC instead of Realtek. I also got the extra features of a Core i5-2520M processor.

    The one thing I didn't get that the Toshiba has is Blu-Ray, but to me, that's a questionable need. I'd rather carry video around on my hard drive instead of discs.

    Jared, does the Toshiba still have the insane amount of bloatware (mostly in the form of multiple utilities, each taking the form of an individual executable rather than a few unified control-center type apps) they used to have? I found that highly annoying in the past, because it was extremely hard to tell what you did and didn't need, and the apps munched heavily into RAM because of the number of them.
  • Maccollector - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I might buy one of these as they don't look like too shabby. It is a bit pricey for what I would use it for though. I would definitely prefer a faster hard drive though. Thanks for the review!
  • yyrkoon - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    If you're going to review a product, and compare it to others, you really should have some hands on with what you're comparing it to. Your guiding light seems to be performance, and features. Despite obviously never have laid hands on what you suggest as alternatives.

    What good is a feature, if the system using said feature is either quirky, or just completely unstable. Is having GbE eithernet more important than having drivers for every version of windows since Windows XP ? Probably, because that Sony VAIO you suggest is going to be down so often, you're going to need it to make up for lost time.

    Anyway, yes, if you're going to claim something is better than another, googling prices vs features is not going to cut it.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 30, 2011 - link

    So, um, "There are two laptops we'd seriously consider in the 14-inch market." And, "There you have it: six viable alternatives, but none of them comes off clearly superior in every category." Having not had a chance to review the Sony (or any of the other alternatives, other than the Dell XPS 15), we wouldn't actually states something is better or worse -- just an alternative to consider.

    As for your complaints, have you actually used the Sony we mentioned, or have you just had a bad experience with Sony in general? Because if it's the latter, you're doing even less than "googling prices vs. features". I can't find a good review of the Signature Collection C Series at present, but I wouldn't suggest Sony's consumer laptops are any worse than Dell, HP, Toshiba, Acer, etc. offerings. It looks reasonably nice at least, so maybe I'll see about looking around local stores to get an idea of what they're like in person.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    No I have not put hands to that given model. However after being in the business of repairing systems for a living. You come to realize there are brand names that are reasonably consistent, and those that are not.

    After that. Go to Toshiba's website, and look at any laptop driver list. Every_single_driver_for_any_OS_since_WinXP. That is, concerning Windows. It does not matter if the laptop was a $400 budget model or not. *That* is what I call pride in a brand name. Have you ever tried retrograding/upgrading an Operating system on a Sony laptop ? To put it nicely, it is a very inconsistent experience. Acer, also is very inconsistent from my experiences.. But Dell, and HP both usually are decent so long as the "normal wear and tear" did not include treating the laptop as a Frisbee, or football. Most are not built with this in mind.

    Stability is a personal major concern. As I believe it is for anyone. However, after reading some of the reviews of this site. Apparently performance, and features matters more( to you ). Yes, yes, we all buy something because it has something we want. This is understood, and implied. However, if laptop-a is not consistently stable, but has GbE, where another laptop(laptop-b) is rock solid stable, but only has fast ethernet. Does that make laptop-a "better". No, it makes laptop-a *potentially* faster in networking. Assuming you can keep the system up long enough to use that luxury.

    The funny thing here, is that most of the time, GbE is no where near as fast as it should be. Even after protocol overhead. Most of the time, GbE ethernet on a home network runs at about 20-30% of its full capacity. Which as it turns out is 2-3x as fast as a good performing 100Mbit network. The average user would be better off transferring large amounts of data over USB2, or firewire. I would say eSATA, but eSATA can be very flaky from one device to the next. Sadly.

    So anyway. When this user gets ready to research a product for himself, a friend, or customer. Reading your reviews has nothing to do with the decision. Frankly, newegg user reviews offers more in that respect. If that fact cuts deep, then be glad in knowing you can do something about it. If not, then maybe you think I am a racist, or something, Since that seems to be the trend lately for anyone who does not agree with another's methods.
  • randinspace - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Right when SB came out Toshiba crept a few i7 models (with a nvidia card, though which one fails me) into retail stores with the 15.6" version of that chasis for $900. It didn't have blu-ray and I didn't care, and US 3.0 would have been nicer than eSATA for me but I snagged it anyway. Then it was recalled. Then my ancient laptop stopped working and since I needed SOMETHING I picked up a heavily discounted MSI notebook (not netbook...) with AMD's E-350 in it and uh... I kind of wish I'd taken my chances with the eSATA failing on me at some point and kept the Toshiba. Mostly because of the horrible screen on this laptop which actually has NO viewing angle no matter how much I tinker with the Catalyst Control Center, but it also somehow started trying to boot from my external hard drive and I barely figured out how to stop it from doing that before having to take it back.

    Eh hem sorry to vent there, it's just been a stupid year for me and laptops. At least this thing doesn't have a tendency to freeze when I have Word 07, Chrome, and Foobar2000 open like my old laptop would. At the end of the day that's all that matters, right? Now if only I could do something about the 'A' key's tendency to not register my presses...

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