By Neil Bennett | on September 04, 2003
Price When Reviewed: £1,870 plus VAT
The Satellite P20 is the largest laptop we’ve ever seen, dwarfing even Apple’s 17-inch G4 PowerBook – and at 4.5kg, it’s certainly the heaviest so far. At the heart of the P20 is a desktop Pentium 4 processor. Our model includes a 3.06GHz chip, which supports Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology for higher performance in high-spec applications, but the P20 is also available with a 2.8GHz chip. Alongside the processor is 512MB of DDR RAM, which can be expanded up to 2GB – enough to keep up with most desktop computers. However, the P20 only has two RAM slots, which are both filled with 256MB modules as standard – so upgrading is an expensive process, especially as 1GB DIMMs are rare and pricey. With these specs, it’s hardly surprising that the P20 performed extremely well in our 2D graphics processing and 3D rendering tests. It completed our 20-action test in Photoshop in 111 seconds, a result that has only been beaten by the new Precision M60 (reviewed here) , which has twice as much RAM. Using Hyper-Threading, the P20 rendered our LightWave scene (using two threads) in 26 minutes 42 seconds, faster than Dell’s Precision M50 (reviewed here) by over eight minutes. However, this is still noticeably slower than similarly priced desktops. The P20’s graphics capabilities aren’t as great, though. The P20 features an excellent clear, bright widescreen display that delivers still graphics and video that are quite outstanding for a notebook – equalling any 17-inch LCD monitor we’ve seen. The 1,440-x-900-pixel resolution is fine for video editing or Web/multimedia/print design packages, but can feel cramped – and we wouldn’t want to use it for high-res illustration or 3D. Another reason to steer well clear of the P20 if you need to do any work in 3D is the paltry 32MB NVidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics chip. There’s nothing wrong with the chip per se, but 64MB of graphics RAM is a requirement for even the most basic 3D effects in current packages. The large size of the P20’s case allows Toshiba to go overboard on its components. The responsive keyboard and widescreen touchpad are among the best we’ve seen, though with the extra width it’s a shame the company didn’t plump for a more desktop-like keyboard layout – they could even have fitted in a numeric keypad if they’d wanted to. Keeping everything cool inside requires three very large fans, but it’s testament to just how well thought-out this case is that they’re nearly silent. The case has all the ports you could need, including an SD card slot, though we’d have preferred a DVI-I graphics output rather than basic VGA. There are two Harman/Kardon speakers at the front of the case that provide the best sound quality we’ve ever heard from a laptop. Both the battery and DVD-RW/RAM drive are in easily removable bays. There’s also the option of 802.11b wireless networking with a useful external on/off switch. The design of the case resembles one of those Space Invaders tables from the 80s when open (and it doesn’t feel much smaller) and the world’s largest compact make-up case when closed. The d team is split over whether the case is stylish or ugly, and we do have concerns over how seriously a client might take you if they say you using something as consumer-looking as this. The P20’s main competitor is the 17-inch PowerBook. The P20 was 13 seconds faster than the 17-inch Powerbook in our Photoshop tests, over twice as fast at LightWave rendering, and over nine times faster at hardware lighting in CineBench – though the PowerBook is notoriously poor at 3D. However, the PowerBook is much smaller and lighter, and has a longer battery life – 4.5 hours to the P20’s 2.5 hours – allowing it to be used on the move. A crossbreed of the P20 with the graphics chip and HD screen resolution of the Precision M60 would create a mobile workstation that would set the world (and quite possibly your lap) on fire.