While 3D gaming hasn't taken off in a huge way, users who want a more immersive gaming experience might want to consider the Toshiba Satellite A660/07R/07R (PSAW3A-07R00R). It has been around for half a year now and it's still one of only a few 3D gaming notebooks on the market. With its powerful configuration, it's suitable for just about any task you can think of, not just playing games.
Toshiba Satellite A660/07R/07R: 3D capabilities
The Satellite A660/07R looks more elegant than a typical gaming notebook (see the ASUS G51J 3D notebook as an example). It has a grey, textured palm rest that matches the lid, backlit keys, a chiclet-style keyboard, and a large touchpad (99x53mm). It comes with a 1366x768-resolution, 15.6in glossy screen that can display 3D images once you plug in the supplied NVIDIA 3D transceiver and switch on the glasses. You'll want to have plenty of desk space when you take advantage of the notebook's 3D capabilities, because the transceiver needs to have a line of sight to the glasses in order to work properly, and you'll also want to bundle up the cable as it is very long.
The setup effort can be worth it for most recent gaming titles: the action really does look deep and projectiles or debris look like they are coming out of the screen in your direction. But for many older games, the 3D effect is lame and used only to accentuate menus or other minimal parts of the game. Videos encoded in a stereoscopic format look good, too, but there is so little content available at the moment that 3D video shouldn't be a catalyst for purchasing this notebook. Another thing worth noting is that that the glasses are somewhat uncomfortable (especially if you're not used to wearing glasses) and light leaks in from the sides — you need to use them in the dark in order to get the optimal 3D effect. These are the same issues we've had with other 3D notebooks that use the same NVIDIA technology.
Toshiba Satellite A660/07R/07R: Specifications and performance
Apart from the 3D screen, the Satellite A660/07R is a typical notebook, but one with a powerful engine room. You get an Intel Core i7-740QM CPU, 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GTS 350M graphics adapter and a 640GB, 5400rpm hard drive. Inexplicably though, the notebook comes with a 32-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium installed, which can't make full use of the 4GB of RAM — instead, only 2.93GB is usable. You'll have to restore the notebook and install the 64-bit version of Windows 7 when prompted. We'd much prefer it if the 64-bit version was installed by default.
In our performance tests, the notebook produced a mixture of excellent and average results. For example, in the Blender 3D rendering test, the Satellite A660/07R recorded a time of 44sec, which is faster than what we expected (the Acer Aspire 8943G, which uses the same Intel Core i7 CPU recorded 47sec in the same test). In the iTunes MP3 encoding test it recorded a merely average time of 1min 12sec.
Its time of 1hr 10min in our media transcoding test was also on the low side compared to other notebooks with a faster clock speed. Basically, the Core i7 CPU will excel when running multithreaded applications or during heavy multitasking, but it won't be a stellar performer in applications that rely on pure clock speed and don't support more than two threads. In our hard drive transfer test it achieved a result of 25.83 megabytes per second (MBps), which is a slightly sluggish result considering we've seen similar hard drives (such as the one in the Acer notebook) put up numbers north of 30MBps.
The gaming performance of the Satellite A660/07R is strong and you will be able to play most games smoothly, although you might need to tone down the graphics detail of some first-person shooters. In 3DMark06 it scored 8320, which is an excellent mid-range graphics score for a dedicated gaming notebook and much better than the 6680 achieved by the ASUS G51J in the same test.
Toshiba Satellite A660/07R/07R: Connectivity features and battery life
More than being just a gaming notebook, the Satellite A660/07R is a versatile all-rounder that can be used for work, editing videos and photos and even as a media centre. It ships with an integrated digital TV tuner, an HDMI port and a Blu-ray writer, and it has dedicated volume and media playback buttons on its bezel. Its built-in speakers are adequate for casual listening if you don't want to plug in external speakers. Other connectivity features include 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (although you have to install the driver yourself to get this to work), Gigabit Ethernet, a webcam, VGA, infrared, an SD card slot, a PCI ExpressCard/34 slot, microphone and headphone ports and eSATA (shared with a USB 2.0 port).
All these features make it a slightly heavy notebook that tips the scales at almost 2.65kg, and it's not easy to use on your lap. Furthermore, its battery life is so poor you won't want to use it on your lap and away from an outlet anyway. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the notebook's 6-cell battery lasted only 1hr 5min. This is a terrible result, but not something that's been out of step with other Toshiba notebooks we've reviewed recently.
The poor battery life isn't the only disappointment. The Satellite A660/07R also ships with too much preinstalled software, making the user experience a poor one. Pop-ups continually appear to ask to you register Internet security software and there are also auto-hiding toolbars that you have to deal with on the desktop. We'd prefer it if Toshiba did away with all this bloatware. The keyboard is also not as good as we'd hoped: while the keys possess good travel and bounce, they feel too smooth and are sometimes slippery — we also wish the brightness of the keyboard backlight could be adjusted. You can only choose to have it on or switch it off. The screen is also way too glossy for our liking and this can make gaming difficult unless you are in a dark environment.
This notebook is good if you want plenty of CPU power and a good configuration, but you shouldn't go out of your way to check it out unless you're a diehard gamer keen to get on the 3D bandwagon. It has many annoyances (including the use of a 32-bit version of Windows) and its battery life is poor.
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