Retro Retro Review- Toshiba Satellite M45

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Toshiba Satellite M45 Laptop IRL Review- This is going to be a really really retro review- not that its the first time I have reviewed something old- its more that I am reviewing something that is totally removed from my stable. I’ve long since returned it to Staples and traded it for credit (to buy a new monitor that has now also since long died). Amongst my laptops used, it was probably one of the most sought after models, right beside my Sony VAIO S15. I had spent at least a year lusting after it. At that point, I had been using the iBook G4 14 inch for about a year or so, and was eagerly anticipating my return to Windows. Prior to that, I had been using awful Toshiba Tecra Pentium III monstrosity that I had been thoroughly ripped off from by buying it off a classmate (at a time when I knew little about computers – i.e. I thought an Intel Celeron was a good CPU). I had briefly managed to make my way back to Windows with a Toshiba Tecra A2 (I think it was this one) for about a month period, until I chickened out on buying a used laptop and returned it to my disgruntled buddy. My intent at the time was to get the Toshiba Satellite M30 Special Edition, a 15 inch widescreen laptop with great speakers and an amazing TrueBrite high contrast vivid color display that blew my iBook’s out of the water. I believe at the time, my eagerness to get back to Windows was fueled by my want to use SonicStage and other Windows only syncing software so I could use a different MP3 player than an iPod. My heart was set on the M30 SE but it was totally beyond my price point at the time (nearly 2.5 K CDN!) and after a year or so, the M45 came out with a better video card (but less cool in some areas like a plastic lid vs. a metal lid). After staying on the fence, I managed to find an open box model at Staples for a decent discount off….and turned my head back multiple times on this purchase. The following is my experience with the Toshiba Satellite M45 and is sort of a IRL Review from memory.

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Screen Quality- The most important piece of this laptop was the screen to me. I had walked by envious of all the new glossy screens coming out and was absolutely swooned with the TrueBrite screen. I remember trying to put a piece of overheard plastic on my iBook’s antiglare coated screen to mimic the effect. The screen res was fairly standard fair at the time with anything about considered to be exotic. The biggest issue I had, and one that I remarkably dealt with for nearly a year, was that the screen had a massive bleed in the bottom right corner that covered a good 20% of the screen. Unfortunately it was my only computer at the time and I did not want to wait for the repair process while in classes. This should have been an instant replacement the day I brought it home. Alas. Screen viewing angles were not amazing, but I didn’t know better at the time. Fairly typical stuff for a glossy TN panel then. I wouldn’t learn about MVA or IPS panels until years later. I loved putting up anime wallpapers or exotic pictures in and just losing myself in the colors on the screen. Fantasy world stuff here. You can see the monster levels of gloss and light glare in this picture here. Funny, when I had this laptop, I was blown away by the glossy screen, but I now see it as a poor TN panel. But a sign of the times and the meh contrast on the laptop screens at the time. Also, ObjectDock there! I loved the bright colroful icons filling up my screen. I still use it on my VAIO S15.

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You can see some of the screen issues I had with the laptop with the discoloration on the bottom right of the screen. Also Windows XP with Windows Blinds. This was a magical time for me to discover how I could make boring XP into a fantasy looking UI. And look at the version of iTunes!

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Power- this was one of the tipping points that brought me to Toshiba rather than Sony- the M45 offered a Nvidia 6600 128 MB video card  (funny now that 3GB is considered minimum on a desktop GPU and 4GB is recommended for bigger games!) that simply outclassed all of its rivals in price range – integrated graphics could not compete with this. I remember sitting in SUB playing Doom 3 just because I could and nobody else could unless they had a monster sized gaming rig. I showed my coworkers Doom 3 and nobody knew why I was showing them- JUST CAUSE I COULD. That’s how awesome this was. You can see in the above shot Doom 3. And I’m not a gamer. I just wanted to show that it could play Doom 3 and wasn’t a monster sized laptop. The single core Centrino chip was good enough for then games and my school work.

DSC03722 Picture 270Design – This was one of my favorite things about this laptop- it was a slim slim slim laptop at a time when minds were still fresh off of Pentium 4 monster heatsinks and 5 inch thick bodies. This laptop was slim, but had lots of footprint with a desktop replacement category 15 inch 16:10 widescreen (little did I know that the resolution of 1280×800 would be considered garbage in a 5 inch screen in 2016!). It had the classic black and silver combo that was fairly standard at that point for Toshiba’s lineup. Actually, when I reflect on this, the only reason I liked the design was that it was thin and light with a widescreen. The actual style of the laptop was fairly bland. I remember wanting to buy a Mugen decal to put on the laptop lid because I was jealous of the giant VAIO and glowing Apple signs on other laptops…and I didn’t drive or care about Mugen really at the time.  Overall, it looked fairly unremarkable in style, especially compared to the VAIO FS series that was in dead heat for competition at the time. I really think the only thing I really liked design wise of this was the weird ovally shaped power button. That was neat. I remember distinctly the M30 Special Edition’s circle power button and being happy about my more intense ovally button.  As you can see, it was still pretty slim overall in design for a 15 inch laptop (this is much more common now, but back in the day, it was pretty neat to see a thin laptop with a big footprint).

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Honestly, the profile of this laptop was pretty good for its time.

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Heat- honestly I don’t remember too much about heat on this laptop- which is a good thing because I never forget a badly heating laptop (HMPH HP TX1000).

Picture 268Build Quality- this was clearly a consumer grade laptop, not one aimed at professional users like a Thinkpad user. The plastic would flex. And everything was plastic on this. So everything would flex. The lid would flex. The screen would ripple if pressed from behind. The keyboard would flex if you typed too hard. Nothing excuded confidence in this. It was not unusual though and fairly typical for a consumer grade laptop in its price range. However, it was a far cry from the other solid laptops I have had the pleasure of working with since then. And even the iBook G4 was a much much more solid laptop and in the same price range. While both were plastic, the iBook felt dense, like something that might survive if you had it in your backpack with some heavy text books. The Toshiba M45 felt like you definitely needed some protective sleeve in the bag with it. The screen lid was painted in silver- like the Vaio Z 2011 edition, it also chipped and scratched easily.  And that plain silver lid is looking pretty ugz here.  I also have no idea if it was because I bought a demo, but this laptop died completely one day and i believe it was a motherboard issue. It died again after that was fixed and it looked like the HDD was going. At the time, I had no idea how to swap out an HDD and stupidly decided to listen to Staples and accept a cash value of a third of its original MSRP. (I would buy a Samsung screen…that would also die…and still I bought from STaples! And that HP laptop died…I then never bought at Staples haha). So overall, my experience with build quality was not great with this laptop. I remember my buddy with the M30 Special Edition also struggling with his- shame, it sounds from anecdotal evidence they never gave these a lot of thought.

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Battery life- the power button glows blue when charged/plugged in and orange when  low in battery. It mostly stayed blue because I never took it anywhere without a charger. Even throttling everything only gave me an hour or two. Centrino, despite being cooler than Pentium 4, just was not good enough for battery life yet, and nowhere near the monstrous leap Haswell was, years later.

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Sound- I don’t remember the headphone out at all, but I remember the speakers were solid. The only time I have felt there was a good competitor to these was on the Macbook series- surprise surprise the Apple laptops have a 2.1 system and that’s why their low end was so full. The M45 did not have a subwoofer, but it did have good sound for laptop speakers- good enough that I would show them off regularly. They of course cannot compare to a full 2.1 system in a lot of the premium gaming laptops, but they were definitely good enough for personal listening for music and videos. I always look back fondly on these speakers- none of my Vaio’s even come close to these.  You could probably get away using these as a mini theater for a few friends on a couch too.

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Keyboard- Pretty meh overall- wasn’t bad but wasn’t impressive either. I remember wishing I had the backlit buttons of the Powerbook series.  In other words, pretty plain Jane. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about either- no bizarre key shapes like tiny shift keys or anything. When I look back at it now, I do wish they fit a numeric pad in there- there was plenty of space to do so.  I did hate how the black plastic stained with fingertip oils.

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This was one of my most favorite parts- media control buttons. Now that I mostly use my DAP + Amp combo, and don’t sync my music across my computers, I rarely use media control buttons anymore. However, it was a blessing back in the day not to have to keep going back to iTunes to change the tracks.

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Some juicy LEDs on the laptop- believe it or not, these were a selling point to me- I LOVED making my laptop look like a Vegas jacuzzi, and would have easily jumped on the Alienware look at me gaming laptop series just for the lights alone- on the Toshiba M45, they were sadly minimal. Definitely not like the neato color combo of LEDs on the VAIO SZ series.

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Conclusion- the Toshiba M45 is a warm memory for me- it was a powerful laptop, with great specs overall, and a slim design to boot. It was an all plastic build with lots of questionable issues that may have been related to it being a demo. It ended up being a total turd like the HP TX1000 pictured beside it here. A shame really. But to be honest, it was a marvel of engineering at the time and I truly intend to find one of these suckers again on the used market just because it was so impressive to me in its time. I believe that I would not have second thoughts buying this again at the time, but certainly I would have skipped the demo model (the HP was also a demo model, but its issues were due to the Nvidia GPU issues/recalls).

TLDR- Pros- Lots of power, great screen, great speakers, slim and light. Cons= chintzy build quality, meh battery. 

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