Hey everybody. With all the buzz centering around Core Duo's and such, I thought it'd be nice timing to post a review of my notebook, the Toshiba Qosmio F25. I was in Circuit City the other day and this lappy was being let go for $1,599.00USD plus tax, and I thought, "Gee, they're really trying to get rid of these to make room for all the new stuff." And I was right. From eBay to Circuit City and everywhere in between, what I paid $1,799 for is now going for hundreds less, so I want to cover the highs and low of this thing so all my fellow NBFers know what it's about before taking the plunge on the good deals.
First some background. My first laptop ever was sold to me from a 'mom & pops' office. I was looking for an affordable DTR, and happened to peruse their tiny ad in my local paper, which proclaimed "Laptops from $199!", and wanted a piece of that action. When I walked in, the sales person proceeded to show me these refurb'd Pentium 100 laps with 16-bit and even a few monochrome screens. Mind you, my desktop at the time was pretty fast: PII 450MHz, 256mb SDR, TNT2 Ultra. I felt duped. Right before I was going to spin around & leave, he then told me if I wanted to see the "good stuff". Having driven for 45 minutes to get to this shack- what the hell. Behind these double doors, he unveiled their goods. Before me was a 15" XGA monster of a laptop playing a DVD, and I thought, "Sweet lord, I have hit the motherlode." He tried to pitch his blurb about it, which I ignored, and proceeded to poke around the display model. 15" screen with 1024x768 native, good. 64mb SDR, okay, but easily remedied with a quick trip to Fry's. 6.4gb 4200rpm HD w/ 512K cache, great. 2mb onboard NeoMagic graphics, perfect for Starcraft. AMD K6-2 400MHz processor, wow, wait??? WTF? "It's the power of a desktop processor in a notebook. Just what you want Mr. Gutierrez," he said. I told him, "It is a desktop processor in a notebook." The price? $1,000 cash out the door. Yup, against my better judgement, I bought a no-name notebook with a straight up desktop processor & 60-day parts & labor warranty. Long story short (I know, too late) the notebook actually wasn't too bad considering the NiMH battery gave me about 30mins. of unplugged usage when I used it away from my desk, where it ended up spending 99% of it's life.
Since then, I have owned many laptops, includiung various Dell Inspirons (PentiumII 300PE, Mobile Celeron 2.4GHz, PM 1.7GHz), an HP w/ a Mobile AthlonXP 1600+, & an eMachines w/ a Mobile AthlonXP 2400+, to name a few, and I have to say this is one of my favorites. This F25 was one of my first forays into these Media Center laptops, & I decided to buy it after many positive user reviews I saw (ZDNET, CC website, etc.) Previously, I had decided on the Fujitsu N3520 solely because of the screen; I use twin Sony G500 CRTs at home and was spoiled by the aperture grille goodness, and was still blown away by the Jitsu's screen quality. I was okay compromising the specs, because while it had the same cpu and ram alottment as my F25, the HD was a slow 4200rpm and it had the X300 gpu. Sadly, I returned it twice because of screen corruption, occurances similar to those I've read about on these boards. I then found the F25 by accident while browsing, and fortunately have been happy with it since (I did have to exchange my first F25 unit because of a vibrating keyboard and terrible backlight leakage.) As you'll see in my review, it truly is the little brother, in good and bad ways, to the G25, Tosh's beautiful 17" Qosmio.
For all the good tips and countless help I've received from here, NBFers, this one's for you.
toshiba qosmio f25 (U.S. spec)
1.86GHz Pentium M Dothan 2mb L2 | Sonoma Platform | Alviso 915PM Chipset
1gb Dual-channel DDR533 | CAS 4-4-4-12
PCI-Express nVidia Go6600 64mb | 300core/600mem
100gb Toshiba MK1032GAX HD | PATA 5400rpm 16mb buffer
15.4" TruBrite(TM) WXGA+ 1280x800 Display | 200:1 & 200 cd/m2
Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG 802.11b/g WIFI
DVD SuperMulti | CD-R/W DVD+R/W DVD+R/W DL
Integrated Toshiba TV Tuner | DVR
QosmioPlayer | Instant On DVD/CD Player & LCD TV
AnalogDevices AD1981B | harmon/kardon Speakers | SRS TruSurround XT / WOW
6-Cell 4400mAh LiIon Battery
Even the box it comes in is nice (more pictures to come). Had a nice handle and everything. The laptop comes in a velcro dustbag, was well padded, and overall the quality of the packing was absolutely top-notch. It's fairly impossible to see it in my amateur pics, but there's also a clear laminate protecting the top cover of the notebook, which I left on because it's nearly unnoticeable and serves as a protective layer against scratches and stuff. A nice extra is the Media Center Remote, which I have yet to use, but is still a nice extra.
Upon opening it, I was blown away by it's looks. It really is a nice, professional looking laptop. The bottom face portion is a glossy piano black and looks very sleek. It's not the same finish as the G25, which has a black, almost crystal-like surface, but nonetheless still beautiful. There is no keyboard flex, and the 11 hotkeys that dot the upper panel don't look tacky. They aren't touch sensitive like the G25. Also, the G25's HD access LEDs, power LEDs, etc. blink thru the crystal panel, which looks really sweet in person if you haven't seen it yet, but the F25's are traditional and on the front face. It's not quite a poorman's G25 entirely, but other compromises are easy to spot, such as the lack of the aluminum screen hinges and padded feet similar to component systems that the G25 have. You get a 3-in-1 card reader, 3 USB ports, IEEE1394, VGA, RJ45, RJ11, S-Video out/in, composite in, the usual audio IOs. The harman/kardon speakers look cool, though I'm not crazy about the silver. There's also a convenient knob on the side that can be used to adjust the volume at anytime. The touchpad has a textured surface, and the buttons are finished in the same matching silver as the speakers & volume knob. (NOTE: One cheesy and tacky thing I did notice after booting the system up was the fact that Toshiba misspelled "Qosmio" in the System Properties box in Windows. It's spelled q-o-S-I-m-o, and I verified this with Customer Service as a snafu. More funny than anything else.)
KEYBOARD - Great, tactile feel, and as stated before, no flex whatsoever. This is my first Toshiba, so I don't know what to expect, but it feels just as good as the better lappy keyboards I've used. My first F25 had some loose keys though, and they rattled whenever music was playing, but this current one is rock solid. Btw, I despise how the Windows key is in the upper keft quadrant; how does that make sense?
TOUCHPAD - It's an ALPS device, and personally I prefer the Synaptics one used in my Dells. The textured surface on the ALPS pad doesn't seem to be any more sensitive to my gestures, and I find myself scrubbing at it sometimes. YES, I have tried every combination of mouse sensitivity settings, pressure settings, and speed settings in the control panel- I just don't like it, but that's my personal preference. Let's just say if you like the Synaptics pads, this one is a different experience, and for better or worse is your call. I also have an issue with the buttons. They feel flimsy and don't have a very satisfying click to them. They have some play when you depress them lightly before fully clicking down, which I don't fully grasp the rationale behind.
SPEAKERS - In a word, awesome. When away from my desk and the Logitech Z2200s, these harman/kardons put out some serious sound for a laptop. The low-end is lacking, but as far as imaging, sound depth, and mid/high end goes, the sound is crystal clear and can get very loud without distortion. I haven't heard anything like it in a notebook. It's not going to impress discriminating audiophiles, but it is definitely one of the top notebook soundsystems out there for sure. The SRS enhancements are okay, but I generally turn them off because I can hear the sound artifacts they introduce.
SCREEN - This deserves its own section. See below.
SIZE/WEIGHT - This thing is BIG. I was shopping for a bag for it, and it does not fit in any bags made for 15.4" widescreens, it is better suited for 17" WS bags. Surprisingly though, it is my lightest 15.4". Initially, I loved how light the lappy is; with the standard battery, it is around 7 pounds and feels almost impossibly light compared to its size. However, I now have a few qualms about it. Firstly, there are some creaks and squeaks when I handle it, such as when picking it up from a corner one-handed. Also, it gets, for lack of a better term, freakin' hot. When I'm Photoshopping, DiVX encoding, gaming, or doing anything processor intensive, the bottom gets almost uncomfortably hot to the touch. Even elevated with four beer coasters at the corner feet, the heat this thing puts out is extraordinary. I'm not sure if heatsink area was sacrificed for weight issues, but I'd give up an additional pound for cooler base temperatures. It also gets very warm above and around the exhaust vent, which is the left palm rest area on up to the left side of the keyboard.
NOISE - In all but an absolutely quiet room, the system is inaudible. The fan doesn't spin up too often during office tasks, and even then it isn't a high pitched whine or irritating in any way, and is very quiet. However, the system isn't dead silent; if you listen closely, there is a slight hum, either from the HD or the GPU (if it has a fan, which I cannot ascertain). Again, you can't hear it unless you try. I'm just mentioning it because my Fujitsu and it's slow-ass 4200rpm were absolutely silent when the fan wasn't running.
QOSMIOPLAYER/TV TUNER - The fact that I can play DVDs, music CDs, or watch TV without booting into windows is nice. I haven't done any battery life testing, but plan to just to see if there is any advantage. The TV Tuner has great reception, even with bunny ears, and integrates perfectly with the DVR functions of Media Center.
(My preemptive copout: I love this machine. The screen is fine. But I'm about to talk a lot of mess about it which will make it seem like I don't, but again, it's only in the name of posterity. It's still good.) I use Sony G500s at home, and after seeing them in all their Aperture Grille goodness, I thought I'd never use anything again, happily at least. Then I had a brief stint with a Fujitsu notebook, and I must say, that was mind-blowing. Deep saturated colors, even brightness, and unheard of viewing angles, I was a very happy camper. One of my employees has a G25, and that screen seems even brighter, sharper, and more accurately colored, so I thought the F25 would be in the same ballpark. Boy was I mistaken. With a 200:1 contrast ratio, I wasn't expecting much, and it sure shows. No inky blacks for me. Brightness is also an issue- it is noticeably darker on the right 1/4 of the screen and there is some slight pinched bottom corner discoloration. All this is tolerable though after you get used to it. Also, the screen brightness @ 200cd/m2 is sorely lacking at all but its highest setting. It has 8 levels, and 5 is about the lowest I can go before I feel it's ridiculously dim. The lowest setting is just ludicrous- once, my wife and daughter were sleeping and I tried using it in pitch black darkness, and the dark parts of the screen were so dim it was horrid. I'm no display professional, but from a common laptop user to any others, there are much better and sharper screens out there. Next to a G35 or even the wife's i710m, it's just embarrasing. I don't think it has the dual backlights like the G25. Additionally, the light leakage at the bottom edge is just outrageous. I verified this on the other F25 unit I had, and 2 other ones I've seen, and it's pretty consistent across the board. I think the pictures speak for themselves. (When gaming, I never notice it, and even everyday use it's not noticeable. But dark parts in movies, dark games like FEAR or DOOM3, and similar images it is slightly evident that the bottom border is ever-so-slightly washed.) When viewed head-on, though, the screen looks wonderful. Nice colors that are pretty rich & deep, and the TruBrite reflectivity doesn't really bother me since I like the added lush effect it produces. Overall a decent and very useable screen I just tend to nitpick on.
OS SPEED - Everything is very snappy. Daily tasks include BitTorrent client, IM client, Firefoxing, DiVX encoding, DVD playing, MP3s, AutoCAD, Photoshop, etc. and it all works like a charm. It's no dual-core multi-tasker, but it handles multiple tasks with little lag. I chalk that up to the ample 1.86GHz PM, gig of ram, and 5400rpm HD. Very decent.
GAMING - The Go6600 surprised me. Even with only 64mb of discrete memory, it handles most of my games very handily. Don't expect 16xAF and 4xFSAA, nor high resolutions, but 1024x768 gaming with decent details is a cakewalk. I run FEAR at medium settings 10x7 and it stays above 30FPS, HL2 is also fairly smooth at similar settings. I also run Halo, BF2, Sims2 (The wife! Not me.) and Quake4 daily at various medium details and it is good times. It runs Starcraft at full details at a constant 60FPS, btw.
For those who want to know: 5,408 3DMark03 / 2,086 3DMark05, bone stock.
BATTERY LIFE - Hey, it's a notebook, and it's meant to be mobile, so this is probably one of the most important aspects. It comes standard with a 4400mAH LiIon, and in real-world usage with the screen set to my minimum tolerable brightness (level 5), I get 2 hours and a minute. When gaming, you're looking at about an hour, literally. The Toshiba Power Saver profile manager is quite effective and highly configurable, and I definitely prefer it over Windows'. I needed more though, for my frequent black eye binges at Starbucks, so I purchased two more OEM 8800mAH extended units. They were bought from this awesome seller on eBay (PM me for info) for $25 each, which if you knew the retail price of these puppies is an INSANE deal. They were used, but the risk was worth it to me. And to my delight, NHC reads both batteries at 6% & 7% wear level, respectively, and they look brand new. I get over 5 hours each at max brightness (and surprisingly just over 3 hours gaming), so that's 12 hours unplugged for $50! I was stoked. They stick out a little, but hey, the added heft is worth the added hours of outdoor gaming to me.
This particular CPU is pretty tolerant to undervolting; I use NHC to undervolt it and currently have it at 0.700v minimum voltage (down from 0.988v stock) and 1.036v at 1.86GHz (down from 1.260v stock). This reduced fan frequency quite noticeably and yielded about 3-10 more minutes of life per charge, which is great, though temps seem just as high. I haven't tried OC'ing either it or the gpu.
YOU MAY LIKE IT IF:
-You're a cost-conscious new laptop buyer and want a lot of bang for your buck. Even without rebates, you can find this laptop new for around $1300 if you look hard enough.
-You want a lightweight laptop and require 15.4" of desktop real estate. It is probably one of the lightest out there.
-You're old like me and play classic games for nostalgia, like Starcraft & UT, but still play some newer games and don't mind the details turned down. (Heck, I played Oregon Trail Deluxe the other day.)
-You like getting a lot of extras. Media Center Remote with IR receiver. Integrated TV Tuner. OS-less DVD/CD/TV. Dust bag.
-You're Canadian. You lucky folks get 400:1 contrast, 450cd/m2 bright, dual lamp screens that may alleviate my screen gripes and 128mb discrete graphics memory.
-You're European. You blokes are just like the Canadians.
-You hate Apple. Well, not hate, but desire to disrupt the dang "all-white" continuum. I was once at my dealership getting my truck serviced, and the business room looked like a freakin' Apple store, with 15 & 17" Titanium PowerBooks everywhere. This F25 (and more so the G25 actually) is probably the most intimidating black laptop out there, because the MAColites started murmuring when I unveiled it, as if Darth Vader himself walked in the room. Pretty sweet.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE IT IF:
-You own the following: anything in SLI, anything phase-change cooled other than your fridge, anything covered in Arctic Silver 5- you get the picture. This is far from a gaming and overclocker's computer, so if anything less than 1600x1200 4xFSAA 16xAA is sacrilige to you, look somewhere else.
-You are anal-retentive about keeping your stuff clean. The reflective piano black finish of the laptop will get smudged 5.3 seconds after every cleaning. End of story.
-You run DisplayMate for kicks. The screen for the US version is lacking, so don't expect much.
And there you go. I know. Longest. Review. Ever. Hope it was interesting to at the very least a couple of you guys. Any additional pictures or tests are just a PM or post away, so request away my friends. Have a nice day.