Budget DTR: The Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7206

Since Llano's introduction, the value of AMD's new APU has been the subject of some debate, even between editors here at AnandTech. With notebooks sporting the new A-series processors trickling out from vendors (and Toshiba waving the banner) it's been fairly difficult getting a good feel for what the chip brings to the table for the end user, but thankfully that's changing. Today we have on hand the Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7206, a budget 17" model that also gives us our first look at the AMD A6-3400M.

We had a chance to meet with Toshiba reps and preview their refreshed mobile line a couple of months back, and now I'm happy to say we have one of the new notebooks on hand for testing: the catchily named Satellite L775D-S7206. More than that, it's also an opportunity to further explore AMD's Llano APU and what it means for consumers at every point on the continuum as well as determine whether or not AMD's new offering can be price competitive with notebooks featuring Sandy Bridge processors and low end discrete NVIDIA graphics. Our review unit is equipped as follows:

Toshiba Satellite L775D-S7206 Specifications
Processor AMD A6-3400M
(4x1.4GHz, 32nm, 4MB L2, Turbo to 2.3GHz, 35W)
Chipset AMD A60M
Memory 1x2GB Samsung DDR3-1333 and 1x4GB Samsung D(Max 2x8GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6520G
(320 Stream Processors, 400MHz core clock)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1600x900
(Samsung 173KT01-T01 Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Hitachi Travelstar 5K750 640GB 5400-RPM HDD
Optical Drive HL-DT-ST BD-ROM/DVD+-RW Combo Drive
Networking Realtek PCIe FE 10/100 Ethernet
Atheros AR9002WB-1NG 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth v3.0
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Mic and headphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 48Wh battery
Front Side Speakers
Left Side AC adaptor
Exhaust vent
USB 2.0 (Chargeable)
MMC/SD/MS Reader
Right Side Headphone and mic jacks
2x USB 2.0
Optical drive
Kensington lock
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 16.3" x 10.6" x 1.1"-1.49" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.2 lbs
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB charging
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Pricing MSRP $699

Let's start at the top: the AMD A6-3400M APU is the second-fastest 35W mobile Llano chip available, behind the A8-3500M we've already reviewed with our introduction to Llano. AMD's Fusion initiative started grassroots with Zacate and the E-350 and its kin, sporting a single chip dubbed an APU to handle the CPU and graphics and then a single chip for the chipset, which AMD dubs an FCH or "Fusion Controller Hub." This is a major consolidation compared to what we're used to seeing from AMD in the mobile market: we've gone from a processor, northbridge, and southbridge down to just a single 35W-45W part and a low-wattage "northbridge" serving roughly the same functions as Intel's mobile 6 series chips.

Unfortunately, sacrifices were made. The A6-3400M sports four slightly-modified Stars cores with L2 cache per core bumped from 512KB to 1MB and no L3 cache, effectively putting the CPU half on par with an Athlon II. These cores are clocked at a low 1.4GHz, and while AMD has instituted a turbo feature to speed them up to as high as 2.3GHz depending on the workload applied to the chip, none of our monitoring software is yet able to actually track the processor speeds as they turbo up. We don't need to tell you the CPU half of Llano is nowhere near as powerful as Intel's Sandy Bridge, and if you've been following coverage of Llano this is going to be old news to you.

Yet I suspect AMD knew they were going to take it on the chin where the CPU half of Llano was concerned, and they dish it out royally in the GPU side. Llano sports a modified Redwood core (Radeon HD 5670) with 400 stream processors in the VLIW5 configuration, 20 texture units, and 8 ROPs. In the A8 chip, this entire GPU core is present, while the A6 is slightly crippled, sacrificing 80 stream processors and 4 texture units, putting its specs roughly on par with the Radeon HD 4650/4670 (but with DX11). GPU clocks also take a hit from the spec of 444MHz, but it's a mild one, dropping down to 400MHz.

Essentially AMD hedged their bets, trading off processor power for GPU power, and this is one of the places where our opinions of Llano start to diverge. While it's true Llano's CPU half is hopelessly outclassed in every respect by Intel's processors, and I do honestly think two faster AMD cores would've been a better call than four slow cores, the vastly more capable GPU opens new avenues for mobile users, and the processor half is going to be fast enough for general use and light gaming. Essentially what Llano does is enable laptops that can game south of $600. Llano may not make much sense on the desktop (where I still feel the CPU and motherboard are priced out of competition), but in laptops it basically serves an entirely different market from Intel. It's not direct competition, but it's a foothold.

Moving on from Llano, it's a shame Toshiba has essentially crippled the L775D from every other angle but RAM, which is a generous 6GB. There are two available mobile chipsets for the APU: the A60M and A70M, with the key differentiator being that the A70M supports USB 3.0 while the A60M does not. The L775D uses the A60M and thus is missing USB 3.0, and worse, Toshiba has even forgone gigabit ethernet in favor of ancient school 10/100 ethernet. The inclusion of Blu-ray is some consolation but not really enough, though if you need a Blu-ray-capable notebook for under $700 these sacrifices might make some sense to you. Finally, I'm happy to report Toshiba eschewed one of their own dog slow hard drives for a slightly better (though still 5400RPM) Hitachi drive.

Here's where things get difficult. All of the above would make for a fairly decent entry level laptop capable of moderate gaming, but the $699 MSRP would push into competition with better equipped offerings. Luckily, you can already find the similar L775D-S7226 for $599, which is very reasonable for a Blu-ray equipped notebook. As long as that sort of pricing holds, the L775D has plenty to offer.

Baby Steps into the Present
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  • Rookierookie - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Pricing this at $699 brings this into competition with the Dell XPS 15, which starts at $799 with i5-2410M and a Nvidia GT 525M. You trade off on some utilities, but it's basically a much faster laptop for about $100 more.

    At $599 this becomes a much more attractive option.
  • nitrousoxide - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    No, for that $100 you can get an SSD. And it feels "much faster" than the XPS 15 with HDD.
  • prdola0 - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    SSD with usable size for $100? No. Not really. XPS 15 is a much better choice.
  • JGabriel - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Dustin Sklavos @ Top: "I do honestly think two faster AMD cores would've been a better call than four slow cores"

    For low-end home users, the most common problem I've seen is thread clutter. We're talking about people who aren't very tech literate, and load up their machines with tons of little tech gewgaws to tell them the weather, list headlines, perform animations when they get mail, make their mouse cursor "cute", and so on.

    I suspect this is one of AMD's target markets for Llano. If so, one can see the argument in favor of more slow cores over few fewer fast ones. These are people who don't need to get anything done quickly, they just need a lot of low-demand things done simultaneously.
  • jfelano - Monday, August 15, 2011 - link

    It will be $599
  • ckryan - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    The contrast ratio chart shows that laptop screens are usually not very good. Not that its newsworthy, but how do manufacturers expect to keep selling even midrange laptops when you can get a tablet with a bitchin screen and better battery life. Not that the two devices roles are interchangeable for many tasks, but I for one won't be buying another laptop until screens get better.
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    It is a shame that the Radiance (HP Envy line) screen maker went out of business! madness
  • LordConrad - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    As someone who wears glasses, I personally like my screens with a slightly lower resolution because everything is natively larger. I know you can adjust font and icon sizes in Windows, or simply change the resolution, but I consider these changes to be a last resort option. I loved my last HP dv7 laptop, it was a bit bulky but it had a beautiful 1440x900 screen that was just right for my eyesight. My current laptop is a slightly smaller and less bulky dv6 with a 1366x768 screen, which is also perfect for my eyesight. With both laptops I had the option to get a higher resolution screen, which they probably don't include on the review systems you get.

    Just keep in mind that not everyone has 20/20 (or better) vision.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Actually my eyesight is pretty dire, too.

    The thing is, high resolution screens seem to tend to produce better color, better contrast, and better viewing angles. I'd take one of those at a lower-than-native resolution at this point, just because they LOOK better.
  • ckryan - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    My eyesight is pretty good, and I no longer prefer maximum DPI. A 1920X1200 display is great at 24", but in a 15" laptop it's definitely not for everyone. I told a family member not to get one as an upgrade in a Dell Vostro a couple years ago; She runs it at half the native resolution. It is a pretty good TN screen, much better than the other options, but just way to fine pitched. I'm to the point where I will happily take a better panel display at a lower res than a much higher TN panel. It would be different if WIndows was better about scaling, but you can only do so much by adjusting DPI display settings.

    Still, I'm pretty serious about not buying another laptop until I can get a display in the style to which I'm accustomed these days. Whenever I pick up my laptop I die a little on the inside. The viewing angles are terrible, black level is absurdly high, contrast is low, and this is the upgraded panel in the Dell D630 14" I'm using. At least I have the docking bay for it.

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