Toshiba Satellite U940 Windows 8 gaming Ultrabook review

The first Windows 8 gaming Ultrabook for the masses?

30 Aug 2012
Toshiba Satellite U940

We’ve always thought that Ultrabooks would be much more appealing with dedicated graphics, and thankfully laptop manufacturers have finally seen the light of day. Toshiba’s first is the Satellite U940, a 14in Ultrabook with an Nvidia GT 630m graphics chip for on-the-go gaming.

Toshiba is breaking new ground all over with the U940 – it’s also the company’s first 14in Ultrabook, and the first that will come with Windows 8 as standard. The blue metallic finish is much more suited to home users than the gunmetal grey of Toshiba’s more serious machines, and the whole system feels more expensive than its $650 starting price might suggest.

Toshiba Satellite U940

Powered by a low voltage Intel Core i5 processor and paired with 4GB of RAM, the U940 should perform on par with existing Ultrabooks. Battery life shouldn’t be far off either, as it uses Nvidia’s Optimus graphics switching technology. Toshiba has at least two variants of the U940 in the works, with the choice of either solid state storage or a combination of mechanical hard disk and mSATA caching SSD. There’s also an option for increasing the RAM to a maximum of 16GB.

The Nvidia GeForce GT 630M has 2GB of dedicated video memory, which should help it play newer games with larger textures. Admittedly 2D platformer Rayman Origins isn’t the most demanding of titles, but Toshiba’s game of choice was perfectly playable at maximum detail settings. The 1,366x768 display is a sensible match to the GPU as well, because it will almost definitely struggle with higher resolutions. Stick to medium detail settings at 720p, however, and most games should be playable.

Toshiba Satellite U940

The screen itself is a fairly basic affair, with the viewing angle issues you would expect from a TN panel. However, given the estimated price of the system, we think this can be excused. Brightness seemed reasonable and there was plenty of screen tilt, but we’ll have to wait to run more detailed tests before delivering a firm verdict.

Toshiba Satellite U940

Toshiba hasn’t changed its keyboard or touchpad designs significantly in some time, and it doesn’t appear to have messed with the formula here either. The Chiclet-style keys are well spaced apart, but they feel distinctly flatter than other Ultrabook keyboards and they lacked bounce. Travel was reasonable, but we’ll pay close attention when we get one into the lab to see if Toshiba has managed to improve it for the final retail model.

The one exception is that the touchpad has been tweaked to work more effectively with Windows 8 multi-touch gestures – we certainly had no trouble bringing up the Charms or options menus from the Start Screen. It’s an all-in-one design, which is fine if you’re used to one-and two-finger tapping, but if you like physical buttons the firm touchpad might take some getting used to.

Toshiba Satellite U940

Despite the larger size and dedicated graphics, the U940 still only weighs 1.65kg and is less than 21mm thick. That’s well in line for Intel’s Ultrabook specification, and roughly the same as other 14in Ultrabooks we’ve seen.

Ultrabooks and gaming might seem like opposing ideals, but if the Satellite U940 performs as well as our early look suggests, it could quickly become a reality. With solid state storage and dedicated graphics, we would expect retail models to start around $800, but you’ll be able to pick up one with integrated graphics and a mechanical hard disk for around $150 when the system goes on sale in late October.

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