In an era of patent wars where the word "infringement" gets tossed around casually, one thing's for certain: Few, if any, manufacturers will ever claim that the Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430 ($1,085.99 as tested, list) ripped off their design. Even in a crowded field of laptops and ultrabooks, its extra-wide display's 21:9 aspect ratio sets it apart from the rest. Aside from this aspect (or aspect ratio, if you will), it's a fairly standard ultrabook with a wide display that largely goes to waste.
Design and Features
The U845W-S430 is an updated version of the Toshiba Satellite U845W-S410, and there's very little difference between the two except for the fact that this newer version ships with Windows 8. Like the U845W-S410, it measures 0.83 by 14.5 by 7.9 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.64 pounds. This is an attractively designed system; the brushed aluminum chassis sports an elegant "Midnight Silver" finish, and black Soft Touch trim on the underside, palmrest, and leading edge of the lid provide an attractive aesthetic contrast as well as a pleasant tactile sensation, particularly on the underside.
Like the Toshiba U845W-S410, the U845W-S430's extra-wide s,14.4-inch screen offers the same 21:9 aspect ratio seen in CinemaScope movies. If you're one of the very few people who actually utilize this format, then this is great news. For everyone else, though, who consumes films and most TV shows on Hulu or Netflix (most of which are optimized for the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio) or classic TV shows (same thing, but with an 4:3 aspect ratio), this is essentially an 11.5-inch 1,366-by-768 display that's been expanded an extra three inches wider, resulting in a fairly uncommon 1,792-by-768 resolution; consequently, there will be black bars on the sides of the picture for most TV shows. The only programs that fill most of the screen are 2:35:1 widescreen movies like the Lord of the Rings saga.
Interestingly, the U845W-S430's extra-wide display makes for a better Windows 8 user experience because the extra space provides room for an extra row of tiles; users with traditional widescreen 16:9 displays, on the other hand, need to do a bit more swiping since less they see less tiles at once. Apps also benefit from the wider screen, too; on the New York Times app, for instance, all the news that's fit to print looked right at home since it has more space to display the various sections. Given this generous expanse of screen real estate, it's something of a disappointment that U845W-S430 does not feature a touch screen. Users looking for a Windows 8-ready system that sports a touch screen (albeit a standard-sized one) should check out either the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100 or Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13; the Lenovo Yoga 13 even sports a convertible design that allows it to assume the form factor of a tablet.
Like most ultrabooks, the US845-S430 does not have an internal optical drive. With such a big emphasis on movies, though, it's a puzzling omission. At any rate, users looking to catch movies on Blu-ray or DVD will need to spring extra for an external optical drive to do so. The US845-S430's Harmon/Kardon speakers bordering the keyboard's left and right sides, meanwhile, are impressively capable of belting out loud, clear sound without any noticeable distortion at higher levels.
The U845W-S430's backlit keyboard is generously sized, thanks to the system's wider chassis and Toshiba's decision to forgo a separate number keypad. At the same time, the keyboard yields disappointingly shallow keystrokes and ultimately makes typing a somewhat frustrating endeavor. A similar problem arises with the touchpad, which was often hit-or-miss when it came to two-finger scrolling. Worse yet, its small size often confused basic scrolling with Windows 8 gesture controls. For instance, swiping from the left inadvertently switched between apps while swiping from the right would bring up the so-called "charms" menu. Given the ample amount of room available on the palm rest, it would have made sense to have made the touchpad a bit bigger.
Port selection is more or less on par with that of other ultrabooks, so there aren't too many connectivity options. The right side of the system features the obligatory headphone and microphone jacks and an HDMI output. The left side, meanwhile, sports an RJ-45 LAN port. There are three USB 3.0 ports, one on the right side of the system and the remaining two on the opposite side. Nestled beneath the edge in the front of the system is a Memory Card Reader (SD/SDHC/ Mini SD/MS/MS Pro/Micro SD/ Micro SDHC).
The U845W-S430 also supports Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) technology, so you can ditch the HDMI cable altogether if you've got your TV hooked up to an aftermarket adapter along the lines of the Netgear Push2TV ($99 list). Regardless of how you'll connect to your TV, though, you'll need to adjust the S430's aspect ratio if you plan on cloning the display to a high definition television, another quirk that results from the S430's less-than-ordinary 21:9 aspect ratio.The U845W-S430's 500GB, 5,400 rpm hard drive comes preloaded with a solid chunk of software. They range from unnecessary (WildTangent games) to useful (Microsoft Office Starter, a yearlong subscription to the 2013 version of Norton Anti-Virus), with some trial software (30 days of Norton Online Backup, 60 days of Norton Anti-Theft) and proprietary programs (Toshiba Software and Utilities) sprinkled in between. The U845W-S430 also features a 32GB SSD cache, although that operates behind the scenes to allow for faster boot times and cannot be accessed by the user. The U845W-S430 is covered by a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor.
With a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU and 6GM RAM, the U845W-S430 stacked up well against others in its class, though it's not a very large pool of competitors since Windows 8 systems are still relatively new. Its PCMark7 score of 4,237 points edged past the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100 (4,093 points) and, by a larger margin, the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 (2,523 points). The S430-U45W performed similarly in our 3DMark 11 benchmark tests (1,196 in Entry-level settings; 213 in Extreme-level settings), chugging past the Lenovo Yoga 13 (1,056 in Entry-level settings) as well as the HP 4t-1100 (1,043 in Entry-level settings).
The U845W-S430 fared well in our multimedia tests, cementing its status as a system geared more toward media consumption rather than creation; this is perfectly adequate for non-enthusiasts interested in the light media creation, while those looking to do more would be better off with a system sporting a discrete GPU like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71. Accordingly, the U845W-S430 completed our Handbrake video-encoding test in a class-leading 1 minute 28 seconds, faster than both the Lenovo Yoga 13 (1:34) and the HP 4t-1100 (1:37). Its Cinebench R11.5 score of 2.36 points, meanwhile, managed to outflank the IdeaPad Yoga 13 (2.33) but failed to surpass the U845W-S410 (2.40) and, to an even greater extent, the Asus UX32VD-DB71 (3.58). Of all the relevant systems running our new Photoshop CS6 test, the US845-S430 displayed the most agility, completing in a brisk 6 minutes 28 seconds and pulling ahead of both the Lenovo Yoga 13 (6:35) as well as the HP 4t-1100 (6:38).
The U845W-S430's Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU definitely wasn't made with high-end gaming in mind. Consequently, it didn't come close to crossing the 30 frames per second (fps) playability barrier in our benchmark tests much like the rest of its class. In our Aliens v. Predator test, for instance, it yielded a slideshow-like frame rate (12fps with medium-quality settings in 1,366-by-768 resolution; 5fps with maximum-quality in 1,792-by-768 resolution), effectively landing with a thud in the same pile as the HP 4t-1100 (10fps and 5fps, respectively) and Lenovo Yoga 13 (10fps and 7fps, respectively). The same goes for its performance in our Heaven benchmark test (12fps with medium-quality settings in 1,366-by-768 resolution; 5fps with maximum-quality in 1,920-by-1,080 resolution), where it was on par with its peers, like the HP 4t-1100 (10fps and 4fps, respectively) and Lenovo Yoga 13 (11fps and 6fps, respectively).
The S430's non-removable 54Whr battery ran for an impressive 5 hours 50 minutes on our video rundown test. While this test is entirely anecdotal, the U845W-S430 outlasted other systems in its class that were also put through the same test, like the Lenovo Yoga 13 (5:00) as well as the HP 4t-1100 (5:48). This means that you'll be able to enjoy a movie or two on the S430-U845W without having to worry about your proximity to a power outlet.
Although it's a relatively decent performer, the Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430 falls short of rarefied ultrabook greatness by hinging almost entirely on a wider display whose utility is of questionable value at best. Beyond the Windows 8 Home screen, some apps, and the incredibly narrow realm of Cinemascope movies, the wider display serves little purpose, especially since it lacks touch capability. While those looking for a Windows 8-ready system with a touch screen should check out the more versatile Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. The Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 is still the ultrabook to beat, thanks to its potent combination of looks and performance.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:
Compare the Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430 with several other laptops side by side.
More laptop reviews:
??? Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430
??? Panasonic Toughbook CF-53
??? Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (3347-4HU)
??? Acer Iconia W700-6465
??? Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2847)