There’s very little difference at first glance between the new Toshiba NB550D netbook and its NB520 predecessor – the changes are mostly under the hood. The NB520 ran on a dual-core Atom processor but the NB550D makes use of AMD’s new C-50 CPUs. This range of machines is available for around $375.
The Toshiba NB550D comes in copper or blue. The rubberized finish to the lid is attractive but the black plastic elsewhere on the shell is unimpressive.
The Toshiba NB550D measures 262 x 190 x 36 mm and tips the scales at 1.3 kg, slightly on the heavy side, but it feels durable.
Two fair-sized Harman Kardon speakers are sunk into the wrist rest behind small grilles, from where they deliver louder and fuller audio than probably any other netbook speakers. As Harman Kardon, they’re even superior to most notebook speakers.
The screen resolution is 1024 x 600 rather than widescreen 1366 x 768 pixels, so is a bit closer to the 1024-768 for which most webpages are still designed. This translates to less scrolling when browsing, which is a positive advantage, considering that the widescreen format continues to be snubbed by developers. The screen itself is quite bright, and despite its glossy coating is not too reflective for outdoor use. Horizontal viewing angles are just about average, overall a goodish show display-wise.
Netbook keyboards leave a lot less room for optimization, but Toshiba has made a similarly good showing here, too. The springiness of the keys delivers a rewarding typing experience.
Portwise, the Toshiba NB550D features 3 USB-2s (one of which is ‘sleep and charge’ enabled, allowing you to charge devices with the netbook switched off), and an HDMI output. There is also WiFi-n and Bluetooth 3 support. The OS, as is standard for netbooks, is Windows 7 Starter. The Toshiba NB550D ships with a meager 1GB of DDR3 RAM, upgradeable to 2GB.
AMD describes the C-50 as an ‘accelerated processing unit’, similar to the Tegra’s ‘system-on-chip’ (SoC) designation , which means the CPU, memory controller, and Radeon HD 6250 integrated graphics processor are combined on a single die.
However, somewhat disappointingly for Toshiba, who produced one of the first hyper-threaded netbooks, the Toshiba NB550D lacks hyper-threaded capability and is thus clocked at 1GHz per core, rather than the 1.5 GHz of Intel’s ‘dual-core’ ie hyper-threaded Atom N550.
Notwithstanding, the NB550D outperforms the Atom-equipped NB520, though the real advantage of the new layout shows in graphics-intensive apps, where the Toshiba NB550D gives a tenfold improvement over the older-gen solutions, finally taking the netbook into the light gaming realm.
This graphics-processing coming of age helps the Toshiba NB550D easily handle YouTube HD video at 1080p. The downside of this improvement is shorter battery life, giving the NB550D a mere four hours against the old NB520′s five hours, but for users five hours of full-featured computing trances four hours of limited-ability use. These were high usage battery tests, so moderate use should give much longer battery life.
Until now netbooks have often been seen as some sort of botched apology for real notebooks.
With the NB550D we are witnessing the establishment of netbooks at the lower end of the mobile computing spectrum, with slightly lower specs to justify their ultraportable credentials. .
To sum up, the Toshiba NB550D is a very capable netbook, with a spec which – courtesy of its C-50 archiecture and Harman Kardon speakers – elevates the netbook genre to a credible alternative to the notebook. Get one.
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