(CNET.com) -- Toshiba's Qosmio line is known for high-end home theater features and high prices, and like the flagship 17-inch Qosmio G45, the 15-inch Qosmio F45-AV412 offers a wealth of multimedia extras, from an HD DVD drive (although not the recordable HD DVD drive found in the G45) to a subwoofer to media control jog wheels.
For a desktop replacement, these are useful features, but we question their value on a midsized laptop with a maximum resolution of 1,280x800.
To include an HD DVD drive on the F45 for only $1,499, Toshiba cuts a few corners, including the use of integrated graphics and a slower processor than its 17-inch cousin. The biggest sacrifice is the smaller, 15.4-inch screen, which cannot support HD DVD's full 1,080p resolution.
While movies will still look good at 720p, we are less satisfied with that output when we've ponied up for an HD DVD drive. The audience for 15-inch home theater laptops is still something of a mystery to us, but aside from the screen-resolution issue, you can't debate the fit and finish of the white, glossy Qosmio F45. It certainly stands out from the crowd and looks and feels like a much more expensive machine. In fact, aside from our issues with the choice of optical drive, screen resolution, and video-output options, there's plenty to like about this impressive system.
The Toshiba Qosmio F45-AV412 has a stark two-tone look, with a black lid offset against a white interior. As on the larger G45, the system has a glossy plastic finish--we generally prefer the matte look as glossy-coated cases can be seriously fingerprint-prone. A huge silver Qosmio logo sits on the back of the lid, so this isn't a laptop for those who would rather not broadcast their brand preference to nearby onlookers.
Like the Alienware m9750 and the Qosmio G45 (both larger desktop replacements), the F45 moves the optical drive bay to the front, making it easier to access--unless, like us, you had the system sitting on a laptop stand with rubber feet that partially block the front panel.
We were disappointed to see that the F45 ditches the G45's touch-sensitive media control buttons in favor of plain old click buttons. It retains the larger model's silver volume jog wheel to the left of the keyboard and an AV control wheel to the right. The controls are fun to use, but we found the blue backlighting annoying, until we figured out which button turns it off (it's on the row of buttons above the keyboard).
While Toshiba includes an HD DVD drive at a reasonable price, we agree with the common assessment that the HD DVD/Blu-ray format wars are far from over, and can't think of too many reasons why you'd want to tie yourself into just one next-gen format at this point. One high-end extra we do appreciate, however, is the 2.1 audio system, with two speakers on the keyboard tray and a subwoofer underneath. It still won't compare to a desktop audio system, but for a laptop, the sound is thick and rich.
More to the point, the F45's screen is not up to the task of playing back hi-def movies. The 15.4-inch LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution that isn't enough to display the full 1080p resolution of HD DVD discs. We had a similar issue with another 15-inch home theater laptop, the Sony VAIO FZ180 and the HP HDX. On the F45, there's no DVI or HDMI output, either, so you can't output the signal to a big-screen TV (unless it has a VGA input, but that's not an optimal choice).
We were pleased to see 802.11n Wi-Fi technology, but the lack of Bluetooth is odd for a mainstream system, and we would have expected at least a DVI output on a laptop with a high-def optical drive. Unfortunately, this is a fixed configuration system, so these are not problems that are easy to solve.
With a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 CPU and 2GB of RAM, the Qosmio G45 is a reasonably powerful performer, on par with Toshiba's recent AMD-powered Satellite A215. Stepping up the CPU a notch to a T7300, as in the Acer Aspire 5920G, yields slightly better results, but in real-world conditions, the performance differences between systems in this range are negligible. We were able to multitask, surfing the Web, playing video files, and working on office documents at the same time, with no slowdown or stuttering, as we'd expect from any dual-core laptop in Intel's T7000-series range.
Despite the lower resolution screen and integrated graphics, the Qosmio G45 ran for a measly 1 hour and 39 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included battery. That's not acceptable for a mainstream laptop that can be expected to do its share of road duty, but bear in mind, however, our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. We're also much more forgiving with battery life on larger, harder-to-tote 17-inch models, which generally stay put.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, which included on-site service. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $249, although Toshiba is currently offering the extended plan as a free upgrade. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and driver downloads. E-mail to a friend
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