- Review Date: 01/29/2013
- Bottom line: The Toshiba Satellite U945-S4390 is a reasonably priced Windows 8-equipped ultrabook with some nifty features to boot, but better options are out there.
- Pros: Reasonably priced. Good performance. WiDi.
- Cons: Bloatware. Uncomfortable to type on. So-so battery life.
The Toshiba Satellite U945-S4390 is a decent choice for anyone in the market for a reasonably priced Windows 8-equipped ultrabook. It doesn't shirk on overall performance or useful features like USB 3.0 connectivity, Intel's Wireless Display technology, and a full-size HDMI port. One noticeable flaw, however, is its lack of a touch screen, but it's still worth checking out.
Design and Features
The Satellite U945-S4390 is compact, measuring 0.82 by 13.4 by 9.4 inches (HWD). At 3.85 pounds, it falls between the Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 (2.36 pounds) and the Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 (4.4 pounds), making it light enough to take on the go or slip into a backpack without posing any risk to your posture.
The Satellite U945-S4390's plastic chassis sports a latticed texture on the lid and palmrest, which nicely complements the system's "icy blue" finish while additionally providing a satisfying tactile sensation. Overall, it's a handsomely designed system, though the plastic construction doesn't quite match the refined elegance (or durability) of an aluminum chassis like that of the Sony VAIO T13 (SVT13114GXS).
The 14-inch LED display has a maximum resolution of 1,366 by 768, making it good enough to support 720p videos. With its bright colors, crisp text, and sharp graphics, it's easy on the eyes. At this price point, it understandably doesn't feature touch functionality, so users will need to rely exclusively on the touchpad to navigate through Windows 8. The Satellite U945-S4390's speakers, meanwhile, can pump out sound at moderately loud levels, and while you certainly won't be getting any noise complaints from your neighbors, they nonetheless deserve credit for not sounding tinny at higher volumes.
The raised tile keyboard sports chiclet-style black keys and features backlighting. While the latter is a helpful feature, the Satellite U945-S4390's keyboard is marred by the sort of shallow keystroke travel that often plagues slim laptops. This can be a problem for those who do a lot of typing, like students who regularly churn out lengthy term papers. The touchpad is multi-gesture, allowing users to pinch, zoom, scroll, and perform Windows 8 functions—like bringing up the Charms bar or rotating through open apps.
Port selection is average on the Satellite U945-S4390. The system's left side houses a solitary USB 2.0 port, while the right side houses two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, an SD card reader, an Ethernet port, and a full-size HDMI port. The latter allows users to connect the system to a larger HDTV without having to purchase a separate dongle. Moreover, the Satellite U945-S4390 gives users the option of ditching wires altogether since it comes equipped with Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) technology, which allows content to be wirelessly beamed directly to any television equipped with an aftermarket adapter along the lines of the Netgear Push2TV.
The ultrabook packs a relatively spacious 500GB 5,400rpm HDD and a 32GB SSD, a potent combination that delivers storage capacity and agility since the latter operates behind the scenes to hasten booting, loading frequently used apps, and waking the system from sleep mode. That said, the 500GB HDD comes with a formidable amount of preloaded software that ranges from bloatware (WildTangent games, Microsoft Live Essentials, links to eBay and Amazon) to trialware (Microsoft Office 2010, thirty days of Norton Internet Security and Norton Online Backup, sixty days of Norton Anti-Theft). Still, these programs are dwarfed by the sheer number of preinstalled proprietary software that includes, among other things, Toshiba Book Place, Toshiba eco Utility, and Toshiba Video Player. If you prefer to start using your computer with a clean slate, be prepared to set aside a solid chunk of time to do so. The Satellite U945-S4390 is covered by a one-year limited warranty.
The Satellite U945-S4390's combined 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor and 6GB RAM exhibited admirable prowess on most of our benchmark tests. Its PCMark 7 score of 4,025 points outpaced the rest of its class, save for the Toshiba Z935-P300 (5,477 points). Its Cinebench R11.5 score of 2.37 points, meanwhile, was on equal footing with the Sony T13 (SVT13114GXS) (2.37 points), and came within striking distance of the Toshiba Z935-P300 (2.39 points) as well as the class-leading Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 (2.40 points).
The Satellite U945-S4390 displayed similar finesse for light to moderate media creation. It completed our Handbrake video-encoding test in a brisk 1 minute 28 seconds, falling a second short of the Toshiba Satellite P845t-S4310 (1:27) while outpacing all by a sizable margin, including the Toshiba Z935-P300 (1:58) and the Sony T13 (SVT13114GXS) (2:01). Similarly, the Satellite U945-S4390's performance in our Photoshop CS6 benchmark (5 minutes 31 seconds) edged past the Toshiba P845T-S4310 (5:33) while easily outflanking the Asus S400CA-UH51 (6:28) without breaking a sweat. It also performed admirably on our 3DMark 11 benchmark tests (1,194 points in Entry-level settings, 213 in Extreme mode), coming within striking distance of the Toshiba P845T-S4310 (1,124 and 219 points, respectively) while edging past the Asus SC400A-UH51 (1,101 and 187 points, respectively).
Like the Asus S400CA-UH51 and Toshiba P845T-S4310, the Satellite U945-S4390 comes equipped with an integrated Intel HD 4000 GPU. Consequently, it failed to cross the 30 frames per second (fps) playability threshold in our gaming tests. Accordingly its performance on our Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tests (13fps with medium-quality settings in 1,366-by-768 resolution; 7fps with maximum-quality in 1,366-by-768 resolution) was on par with that of the VivoBook S400CA-UH51 (10fps and 5fps, respectively) as well as the Satellite P845t-S4310 (14fps and 7 fps, respectively). The same goes with its handling of our Heaven benchmark tests (12fps with medium-quality settings in 1,366-by-768 resolution; 4fps with maximum-quality in 1,366-by-768 resolution), which nearly mirrored both the Asus S400CA-UH51 (10fps and 5fps, respectively) and the Satellite P845t-S4310 (12fps and 6fps, respectively). As these slideshow-like framerates demonstrate, high-end gaming is not the Satellite U945-S4390's forte.
The Satellite U945-S4390's removable 45Whr battery lasted for 4 hours 47 minutes on our battery rundown test, landing between the VivoBook S400CA-UH51 (4:18) and the Satellite P845t-S4310 (5:22). Ultimately, if you plan on using the Satellite U945-S4390 for extended periods of time, be sure to keep the AC adapter handy.
The Toshiba Satellite U945-S4390 sports a reasonable price tag for an ultrabook without skimping on useful features like WiDi and USB 3.0 connectivity. Still, more compelling options exist. For $100 less, the Editors' Choice Asus VivoBook S400CA-UH51 is a better value since it sports a touch screen. For $100 more, the Toshiba Portege Z935-S4390, our Editors' Choice for mainstream ultrabooks, delivers more firepower and a sleek aluminum chassis. Wedged between these two stellar Editors' Choices, the Satellite U945-S4390 doesn't shine as brightly as it would have otherwise. That said, though, it remains a decent option for anyone on the market for a Windows 8-equipped ultrabook who doesn't place a priority on touch capability.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.