The netbook to buy: Toshiba NB550D review

Toshiba has made something like a new standard with this little netbook. With the AMD C-50 processor driving the system and graphics it’s setting a new level of performance and features at a very cheap price point.

The key features of this model include the AMD C-50 processor which runs at 1.0GHz dual-core with AMD Radeon 6250 graphics at 280MHz. The chip is tied to the rest of the system with the Hudon M1 chipset. The NB550D sports a 10.1in LED lit panel and a resolution of 1024 x 600. It’s not the highest resolution that could be chosen for this size screen but it’s wide enough to consume web content quite comfortably.

There’s 1GB of RAM in the system of which 256MB is dedicated to the graphics. The memory is upgradable to a maximum of 2GB but it means replacing the 1GB module. A 250GB hard disk drive is included running at 5400rpm. No optical drive but that is par for the course for netbooks.

What’s completely scary about this model is that it retails for $499 and I daresay you could buy it cheaper if you shop around. Compared to a roughly equivalent Intel-based netbook in Toshiba’s line-up the Atom N455-powered NB500 at $399 it is $100 more expensive. It’s not a straight comparison though based on both performance (usability of the C-50 based system is dramatically improved over the N455 Atom and NM10 graphics chipset) and features; the C-50 system includes HDMI for video output Bluetooth and Harman/Kardon speakers. The unit’s track pad is one of the nicest we’ve used. Its roughened texture means you can easily tell the edges and your finger doesn’t jerk across the surface in humid weather.

Our testing showed the NB550D was an extremely usable little netbook. It seems it has taken this long to bring these ultra-low-cost systems into a situation where you can actually get some work done on them. Web content including “HD” flash content on YouTube was smooth and comfortable to use. Productivity apps including Outlook 2010 which we finally managed to shoehorn onto the unit ran at acceptable speeds. The unit’s Hardan/Karmon speakers aren’t going to replace a good set of desktop speakers but compared to the vast majority of netbooks out there they’re rockin’.

Battery life was extremely nice. With a moderate amount of activity – almost entirely web browsing via Wi-Fi – we got just under four hours. That’s real usage and not just letting it sit idle in the background.

So will this new benchmark in netbooks mean you can throw away that 3kg notebook? No not yet but the experience using this netbook is satisfying and feels more like a “proper” computer than what we’ve seen in the past. If you want a netbook buy this one.

Available from Toshiba retailing for $499.
APC rating: 9/10 (Editor’s Choice)

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