The 13.3in Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 looks good, performs well, has plenty of built-in features and is comfortable to use for long periods of time. Unfortunately, it has relatively poor battery life and it ships with fingerprint reader software that needs to be upgraded if you want be able to run Firefox. These issues notwithstanding, the U500 is still a good laptop for business users, but it could be much better.

With a small, 13in frame, a DVD burner tucked in its side and a powerful Intel Core i5-430M CPU under the hood, the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 has all the hallmarks of a potentially great business laptop. However, it's let down a relatively poor standard battery life, its hefty weight and problematic fingerprint reader software.

Toshiba Satellite Pro U500: Design and features

These issues alone aren't enough to put us off the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 because it really is a nice laptop to use at home, in the office or while you travel. It's also not a boring-looking laptop: the palm rest and lid have a textured finish, there is a chrome trim around the speakers and there are plenty of lights.

The lights illuminate the shortcut buttons above the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500's keyboard, the touchpad and the Satellite Pro brand label on the palm rest, but they are very bright and can get annoying; thankfully they can be switched off. The keyboard itself isn't backlit — unlike the keyboard on the Satellite U500 — but its glossy keys are soft and very comfortable for long periods of typing. The touchpad is a little on the small side at 64x41mm, but it does support gestures and it is responsive. The shortcut buttons above the keyboard can be used to control media playback, volume, as well as invoke Toshiba's 'Eco' mode power management feature. Eco mode disables unnecessary features and tones down the screen's brightness in order to prolong battery life.

Connectivity and features are plentiful: the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 includes HDMI, eSATA, VGA, USB 2.0 (with Sleep-and-Charge capability), Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card slot, an ExpressCard/54 slot and a 56Kbps modem (in case you're unlucky enough to ever have to use dial-up again in your life). It also has a webcam, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a fingerprint reader and a built-in DVD burner.

While it's definitely a well-stocked notebook, the downside is that the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 is also a little on the heavy side for its size. It weighs in at 2.2kg; this weight is definitely noticeable when the notebook is picked up with one hand. It also feels thick and bulky and, if it wasn't for the textured panels and bits of gloss, it would definitely feel like a good old office workhorse machine.

See also: Toshiba Satellite U500 review

Toshiba Satellite Pro U500: Specifications and performance

There is plenty of processing power under the hood of the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 for crunching spreadsheets and even for encoding videos. You get a 2.27GHz Intel Core i5-430M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 500GB, 5400rpm hard drive and an NVIDIA GeForce 310M graphics adaptor. In our Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the U500 recorded times of 59sec and 1min 7sec, respectively. The Blender time is what we expected for a notebook using the Core i5-430M (it's exactly the same time as the Acer Aspire 5741-434G50Mn, for example), but the iTunes time is a couple of seconds off the pace.

In our video encoding test, AutoGordianKnot took 1hr 10min to transcode a DVD file to a 1.5GB Xvid file, which is a swift time — the Dell Inspiron 15R N5010, which runs the same CPU, recorded the same time in this test. The only test in which the U500 was sluggish was our hard drive file transfer test, in which the drive recorded a transfer rate of 20.78 megabytes per second. We expected a rate of at least 25MBps.

In the graphics department, the NVIDIA GeForce 310M adaptor recorded a score of 3696 in 3DMark06, which is a decent result and it gives the Satellite Pro U500 a better ability to process business graphics and high resolution photos, and it also gives it the ability to run a few games (such as World of Warcraft, StartCraft 2 and car racing games in the Need For Speed franchise).

NEXT: battery tests, and fingerprint reader software >>

The 13.3in Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 looks good, performs well, has plenty of built-in features and is comfortable to use for long periods of time. Unfortunately, it has relatively poor battery life and it ships with fingerprint reader software that needs to be upgraded if you want be able to run Firefox. These issues notwithstanding, the U500 is still a good laptop for business users, but it could be much better.

In our standard battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise the screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 lasted 1hr 39min. This isn't a great result for a 13in laptop — it's even worse than some 15in laptops we've tested recently, such as the Samsung R590. You have to bear in mind that the Satellite Pro U500 it is using a discrete NVIDIA GeForce 310M graphics adaptor, which consumes more power than an integrated Intel adaptor. But even so, the Satellite Pro U500 didn't last as long as the NVIDIA Optimus–equipped Samsung Q330, which lasted 2hr 51min in the same test using its GeForce 310M adaptor (albeit with a 2.26GHz Core i3-350M CPU instead of a Core i5-430M).

When all we did was browse the web and write documents with a medium brightness setting, the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500's battery lasted 2hr 20min, which is a much better result, but still a far cry from the Samsung notebook. When we enabled Eco mode, the U500 gained an extra 21min, lasting a total of 2hr 41min. Overall though, this isn't a good showing, but it's understandable considering the U500's battery has a battery rating of only 3700 milliamp-hours (mAh). The Samsung has a 5200mAh battery, for example. Toshiba gives you the option to purchase 4700mAh and 9000mAh batteries if you want better life, but these will protrude from the notebook's body and also add a few more grams to the overall weight — not to mention lighten your wallet.

Toshiba Satellite Pro U500: Fingerprint reader software upgrade

The Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 has a fingerprint reader nestled in between the left and right touchpad buttons. It can be used to log in to Windows 7, or it can be used to access websites that require a password. Unfortunately, the latter function only works in Internet Explorer and not in Firefox. In fact, the Toshiba Fingerprint Utility software version that comes installed on the U500 causes a conflict with Firefox so that the browser can't even be launched.

A resolution posted to this Toshiba support page says that you won't be able to run Firefox unless you update the Fingerprint Utility software to version 1.0.2.29. Following the link on that page, and going through the support pages on Toshiba's local site, the only version we could find was 1.0.2.18, and this did not resolve the problem. We had to perform a Google search for the newer driver, and ended up finding it on the Userdrivers.com download site, which had many confusing advertisements posing as download buttons — the link to the fingerprint software is at the top of the page in a small font size. We hope Toshiba can rectify this issue and install the most up-to-date fingerprint driver by default on all models, or at least offer an easy way to download it.

 NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Toshiba Satellite Pro U500: Specs

  • Intel Core i5 430M/2.26GHz, Dual-Core
  • Enhanced SpeedStep technology, Intel Turbo Boost Technology
  • Mobile Intel HM55 Expres
  • L2 Cache, 3MB
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500GB Serial ATA-150 5400rpm
  • DVD±RW (±R DL)/DVD-RAM
  • 5 in 1 card reader
  • SD Memory Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, MultiMediaCard, xD-Picture Card
  • 13.3in TFT 1280x800 (WXGA)
  • Intel HD Graphics Dynamic Video Memory Technology
  • High Definition Audio
  • Microphone
  • Integrated 1280x800 camera
  • Multi-touch touchpad
  • Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b/g/n (draft), Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
  • display/video, VGA-15 pin HD D-Sub (HD-15), network, Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T, RJ-45, audio-SPDIF output, microphone, input, mini-phone 3.5mm headphones-output-mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm 2 x Hi-Speed USB-4 PIN USB Type A storage/Hi-Speed USB-Hi-Speed USB/eSATA audio/video-HDMI-19 pin HDMI Type A
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition/XP Professional downgrade
  • 317x230x38mm
  • 2.2kg
  • Intel Core i5 430M/2.26GHz, Dual-Core
  • Enhanced SpeedStep technology, Intel Turbo Boost Technology
  • Mobile Intel HM55 Expres
  • L2 Cache, 3MB
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500GB Serial ATA-150 5400rpm
  • DVD±RW (±R DL)/DVD-RAM
  • 5 in 1 card reader
  • SD Memory Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, MultiMediaCard, xD-Picture Card
  • 13.3in TFT 1280x800 (WXGA)
  • Intel HD Graphics Dynamic Video Memory Technology
  • High Definition Audio
  • Microphone
  • Integrated 1280x800 camera
  • Multi-touch touchpad
  • Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b/g/n (draft), Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
  • display/video, VGA-15 pin HD D-Sub (HD-15), network, Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T, RJ-45, audio-SPDIF output, microphone, input, mini-phone 3.5mm headphones-output-mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm 2 x Hi-Speed USB-4 PIN USB Type A storage/Hi-Speed USB-Hi-Speed USB/eSATA audio/video-HDMI-19 pin HDMI Type A
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition/XP Professional downgrade
  • 317x230x38mm
  • 2.2kg

OUR VERDICT

It may be a tad heavy and have underwhelming standard battery life, but the Toshiba Satellite Pro U500 has plenty of features, performs well for the most part and it's comfortable to use. We'd like it if a more powerful battery was installed by default and we also hope that Toshiba updates the fingerprint software on all its shipping models. We also wish the fingerprint utility would also work with Firefox.

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