PROS: Extreme performance, speakers, features, styling, usability, battery
CONS: Overpriced, limited upgrade options, weight
The Qosmio line of Toshiba notebooks represents the high-end in mobile multimedia and gaming, with the 17” X305 series being targeted specifically at gamers on the go. Of the four models available in the X305 lineup, the Qosmio X305-Q708 is the most feature-rich (and expensive) model Toshiba offers. This unit comes with the latest Intel QX9300 Extreme mobile quad-core processor, nVIDIA SLI hybrid graphics card technology and a 128GB SSD hard drive, just for starters. The price you pay for this leading-edge notebook technology? $4,200!!! Not for the faint of heart, but what the Qosmio X305-Q708 offers in return is a notebook experience unlike any other.
Open up the box (which weighed close to 20 lbs by the way) and you get a shiny red and black notebook with a mirror-like flame imprint on the lid. While some may see it as geeky and not suitable for an office environment, it is a very high-quality finish that is smooth as glass and does a good job as far as hiding fingerprints and smudges. This is a unit you will be able to keep clean easily, and a simple wipe will keep it looking pristine.
As most 17” notebooks go, this is not something you will be whipping under your arm and running off to Starbucks with. No. This unit is big, thick and heavy. Over 9 lbs to be exact, and the rear edge sits 2.5 inches high from the table. Carry it in one hand if you will, just make sure the other hand is free for the gargantuan AC adapter. This part alone measures 9x4x2 inches in size, weighs over 2.5 lbs and provides 230 watts of juice for your mobile quad-core SLI glory.
Open up the lid and you are treated to a sharp, bright 17” 1680x1050 screen, full keyboard with isolated inverted-T cursor keys and separate numpad, and four imposing harman/kardon speakers. The quality and finish is extremely high standard, looks very good and will impress anyone used to high-end equipment. The display border is a darker red, almost burgundy color, while the keyboard is a smooth, polished black. The keys feel good to type on, even as I have been used to a matte keyboard. The trim around the keyboard is a gloss red acrylic which complements the black quite well and is not intrusive.
Above the keyboard is a row of touch panel lights for the media playback functions. They are feather-touch in operation and include controls for media player, volume, mute, webcam, Dolby surround and an on/off for the panel/accent lights.
Around the sides and back you will find the ports which include four USB, one eSATA/USB combo, firewire, modem, ethernet, headphone, microphone, a digital volume dial, VGA, HDMI, display port, express card slot and SD card reader.
On the front is where Toshiba have placed the optical drive. I found this to be a hassle for two reasons. Firstly, it’ll hit you in the gut every time you need to open it, meaning you must move your chair back or lean back to get to it. Second, there is a lip for the status lights running across the front of the unit, hiding the drive from normal view. This means you need to “hunt” for the eject button, and you can’t see the activity light on the optical drive either unless you move your head way down. If you do a lot of burning, you may be in for a problem with this arrangement. I use a dedicated external burner with all my notebooks so it didn’t impact me in this case.
Flip the beast over and on the bottom you will find the obligatory stickers, RAM access cover, battery, two fan intakes, bass-reflex subwoofer and the access bay for the two installed hard drives. Toshiba have done an amazing job with the battery placement and fan vents, using space along the rear of the unit for all the heat exhaust, while still keeping the battery small enough to sit inside the unit without otherwise adding to the height or hanging the battery out the back.
Turning the unit on, you are greeted with Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. It runs amazingly well on the SSD hard drive and 4GB DDR3 RAM. The quad-core CPU makes applications fly, especially video encoding, heavy multitasking and other multi-core optimized software. While it may be overkill for gaming alone, if you need a unit for heavy work use, the Qosmio X305-708 is quite adept at replacing even the best desktops. The SSD hard drive makes Vista boot times and applications load extremely fast. This is one notebook that is literally begging to be pushed.
For multimedia, you will be hard-pressed to find a better or more suitable notebook. The crisp 17” screen provides amazing full-screen DVD movie playback, thanks in part to the digital vibrance control in the nVIDIA control panel. As for sound, I have yet to hear speakers sound this good on a notebook – these are the best speakers you will listen to period. The four harman/kardon main speakers provide near-audiophile quality HiFi Dolby surround sound. The subwoofer below provides bass that is rich, full, and free of distortion – reverberating through not only the notebook itself but also the table sitting under it. You will definitely want to watch every movie and listen to all your music on this notebook – without the expensive headphones!
The realtek audio driver intelligently detects when you plug in a device in the headphone and mic jacks, letting you for example route a line-in audio source through the speakers or connect to a SPDIF digital receiver. I used Cool Edit Pro to record from both the stereo mixer and the line-in jack with no problems.
The X305 series is also the first consumer notebook to incorporate the new nVIDIA Hybrid SLI technology. This means that you get not 2 but 3 graphics cards – a GeForce 9400M G assigned for 2D work and two GeForce 9800M GTS cards in SLI for all 3D applications. At the default Windows desktop, the 9400M is at work. Fire up your favorite 3D shooter, however, and the 9800M duo kicks in, turning the 9400M off. Exit your game, and display control is handed back to the 9400M and the 9800M cards cool off. In device manager you will see all three video cards listed, as well as monitor connections to each set. There’s also visual cues to alert you when SLI is on or off – the display will give a quick blink, indicating it has switched between video cards. Everything happens seamlessly in the background, with no user input necessary.
BENCHMARKS AND GAMING:
Thanks to the quad-core CPU I was able to rip the DVD “American Gangster” in 17 minutes, compared to 22 minutes on my P4 zd7000. Encoding the almost 3-hour feature from VOB to WMV took 2½ hours, compared to over 12 hours with the P4 3.2. Using Windows Media Encoder 64 to re-encode to pocket pc output format, the X305-Q708 took 1 hour 44 minutes, compared to 2 hours 51 minutes with the 32-bit version on my zd7000. It’s evident that if you do heavy video encoding and editing work, the quad-core CPU will cut down your job times drastically.
3Dmark03 scores hit 37,265 points. 3Dmark05 scores hit 15,533 points while the latest 3Dmark06 returned a score of 12,115. For comparison, the same 3Dmark03 score on the HP dv7 I reviewed earlier was 12,414 points – less than one-third the performance.
The real proof of the pudding comes from playing games though, and for that I went with the definitive gaming benchmark in use today – Crysis. What can I say? Crysis, on a notebook, all setting on very high, native resolution (1680x1050), running at a consistent and very playable 30 FPS. This, a game that brings the majority of desktops to their knees. Yet here we have a notebook pushing the toughest PC game at playable frame rates, maximum settings and maximum resolution. That’s what 9800M GTS SLI performance will get you. Other games such as GRID, NFS, Far Cry, HL2, FEAR, Doom 3, X-Plane, Civilization 4, GTR2 and BF2 all peak at 60 FPS. If you are a gamer, you should be impressed by now, because this clearly is a gamers dream machine.
As far as overclocking is concerned, there are no options in the BIOS for CPU adjustments, only an option to disable 2 of the 4 cores. However, it may be possible to swap the CPU for a faster mobile quad-core in the future, if Intel does release one. The GPU is also unable to be overclocked – the nTune utility from nVIDIA’s website crashes the system during installation, most likely because it is not compatible with the 3 GPU hybrid SLI configuration of the Qosmio X305-Q708.
In the noise and heat department, the notebook is much quieter than my zd7000. The fans are barely audible, even under full load, and the intelligent heatsink design vents all the heat out the back of the unit, leaving every other part of the notebook cool to the touch. That being said, the rear behind the unit does get warm, so you will want to leave plenty of open space behind your notebook. You won't need to prop the unit up - the fans underneath pull in enough air and run well already, just make sure to keep the back vents free to breathe. The AC brick does get warm a little, but nothing uncomfortable or to be worried about.
Finally, I must mention the battery. Most gaming laptops have batteries that last perhaps 10-30 minutes of real-world use. In this test I ran Civilization 4 on battery power with the default balanced power settings. The system eventually shut down exactly 1 hour into gameplay. That’s pretty impressive for a 17” monster running a quad-core CPU, three graphics cards and two hard drives, even more so when you look at how small that battery is.
With such amazing performance and impressive abilities, what is there to point fingers at? Can there be room for improvement in a notebook that is already configured for the top-end? I think there is. Toshiba have done a great job with the X305 series, and the X305-Q708 is a powerful and extremely capable notebook. But it is way overpriced. Compare the X305-Q706, same internals, but with a dual-core CPU and no SSD drive. It’s priced at $2000. The quad-core CPU and SSD add-on should bring the price to a realistic $3300, not $4200.
Case in point – gamers in the know have heard of the OCZ whitebook. It’s priced at around $2600-$3000, has ATI crossfire graphics, and scores around 14,000 on 3dmark06 - better performance for over $1000 less. Even at the $4200 range, vendors such as Sager offer better performing hardware than what Toshiba has on show.
To put it another way, for $4200 Toshiba should have gone with a higher-resolution WUXGA display, Blu-ray drive, and two 9800M GTX cards instead of the GTS.
Another disappointment for some is the fact that the graphics cards are not upgradeable on the X305 series. Toshiba has confirmed that the graphics cards are soldered with the system board and are not plug-in modules.That may explain why the various models are not user-configurable on Toshiba’s website.
If the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708 were priced at $3300 where it should be, I would recommend it with very little hesitation. On the other hand, however, it seems unfair to bash a notebook that is excellent in every aspect, it’s only fault being that the manufacturer has over-inflated the pricetag. It’s an outstanding notebook, does what it’s designed to and anybody using one will be extremely happy with what they get. A more sensible alternative for those on a budget but willing to upgrade may be to get the X305-Q706 for $2000, and upgrade to a quad-core CPU and SSD yourself at a later time.
At the end of the day though, all I can say is that if you don’t mind parting with $4200 right now, the Qosmio X305-Q708 will thoroughly impress you and handle whatever you throw at it, despite more powerful and less expensive alternatives out there.
Recommended, but extremely expensive.
UPDATE: Toshiba has announced that the succesor to the Qosmio X305 series will be arriving in April 2009. With the mobile Core i7 due out from Intel at around the same time, I can only assume that the X405 (or whatever Toshiba decides to call it) will be a performance powerhouse. If you've been holding out on an X305, you may want to wait for something even better. Hopefully Toshiba lowers the price of the Qosmio X305-Q708 in return.
UPDATE #2: Toshiba has also recently released the Qosmio X305-Q725. This is basically a stripped down version of the Q708 with a slower quad-core, smaller SSD and a single GTX instead of the SLI GTS. It's priced at $2500, so if you're looking for a mobile quad-core with SSD on the less expensive end, this may be worth a look.