By August 19, 2008

Toshiba Satellite U400 review

I remember when laptops were the preserve of well-heeled business men and my first laptop was a Texas Instruments DX400-100 with 8MB of RAM. It cost £3500 back then and was state of the art. Fast forward a few years and the £480 that the U400 costs buys many times the power. Laptops are now so common place that they are becoming almost disposable items in the way that portable TVs are. Such is progress. In a market place saturated with any number of competing models how does a manufacturer stand out and how does the U400 fare?

Toshiba Satellite U400

The Toshiba Satellite U400 (click to enlarge)


The U400 is one of a new range of variations upon the same chassis. Depending upon which model of U400 is selected there’s differing specifications so I will not go into too many specifics here. Suffice to say, it comes with a hardware specification that would have been inconceivable just a year ago and I doubt any normal user would ever stretch its capabilities. There now so many laptops now on the market with what I would consider to be very ample performance that performance is no longer such an important issue as it once was – how many of us realistically need 3 gigs of RAM and a dual core processor for web surfing and e-mail? It is now more a case of how good does it look and how much does it cost.

What’s in the box?

  1. U400 laptop.
  2. Mains AC adapter.
  3. Drivers/utilities/restore CD.
  4. Manual and documentation.


It’s probably fair to say that Toshiba are one of the leading brands of laptop manufacturers. They make a wide range of machines to suit business and consumer needs and, in my experience, they are solidly made, reliable and come with decent performance. This machine does not disappoint.

There’s enough ports and options to meet most expansion needs. The designers have obviously put some thought into layout with some neat little touches all around such as locating most of the USB ports together and away from the DVD drive door to avoid snagging. This might seem trivial, but believe me it’s not when the DVD pops open, snags a cable and drags your portable hard drive off the table. Other nice touches are the bright white LEDs illuminating the softkeys and the “Satellite” logo on the fascia. It all helps to create the feeling of a machine that has been designed rather than thrown together as is the case with some of the competition.

Controls and layout:

· On the left: VGA out, cooling vent, HDMI port, 2 USB2.0 ports, PC Express card slot, FireWire port, headphone and microphone sockets.

Toshiba Satellite U400 left side

Toshiba Satellite U400 left side


· On the right: modem jack, Ethernet port, USB2.0 port, DVD-RW drive bay

Toshiba Satellite U400 right side

Toshiba Satellite U400 right side


· On the front: SD card slot, volume control

Toshiba Satellite U400 SD card

Toshiba Satellite U400 memory card and volume control


· On the screen: 1.3Mp webcam

Toshiba Satellite U400 webcam

Toshiba Satellite U400 webcam


· On the keyboard surround: On/Off switch, left/right speaker, various softkeys for media playback and application launching.

Toshiba Satellite U400 keyboard

Toshiba Satellite U400 controls


· On the back: access to the battery

Toshiba Satellite U400 bottom

Toshiba Satellite U400 bottom


  • Speedy performance
  • Bright and sharp screen
  • Ample connectivity
  • Good hardware specification
  • Elegant design


  • Glossy black finish shows up fingerprints
  • Glidepad was not always easy to use


The U400 uses Microsoft Vista Business Premium with an option to “downgrade” to XP. In use it was very fast and I noticed no lag at any time despite the reputation Vista has for this. I consider myself to be a power user, editing music and video, and encoding the same – used for these tasks the little Toshiba never broke into a sweat. Only the most demanding of users would test its mettle and it’s not aimed at them anyway.

The glidepad took some getting used to because it’s slightly unconventional in the fact that it is ultra-low profile, on the same level as the facia and quite small. There is no distinct edge to it so, I often found myself trying to move the cursor without success because my finger tip was on the facia and not the glidepad. No doubt with more practice it would be less of a problem.

Toshiba Satellite U400 trackpad

Toshiba Satellite U400 glidepad


The keyboard performance was acceptable. I can’t say much more than that. I was less impressed with the glossy black finish though which very quickly ended up looking terrible – it’s a magnet for greasy fingerprints and reminds me that I must stop eating greasy burgers! I think a conventional matt black finish would have been better.

Toshiba Satellite U400 closed

Toshiba Satellite U400 closed


I was surprised to find that there was no screen latch locking the lid down. Although the screen hinge action was stiff and secure, making it unlikely that the screen would be opened accidentally, I consider the lack of a latch to be a bit of an omission for what is a portable machine. The 13.3” screen itself was fabulous. Capable of WXGA resolution up to 1280×800 pixels it was bright, bitingly sharp and capable of displaying photos and video with great clarity. I’ve always been impressed with my own Toshiba laptop’s screen, but the U400’s was better again.

As you would expect with this level of hardware specification the little Tosh had no trouble at all with video playback whether it was DVD or MPEG-4 so, it makes a fine portable entertainment centre. MP3 playback through the built-in speakers left a bit desired, but this can be said about virtually all laptops. By contrast, playback through headphones was just fine. To assist with media duties there’s a row of white led illuminated softkeys below the screen fascia for functions such as play/stop/pause/fast forward etc.

The machine was equipped with a 3700mAh battery, but I was not able to properly test battery life because the review machine had trouble holding a charge. Previous experience has taught me that most Toshiba’s have good battery life as they have some excellent power management utilities so, I have no reason to believe that the U400 would be any different although 3700mAh does seem to be a bit on the light side.

The 250GB 2.5” SATA hdd was fast and quiet, this level of storage should be enough for even the largest mp3 collection and Toshiba have done well to include such a large disc that provides some level of future-proofing.

Networking is taken care of by a gigabit Ethernet card or 802.11/g wifi. There’s no Bluetooth built-in, but as small low profile USB Bluetooth adapters can be bought for less than £10 this is not a deal breaker. The inclusion of the gigabit Ethernet is somewhat curious though given how few consumer switches and routers are available that can make use of it. I would have rather have traded that for Bluetooth.

I was pleased to see a built-in memory card reader capable of a wide variety of formats including SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, MultiMediaCard and xD-Picture Card. This is ideal for backing up PDAs or transferring photos from cameras. Having a card reader also means being able to use a relatively large capacity and low-cost SDHC cards for the routine backup of important documents.


As already mentioned this machine comes with Windows Vista. You either like it or you don’t, but if you don’t then Toshiba thoughtfully allow a downgrade to Windows XP. Toshiba also bundle a number of extra utilities for power managements, CD burning etc.

Toshiba Satellite U400

The Toshiba Satellite U400


At this point I will own up to having a preference for Toshiba laptops. Whenever anyone asks me for a recommendation then these are on the tip of my tongue and for good reason. Toshiba support is excellent, the quality is decent and the performance usually dependable. The U400 is no different in this respect. It’s fast, compact, light, looks good and is more than powerful enough to handle any computing task thrown at it with perhaps the exception of games (I don’t play games). I found few faults with it and I would be happy to own one as my everyday computer. The size is a halfway house between the ultra-portables like the EeePC and the more desktop oriented machines with 15.4"-17" screens. In this respect it meets all the requirements of a good general purpose portable computer which, is all one can ask for. You can do a lot worse for a lot more money.


Review by: Nigel

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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