The Good The Toshiba Satellite P50t has a full 4K touchscreen display that looks great. High-end components make this a practical premium laptop, even without the special screen.
The Bad There’s little real-world need for this right now, and most photo or video pros are tied to the Mac ecosystem. It’s hard to find good 4K content, and the AMD GPU can’t play current games at 4K.
The Bottom Line Toshiba takes a solid premium 15-inch laptop and adds a great-looking 4K touchscreen while keeping the price reasonable. But at this point, it’s mostly for bragging rights or early adopters.
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While it’s by no means a mainstream consumer technology, nor will it be for years (if ever), 4K is certainly a hot buzzword. It’s used most commonly to refer to televisions with a 3,840×2,160 native resolution. A handful of PC monitors also hit 4K resolution, but it’s a feature that’s only starting to come to laptops.
For example, Lenovo has announced a Y50 multimedia laptop with an optional 4K display, which we previewed at CES 2014 but have not seen available for purchase yet. Toshiba goes one better, with an actual 4K model already available for sale — and for testing in the CNET Labs. That’s the Satellite P50t, a 15.6-inch premium midsize laptop.
Toshiba makes many different versions of the Satellite P50 series, but only one specific configuration has the 4K display, along with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD, and an AMD R9 M265X GPU. It’s a powerful set of components for mainstream use, but you need that kind of muscle to run smooth 4K video streams, as we discovered when reviewing the 4K-friendly Apple Mac Pro desktop .
The 4K Satellite P50t was originally pitched as a $1,599 laptop, which felt very reasonable for a powerful, well-designed premium laptop with one very notable special feature. The system actually debuted at $1,799, which robbed us of some enthusiasm, but it looks like, as of the time of this review, that a “temporary discount” has brought the price back down to $1,599 (£1,109 in the UK). In Australia the model is called the P50t-B and has an RRP of AU$2,499.
But is this something you really need, at any price? Many video-editing professionals are using Final Cut on OS X (a reader helpfully points out that Adobe Premiere and Avid are just as popular, if not more so, and work on Windows) , and there are very few sources of 4K consumer video content — even Netflix, which is experimenting with 4K streams, is currently doing so only to certain television models. High-end video enthusiasts who need a Windows PC may like the ability to work at higher resolutions, as might photographers who want maximum real estate for high-res files. Gaming at 4K is mostly a bust, as the AMD graphics card can’t push that many pixels in most current games, but it still does well for mainstream gaming at standard 1080p resolutions.
The screen itself looks amazing, and the system includes a handy app for switching between several presets highlighting different color temperatures and display settings. There’s a case to be made for future-proofing with a 4K screen, as long as you’re already thinking of buying a premium 15-inch laptop with a powerful CPU/GPU combo and planning to spend about this much anyway.
It’s a bit of an indulgence to be sure, but because the Satellite P50t is a very good upscale midsize laptop even without the 4K screen, it edges just over the line into recommended territory.
PC Geek Box
|Toshiba Satellite P50t-BST2N01||Dell XPS 15 (2013)||Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013)|
|Price as reviewed||$1,799||$1,899||$2,599|
|Display size/resolution||15.6-inch, 3,840 x 2,160 touchscreen||15.6-inch, 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen||15.4-inch, 2,880 x 1,800 screen|
|PC CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ||2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||2GB (dedicated) AMD Radeon R9 M265X||2GB (dedicated) Nvidia GeForce GT 750M||2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M + Intel Iris Pro|
|Storage||1TB 5,400rpm Hybrid HDD||1TB 5,400rpm HDD, 32GB SSD||512GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||OS X Mavericks 10.9|
Design and features
The Satellite P50t is not the slimmest or the most high-design midsize laptop we’ve ever seen, but it’s not unimaginable as a $1,500 laptop, either. Toshiba has a tendency to keep many of its products pulling from the same design handbook, which is good for brand consistency but also keeps budget laptops and premium laptops looking very similar. We had a similar comment about the excellent 13-inch Toshiba Kirabook — it looked good but didn’t necessarily have a design that stood out from Toshiba’s many lower-cost laptops.
What you end up with is a generic-looking, silver-gray aluminum body and black island-style keyboard. The chassis’ rounded corners are mirrored by the rounded upper corners of the touchpad, another Toshiba design fingerprint. The thick body isn’t going to go in your shoulder bag every day, but I’ve carted it between office, conference room, and lab regularly with no problem.
The big body gives you the ability to have a generously sized keyboard, a full separate number pad, and a large touchpad. Typing was solid, and there was little keyboard flex, although I still dislike Toshiba’s penchant for very short space bars, which led to typing errors for me. The only other thing on the otherwise spartan interior surface is a backlit power button in the upper-right corner.
The real star here is the 15.6-inch 4K resolution touchscreen display. The native resolution of the screen is 3,840×2,160, the same as 4K TVs. We’ve seen a lot of better-than-HD laptops lately, from Retina MacBook Pros to systems from Lenovo and Razer with 3,200×1,800 screens, but this is the highest native resolution I’ve seen on a laptop to date. Other 4K models will no doubt follow (including the one already promised by Lenovo), but until there’s a lot more 4K content available — plus a palpable consumer demand for it — it will remain a bit of a gimmick for most of the marketplace, outside of a handful of photo and video professionals (many of whom are locked into the Mac platform anyway).
That said, the screen looks amazing, and the sampling of 4K video files we played on it were eye-catching, even from side angles. Toshiba says this is the world’s first Technicolor-certified PC, which provides a tuned level of color accuracy.
An included app called Chroma Tune allows you to switch between different screen-setting defaults, including a Technicolor preset. Other presets are cool, warm, Rec. 709, and full. For the uninitiated, Rec. 709 is a widely used color standard for video content, and according to our TV expert David Katzmaier, that should be your default setting. He says, “Rec. 709 will give you a little better contrast and punch. On the flip side, Technicolor looks a little more washed out but may be better in a bright environment.” Both presets have the same color points, with a slight difference in gamma.
Ports and connections
|Toshiba Satellite P50t|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner|
Connections, performance, and battery
The key selling point of the insanely expensive Mac Pro desktop was its ability to output several video streams (including 4K video) simultaneously. Here, there’s a single HDMI output in addition to the built-in display. That HDMI output does, however, support 4K as well.
While the Satellite P50 series covers a wide range of specs and prices, the 4K display is currently available only in a single configuration, as reviewed here. It’s not hard to pick out of the lineup, but if you’re shopping on Toshiba’s website, just check to make sure you’re buying the correct model, as different configurations look similar and have similar names.
We compared the P50t to other laptops with better-than-HD displays. Those systems, including the Razer Blade 14, 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro , and Dell XPS 15, all share Core i7 CPUs, and some form of discrete graphics card. In our benchmark tests, the P50t was near the top or middle of the pack in application tests, but its AMD R9 GPU is better suited to video rendering than 3D gaming, and it turned in acceptable but unimpressive frame rates in games at the standard 1,920×1,080 resolution.
Of course, we had to try playing some games at the full 4K native resolution of the screen, but this is an idea the hardware is not yet ready for. Metro: Last Light and Bioshock Infinite ran under 10 frames per second at 4K. Skyrim chugged unpleasantly, even with detail settings at low. But, a couple of older games, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, were very playable.
Pushing that many pixels has to have an effect on battery life. Playing a standard 1080p video file, the P50t ran for 2:52, which is a low score for any current 15-inch laptop and less than the other higher-res systems we tested, sometimes by a large margin. We ran a second test using a 4K resolution video file to see if that would make a difference (perhaps by hitting the GPU harder), and that test run scored two hours even, which is about one-third less than our standard test.
Even without the first-on-the-market 4K display, the Satellite P50t is a very nice premium 15-inch laptop, with a big touchpad, large hard drive, and decent AMD graphics. Would I pay $1,599 for that? Probably not, but it’s not completely out of the ballpark.
Adding that amazing-looking 4K screen is a big extra and definitely makes this a conversation piece, while still being a useful all-around midsize laptop. The only real letdown here is battery life, which may be a trade-off you’re willing to make for first-on-the-block bragging rights if you want to be a 4K early adopter.
Toshiba Satellite P50t-BST2N01
Windows 8.1 (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2048MB (dedicated) AMD R9 M265X; 1TB Hybrid 5400rpm HDD
Razer Blade 14 RZ09-0116 (2014)
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz, 3GB (dedicated) Nvidia GeForce GTX 870; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 15
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 16GB DDR2 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2GB (dedicated) Nvidia GeForce GT 750; 1TB 5400rpm HDD
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2GB (dedicated) Nvidia GeForce GT 750M + Intel Iris Pro Graphics; 512GB SSD
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro 59394174
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.6GHZ Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 128GB Samsung SSD
Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.