There’s just one important thing to know about Toshiba’s NB550D. Forget the lightweight, slimline build and 10 hour battery life. They’re good, but find us a netbook that you can’t say that about these days and we’d be impressed. What makes the NB550D interesting is that it’s the first netbook to use AMD’s new Fusion processor. Every other netbook of note since Asus’ first Eee PC has been built around the same, almost unchanging, Intel Atom chip. To say this is a welcome change is an understatement indeed.
Performance and power
Unlike the Atom, the C-50 Fusion chip isn’t that different from ‘real’ laptop and desktop processors. It’s not especially fast, but it has two cores and hasn’t been crippled like the Atom by removing certain key parts. A comparison of performance is like night and day - there’s none of the telltale slowdown and lock ups that beleaguer Atom machines, and multitasking is sprightly and responsive, just as it should be.
Fusion isn’t just about the CPU. As the name suggests, it also incorporates a graphics core. And this being AMD, there’s a lot of graphics know how gone into creating a chip that plays back even high profile 1080p video without jitter, and has a brave stab at gaming too. You wouldn’t want to play Crysis 2 on it, mind.
Not a real laptop
Don’t get us wrong, for video editing, this still lags behind ‘real’ laptops by some way. The tombstone-like keys can be a little awkward to hit too, thanks to their slabbish shape. Plus there’s a lot of bloatware preinstalled that’s geared towards business use: you’ll want to purge it all in order to speed the machine up and regain more of its 250GB hard drive space.
The only place it loses out to an Intel-based netbook, though, is in terms of fan noise. The innards here require a bit more cooling than the low temperature Atom, so the fan is permanently audible. Other than that, you’re looking at a best in class screen, good connectivity with Bluetooth 3.0 on board and even a set of speakers which don’t sound terrible.
What holds it back from a full five stars is that while AMD has upstaged its rival and Toshiba has put together a perfect showcase for it, they’re just a little too late. Tablets such as the Asus Transformer or iPad 2 are the place to look for really interesting portable computers at the moment, and laptop prices have fallen so far that you can get a real machine for not a lot more. If you’re after a netbook, this is the one to buy. But that’s by no means a small ‘if’.
The only netbook worth buying right now, but quality tablets and cheap laptops are snapping at its heels