by Perry Longinotti
Toshiba’s Portege R100 ultra slim notebook makes a powerful first impression. I have owned a lot of portables ranging from sexy Apples to business workhorses and even a VAIO ultra slim. None can match the R100 for sexiness. I think that the Toshiba M2, R100, M200 are among the best-engineered notebooks you find these days. The R100 immediately struck me as being much better engineered than the laptops that preceded it in my collection.
The unit is comprised mostly of magnesium and has a very solid feel. Mine was slightly warped but this was easily corrected with some light flexing - the kind of flexing common with plastic laptops when doing such things as simply opening and closing them. We aren't talking about torturing the thing.
This R100 was built around the ultra low voltage Pentium M 900 processor (it is also available with a 1 GHz CPU) and is a ‘Centrino’ system. It gets Intel’s 2100 series 802.11b mini PCI wireless card. It was equipped with a 40gb HD and 256 megabytes of RAM. The total RAM is a bit low, but an open slot is available to add more (up to 1.25 GB). More RAM is a good idea as the 1.8” drive in this unit spins at 4200rpm so you will want to avoid relying on a disc page file. Despite the fact that this drive only spins at 4200rpm, compared to newer 2.5" laptop drives, the system boots fast and you won't be waiting for apps to load.
The operating system is Windows XP Professional. This is definitely a business notebook and the additional software that comes with it is quite Spartan. I love this! The only thing I needed to remove was WinDVD 4. Toshiba has bundled a bunch of their utilities for network configuration and battery setup. Personally, I wish these systems would work well without the added memory consuming utilities. Having said this, the Toshiba utilities are quite benign and can be hidden from view (but still eat up bits of memory).
Toshiba ships the R100 with two batteries: standard and extra capacity. The standard unit is only good for about 2 hours. Some people criticize this, but the reality is that you can easily do a presentation in that time and impress the heck out of people with the diminutive size of this laptop. Speaking of presentations, the R100 has a hardware button for launching PowerPoint and outputting to a projector! Laptops like the R100 are great conversation starters.
Backside of the Toshiba Portege R100 (view larger image)
With the extra capacity battery equipped (it snaps securely onto the bottom of the R100 giving the unit a wedge-like profile that is ergonomically great for typing) I was able to get the claimed 6.5 hours. Actually I managed over seven hours twice. I use a modified version of the high power setting – one that gives me a nice bright screen to look at. Toshiba gets points for being conservative in its claims.
Weight is listed as 2.4 pounds. With the extra capacity battery attached, the weight pops up. The most likely configuration of this laptop for most people will be with the extra battery attached. Sure, the extended battery adds some mass and height when the unit is closed, but the unit is still small by any standard.
The screen is adequately bright with good contrast and fast response time. Color saturation is quite good too. I should point out that I am no expert on LCD screens, but it is certainly on par with the other laptops that I have owned. Out of the box, there was a single stuck pixel. This is the first new laptop that I have bought with a stuck pixel. It is a bit disappointing, but not uncommon.
Toshiba Portege R100 Screen (view larger image)
The R100 uses a Trident CyberBlade XP4-32 video subsystem with 32 megabytes of dedicated memory for its frame buffer. This DX8.1 part is good for a laptop in this class. Most slim notebooks that I have come across use Intel’s integrated video that is part of the 855GM chipset. The only other unit that I know of in this class with what I would term a good video chip is the IBM X31 – but its 16-megabyte RADEON Mobility is getting old and will not perform as well as the Trident. Trident’s video card assets were bought by XGI and it is unclear what kind of driver support one can expect for this part in the future. The latest drivers from Toshiba are getting a bit dusty, but this seems to be par for the course when talking about laptops.
The CyberBlade is has some interesting merits including: XPDesktop, a feature that enables multiple desktops – like you would see in GNU or KDE desktops for Linux. CyberBlade also offers DVD playback acceleration and power management features.
Although not intended as a gaming device, the R100 managed a respectable score of over 5000 3dmark2001 points when plugged in and even managed 42 fps in Quake III at 10*7 max settings while running on batteries! This is quite encouraging for the mobile traveler – flight delays may not be as boring as they used to be. How about some 802.11b LAN death matches?
For doing work, the R100 is very snappy – even with the provided 256 megabytes of memory. I found that Office apps and web development software performed on par with 1.6 and 1.7 GHz P4M systems I have owned in the past. Not bad for a 900 MHz system. Good performance plus amazing battery life should equal lots of productivity when away from the office.
The keyboard deserves mention here. Because of the unit’s metal construction and inherent rigidity the keyboard does not flex at all. Its size is large for an ultra thin design. Overall I would rank this as the best laptop keyboard that I have ever used - regardless of size.
The Toshiba Protege R100 Keyboard (view larger image)
Toshiba provides a three-year warranty with the R100. That is very good these days and is another way in which the consumer and professional lineups from manufacturers are separated. The average consumer laptop will come with only one year of coverage. Given the intended use of this laptop - lots of travel - the three-year warranty is appropriate and should offer peace of mind. Toshiba's global presence also helps in this regard. I have read that Toshiba warranties are quite good but have no personal experience with them.
I have yet to use a perfect laptop, and even this R100 that I fancy quite a bit, has some weaknesses. The first one that stands out is the 256 megabytes of RAM. Most laptops now ship with 512 - and this includes units that cost half as much. Configurations seem to vary by geography, so this may not be an issue where you live. The other peeve is the lack of a bundled optical drive - surely a little USB 2 DVD ROM is not too much to ask for. And, this is more a suggestion than a criticism of the R100, why not offer a model with a larger screen and higher resolution for a bit more money? The R100 possesses a very stiff chassis and the border around the 12” TFT is almost an inch on either side. It would be cool if a 13" TFT model were available with a 12*10 native resolution.
The Toshiba R100 Portege is thin! (view larger image)
Overall, the R100 is a sub-notebook that anyone in the market for a good business-class machine should consider.
There are rumors that Toshiba is considering an exit from the PC business (Barron’s article last December - http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=13083). Hopefully these are unfounded. Too many of today’s computer buyers are willing to settle for generic plastic commodity computers for what they perceive to be less money. I will let you guess which manufacturer I am thinking of here – a hint would be that they spend proportionally less on R&D than any of their competitors.
Often, with a bit of research, a consumer finds that just because something looks cheaper doesn’t mean that it is. I did some price comparisons with other thin and lights, and the R100 was a very good value. If Toshiba exits the PC market in North America it will be a real shame. Toshiba’s laptops are some of the most smartly styled, best engineered models available and the R100 is no exception. It would be a shame to be deprived of little gems like this one. Support the innovators!
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