by Andrew Moon, AustraliaOverview and Introduction
The Toshiba Tecra A6 is one of the first of Toshiba's Core Duo based laptops available on the Australian market. Toshiba describes this as being a "desktop replacement" due to its high specs however the light weight of this laptop (approximately 2.3kg/5lb) and compact 14.1 inch screen makes it fit comfortably at the upper end of the thin and light spectrum.
The notebook offers the following specs:
Packaging box for A6 (view large image)
Reasons for Buying
In the box (view large image)
I was after a new laptop due to the fact that I was starting at University and that I wanted a more portable computer for everyday use. I also wanted something that would outperform my Pentium 4 desktop system.
Also I wanted a laptop that would last at least a few years and be Windows Vista capable while not being too expensive up front. With Intel's much under-hyped launch of its next generation processors only a few notebooks sold currently possess the new chip. In Australia, at the time of writing the only notebooks offering Core Duo processors are several ASUS and Acer models, and Toshiba's Tecra A6 and A7 range.
The Tecra A7 is very similar in specs to the A6; however it offers a 15.1 inch widescreen and has the Radeon X1600 graphics card along with several other advantages over its cheaper cousin. I decided against the A7 as the 15.1 inch screen is not as compact as the A6 and I also do not game very often, meaning the extra expense wouldn't be worthwhile for me. I decided to buy the cheapest configuration model of the A6.Where and How Purchased
I bought this laptop for $2150AUD at a local computer store. It comes with a 1 year return to Toshiba warranty. This was one of the cheapest Core Duo laptops currently available in Australia and given the extreme specs it was an absolute bargain.Build & Design
The Toshiba Tecra A6 has a silver painted lid and inner surfaces. The bottom, back, sides, screen and keyboard are coloured a flat black. The Toshiba logo on the lid is reflective and surrounded by a square of brushed metal. All in all, it looks quite modern and stylish.
The 5 system status LEDs on the front left are all a pleasing green colour and not too bright. However, the "Wireless On" LED is located separately on the front of the laptop and is orange and extremely bright. I find this quite annoying, especially in a dark room. I would have preferred it if Toshiba just used another system LED for showing the wireless status.
The laptop is quite light and fairly solid, I couldn't notice any flexing of the screen though the screen tends to "wobble" a tiny bit if the screen is pressed, but despite that the hinges feel very solid. The Toshiba Tecra A6 isn't quite as solidly built as some iBooks and IBM Thinkpads I've used in the past but is all in all quite acceptable and much better then some older Toshiba laptops I've used.
There is quite a bit of warmth just right of the touchpad where your wrists would rest when typing. It's not uncomfortably hot but it could make your hands a bit sweaty after a few hours of typing.
Size comparison to a 20 oz. Coke bottle (view large image)
The Tecra A6 features a 14.1 inch Widescreen WXGA display. Unlike a lot of recent laptops the Toshiba uses a matte screen that is more readable in bright light then glossy screens but sacrifices a lot of contrast and some brightness.
The 1280x800 resolution is good for DVDs and running heaps of apps at once though it can be a pain persuading older games and even some newer ones to use the widescreen correctly. Quake 3 Arena and Battlefield require you to manually edit obscure config files to get a widescreen resolution.
Screen (view large image)
The LCD has eight levels of lighting available and is still quite readable on the lowest setting. My A6 came with no dead pixels and the backlighting appears to be very even with no leakage. The only complaint I have against the screen is that it lacks contrast compared to most other laptop and desktop LCD screens, especially with near-white colours. If you're doing serious graphics stuff you should either look at another laptop or invest in a decent external monitor to use.Speakers
The laptop has two speakers located in the top left and right corners, above the keyboard. For laptop speakers they aren't too bad, the sound is clear and crisp. Highs and midrange are fine however there is no bass. If you listen to rock, metal, R&B, rap or any other bass heavy music you would do well to get external speakers or a good set of headphones.
I am also somewhat disappointed by the lack of digital S/PDIF audio out, as several ASUS and other laptops with similar specs posses them.Processor and Performance
The 1.66GHz Core Duo is quite a processor, the laptop boots noticeably faster then my Pentium 4 machine despite having a slower hard disk drive. Because of the dual core Windows tends to temporarily freeze up less, though this still occurs when new hardware is added and some system configurations are changed.
I'm not much of a hardcore gamer so I've only a tested a few games. Quake 3 is smooth and responsive as you'd expect and Battlefield 1942 had no problems with maximum graphics and AI settings.
Counterstrike:Source on the other hand struggled a bit on the highest graphic settings, however I did notice that the HDD was being accessed nearly constantly and other people have been able to do it with similar notebooks so I believe this problem is caused by the mere 512MB of RAM installed. Heavy gamers would be well advised to upgrade the RAM beyond the default 512MB.
Desktop performance is excellent with 512MB of RAM, and it is also quite nice that the graphics card doesn't eat into this. The fact that this laptop can be upgraded to a full 2GB is also good for the future and should boost performance with Windows Vista.Benchmarks
|Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 25s|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 15s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2149 3D Marks / NA|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, ATI X600 128MB)||1659 3DMarks / 3426 CPUMarks|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727 3DMarks / 3414 CPUMarks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2530 3D Marks / 3749 CPU Marks|
|Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb)||2,486 3DMarks / 4106 CPUMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2536 3D Marks / 3557 CPU Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4157 3DMarks / 4812 CPU Marks|
|Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Intel Core Duo)||4436 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron XPS2 (2.0GHz Intel Pentium M)||4082 PCMarks|
|Acer Aspire 5002 WLMi (AMD Turion 64 ML-30 1.6GHz)||2,392 PCmarks|
|PortableOne SR2 (Intel Pentium M Dothan 735 1.7GHz)||3274 PCMarks|
The Toshiba Tecra A6 has quite a nice keyboard, not quite as firm and solid as IBM/Lenovo's keyboards but definitely comfortable to use. There is no visible flexing and the keys have a nice responsive feel to them.
One thing I love about this keyboard is that the windows and menu keys are located well out of the way in the top right corner. These keys always annoy me on desktop keyboards. Another big plus is that the Control key is located in the bottom left corner where is should be and the function key is to the right of it. I've used several laptops where the function key is situated in the bottom left and this is less then ideal. The keyboard is also spill proof
Menu keys (view large image)
Though the lack of multimedia keys (play, fast forward, etc) is somewhat disappointing the quality and layout of this keyboard more then makes up for it
The touchpad is located right under the keyboard and seems to have the same widescreen aspect ratio as the LCD. It is responsive and gets the job done. However it lacks some features such as two finger scrolling or scrollbar. The two real mouse buttons below the touchpad are quite nice, they don't seem to be too tight and hard to press or too soft and mushy. It seems that the fingerprint reader can be configured to allow scrolling however I'd expect it to be somewhat awkward.
Keyboard view (view large image)
Sometimes the touchpad gets touched accidentally while typing so it's best to disable it in Windows and use an external mouse. Some notebooks have convenient hardware switches to turn off the touchpad and I would have liked to seen that feature implemented in the A6.
The fingerprint reader itself is very cool as it allows for password-less logins under Windows XP and can be for all sorts of authentication. I tried it out on a few people and I was unable to get any false positives so I think it works well. Plus it's great for impressing your mates.
There are three additional buttons above the keyboard, a large rectangular power button, a button that brings up the "Toshiba Assist" program and a button which should activate the "presentation mode" and pipe video to the VGA-out or TV-out. I haven't tested this button.Input and Output Ports
The four USB 2.0 ports on the A6 are quite nicely distributed with one on the left, two on the right and one at the back. This makes plugging in USB peripherals very easy and keeps things uncluttered.
Left front side view (view large image)
Along the left side is the VGA-out, single USB, TV-out, Firewire 400 socket, PCMCIA slot and memory card reader. Notice the quite large fan exhaust. The intake is located underneath the laptop. The memory card reader is great; I can simply take the SD card out of my camera and plug it in to transfer pictures.
Back side view (view large image)
Front side view (view large image)
Tecra A6 right side (view large image)
Tecra A6 left side (view large image)
The VGA output is quite disappointing in this day and age of cheap and large LCD panels and digital high-def TVs. Many similarly equipped ASUS laptops have DVI-out so this seems to be an omission on Toshiba's part. Despite that, if you're willing to fork out another $300AUD or so to buy their port replicator you can get DVI output. This really should have been included by default though.
On the right there is a lock slot, tray loaded DVD+/-RW drive and two USB ports. I would have preferred a slot-loading optical drive but this is acceptable. The optical drive can get incredibly loud when spinning though Toshiba does provides a program to quieten it down.
On the front left is the system status LEDs, hardware wireless on/off switch, wireless indicator LED and infrared port. The front right is the microphone socket, headphone socket and volume knob. The knob turns right to increase volume.
The back has the 56k modem line, power socket, Gigabit Ethernet port and another USB port. On the underside is a connector used for docking the laptop with Toshiba's Advanced Port Replicator III Plus. The battery is quite compact and slides out easily.
This laptop also lacks any serial or parallel ports which might be an issue if you intend to use older hardware with this laptop. I do consider it to be a good thing that Toshiba is moving on in terms of hardware by opting for a USB/Firewire only system.Battery
Toshiba describe the Tecra A6 as being capable of up to three hours of battery life using the included six-cell battery. Using the default settings my batteries lasted about two and a half hours while web-browsing and transferring files with the wireless on so Toshiba's figures appear to be honest, which is more then can be said for certain other laptop manufacturers.
Toshiba's power saving features appear to be set quite light so I believe that getting over three hours should be possible by setting the CPU speed to "level one" rather then having it auto-regulate itself between "level three" and "level five" and setting the graphics card to use it's full power saving mode immediately when on battery rather then waiting until it reaches about 20% battery remaining. The LCD brightness could be reduced by a few more notches too.
If you need a longer battery life Toshiba also offer a nine and twelve-cell battery pack that gives six and nine hours respectively.
Underside view with battery out (view large image)
The inbuilt wireless card offers 801.11A/ B/G connectivity as well as Bluetooth support. The wireless card gets very good performance and range. The wireless card can be switched on and off either through the preinstalled Toshiba software or the hardware switch on the front of the laptop. The bright orange LED indicates that the wireless is powered up.
As I don't own any Bluetooth devices I am unable to test Bluetooth performance.Accessories
The Tecra A6 comes with a bare minimum of accessories, A few manuals, disclaimers and Windows license paperwork. The cables that come with it are a phone cable and filter for the modem and an Australian power cord for the worldwide power adapter. I would have liked to see an S-video and Ethernet cable included but this is no big deal.
Operating System and Software
I know that for whatever reason it is very rare for a laptop manufacturer to supply an original Windows XP disc, however I was a little disappointed that the A6 didn't even come with any restore discs. Instead they have to be burnt from a program preloaded on the laptop. The restore disks take up three DVDs, two to restore and one to store drivers etc. When you pay over $2000AUD for a new laptop, are a couple of $1 DVDs too much to ask for?
That said, the preloaded Windows XP Pro was quite nice, with all the software for the fingerprint reader and function keys installed and working. There is a trial version of Norton Antivirus available but not installed by default, this was good as it let me use AVG antivirus instead.
Toshiba's own network configuration tool is a little clunky so I opted for Windows XP's native wireless manager. The power settings tool Toshiba offers is quite good, allowing you to setup custom power usage profiles. Graphics card setting can be changed by using the ATi Catalyst control panel.
Unlike a certain other laptop manufacturers like Dell there is no spyware, adware or much other crud installed by default. Toshiba give you a fairly clean install and you can always delete the installers for everything else.
The install also keeps a 4GB hidden FAT32 partition which contains files used by the recovery CD creator. You can use something like Partition Magic or perhaps a Linux live CD like Knoppix to remove this and resize your windows partition to recover this lost space.
With all the controversy surrounding "Trusted Computing" it should be noted that the Tecra A6 comes with a "Trusted Platform Module" chip which stores encryption keys for the "Trusted Computing" platform. The good news is that it can be disabled and reset in the BIOS and is switched off by default.
This won't be an issue for most users but at the moment Linux support for both the wireless chipset and graphics card, along with a few other features is lacking. Intel has stated that their wireless driver will come out first quarter 2006 but ATi has not released any info about the due date of its next driver which will support the Mobile Radeon X1xxx series. As I occasional Linux user I find this quite disappointing that I will have to stick with Windows for a few months until support improvesPraises
The Toshiba Tecra A6 is quite a beefy notebook for its very low price, though I have a few minor gripes with it. The power of the Core Duo and Mobility Radeon X1400 ensure that this laptop will make short work of whatever I throw at it. Though the battery life isn't exactly brilliant it is good enough to get through a few hours of work done while on the run.
If you're looking for a sleek, great value laptop with plenty of grunt yet still retaining portability it's hard to go past the Toshiba Tecra A6.
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