Toshiba Portege R500 Review

by Reads (126,531)

by Jerry Jackson

Toshiba recently announced the Portege R500 12.1" widescreen notebook that includes the new Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 (Merom) platform, and is the first ultraportable laptop to incorporate an optical drive into a system that is less than one inch thick and weighs less than 2.5 pounds. The R500 provides a new ultra-low voltage Core 2 Duo processor, optical drive, fingerprint reader, and a generous selection of ports in a stylish form factor that is so light and thin it’s shocking.

The Portege R500 comes in two virtually identical configurations: The R500-S5002 (Windows Vista Business) priced at $2,149 and the R500-S5001X (Windows XP Professional) priced at $1,999.

Toshiba recently announced that they have further reduced the weight of the Portege R500 Series to 1.72 pounds (without optical drive) by replacing the Serial-ATA HDD with a 64GB solid state drive. This makes the R500 the world’s lightest widescreen 12.1-inch notebook (as of this writing).


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Our Toshiba Portege R500 has the following specs:

  • Genuine Windows Vista Business (32-bit version)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 1.20GHz, 2MB L2, 533MHz FSB with 64-bit
  • 1024MB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM
  • One memory slot available
  • 120GB (5400 RPM); Serial-ATA hard disk drive
  • 7mm, 8xDVD-SuperMulti (+/-R Single Layer) drive supporting 9 formats
  • 12.1-inch diagonal widescreen highbrightness display
  • 1280 x 800 (WXGA) – Transreflective backlit LED
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 with 64MB
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR

Build and Design

The Toshiba Portege R500 features a radical design measuring as thin as 0.77-inches and weighing 2.4 pounds. This makes the R500 lighter and thinner than most ultraportables. The silver R500 combines rounded edges and angular lines producing a shape that’s both space-saving and stylish. It’s very clear upon first glance that there is absolutely no wasted space in the design of the R500.

The build is mostly plastic with some flex most noticeably beneath the right palm rest and the LCD lid. The R500 doesn’t use any type of latch to close the lid, just a firm hinge closing mechanism that works well.

While the design is quite impressive, and build quality is amazing given the thin materials used, our overall feeling is that the R500 is far from rugged. The standard amount of abuse that most notebooks endure with ease would result in a broken R500.


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Screen

While the widescreen 12.1” LCD is almost paper thin and flexible, there are no noticeable ripples even when pressing firmly or flexing the screen.

Now this is where our review gets interesting. If you recall our first look review of the pre-production R500 we said, "There is minimal light leakage and both horizontal and vertical viewing angles are more than acceptable." Unfortunately, we cannot make such statements about the production unit of the R500. After multiple phone calls and emails with Toshiba it is now clear that we have a fully functioning R500 which is representative of the production units which Toshiba is now shipping.

Rather than go into detail describing what we’re seeing, we’ve posted images below to show you what the R500’s screen looks like. You can draw your own conclusions about whether this screen quality is acceptable for your uses.


Horizontal view from the left. (view large image)


Horizontal view from the right. (view large image)


View of screen tilted back about 15 degrees. (view large image)


View of screen tilted forward about 15 degrees. (view large image)

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard is full sized and very nice to use with minimal flex. The pre-production unit we previously looked at suffered from considerable keyboard flex but we’re pleased to see this production unit has a solid keyboard. One surprise on the keyboard was a set of dedicated page up and page down buttons, along with dedicated home and end keys, a nice feature not found on most ultraportable notebooks.

The spacious touchpad provides excellent responsiveness, but feels a little “cheap” compared to the fit and finish of the rest of this notebook. The glossy “metal-like” plastic touchpad buttons feel nice, but are a magnet for fingerprints. As with the keyboard, Toshiba managed to improve the touchpad buttons in the production unit and the touchpad buttons now provide nice feedback.


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Ports and Features

While about half of all ultraportable notebooks come equipped with an optical drive, those that do tend to be thick and heavy. Anyone looking for a super slim notebook was forced to sacrifice an optical drive in favor of making the system as light and thin as possible. The R500 successfully offers the “best of both worlds” by combining a light and thin notebook with a 7mm 8x DVD Superdrive.

The drive itself performed perfectly well for playing DVDs and CDs. There was little operational noise coming from the drive although you can certainly feel the disk spinning inside the drive thanks to the thin alloy used in the R500’s construction. The drive feels a little fragile when it is open, so some care should be used to avoid damaging the open optical drive.

One additional item of note about the optical drive is that the PC Card slot is directly below the optical drive. If you use larger PC Card devices which stick out from the slot these devices may block the optical drive and prevent you from opening the drive.

The port selection of the R500 is remarkably good for a notebook of this size. Below you can view detailed images of the ports on the notebook, and here’s a quick rundown of what you get:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports (two on the left and one on the right)
  • IEEE 1394 / FireWire port
  • Monitor out port
  • Headphone / line-out port
  • Microphone in port
  • PCMCIA PC card slot
  • Ethernet LAN port
  • SD card slot reader


The right side with Ethernet, USB, wireless on/off, optical drive, SD card reader and PC Card slot. (view large image)


The left side with power jack, VGA port, two USB ports, Firewire, volume control, headphone and microphone ports. (view large image)


The front view … no ports here, just some LEDs beneath the touchpad. (view large image)


The rear view with the hinge and battery. (view large image)


Top view. (view large image)


Bottom view showing the many heat vents, docking station port, battery releases, and memory slot access. (view large image)

You also get some nice dedicated hardware buttons such as wireless on/off on the right side, volume up/down control wheel on the left, a “Toshiba Assist” help quick launch button, and an LCD backlight on/off button.

To top these features off you get integrated biometric security via a finger print reader located between the touchpad buttons.

Performance

The overall performance of the R500 was less than impressive. Our standard benchmarking shows acceptable performance for a business ultraportable machine, but benchmarks fail to illustrate the general "lag" that occurs between when you double click on an icon and when something actually happens.

Given the 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of RAM and an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 chipset we expected to see reasonably quick performance when running standard Microsoft Office applications and web browsing. Unfortunately, this was not the case. For those of you who are interested in the Windows Experience Index score, the R500 generated a score of 2.0.

On that note, it’s important to remember that the R500 does have one additional expansion slot available for an extra 1GB of RAM. The system performance under Vista would have been better with a full 2GB of RAM.

Super Pi comparison results:

Notebook Time
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1m 46s
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 0m 59s
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 0m 58s
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 1m 01s
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 0m 59s
HP dv2500t (1.80GHz Intel 7100) 1m 09s
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 0m 59s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200) 1m 03s
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300) 1m 24s
Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 34s
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52) 2m 05s
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400) 0m 59s

PCMark05 comparison results:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 1,839 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (Core Solo CPU U1400, 1.20GHz, Integrated graphics) 1,152 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite U200 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel Integrated graphics) 3,113 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600) 4,621 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600) 4,739 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks

3DMark05 comparison results:

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600) 363 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 910 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 3,116 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6510b (2.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, Intel X3100) 916 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 871 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 2,013 3D Marks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 1,791 3D Marks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 4,236 3DMarks
Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB) 7,078 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB) 2,530 3D Marks
Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,273 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks

Heat and Noise

The R500 is remarkably quiet despite the fact that the system is so thin with so many air/heat vents along the bottom of the system. The only time the whisper quiet fan was even audible was during heavy duty benchmarking … and even then the fan was quiet.

That said, heat is still an issue with this notebook given there is so little material between the inner workings of the system and the user. The left palm rest and the bottom of the system beneath the left palm rest (where the hard drive is located) got very hot during benchmarking. The temperature was hot enough that the notebook became uncomfortable to hold. Additionally, the bottom of the notebook gets extremely warm next to the RAM expansion slot.

All in all, the R500 is a very quiet machine that isn’t comfortable to keep on your lap for serious computing.

Battery Life

Battery life on the R500 was quite impressive, due in no small part to the low-voltage U7600 processor used in this system. While browsing the web continuously using the wireless and keeping the screen at the brightest setting the battery lasted almost four hours before the low battery warning popped up on the desktop.

If battery life is a concern for your mobile business needs the R500 should keep you very happy with more than enough power for short road trips or airline travel.

Conclusion

Overall our final impressions of the Toshiba Portege R500 are "enthusiastic," but we can’t shake the feeling there is plenty of room for improvement. The R500 represents an impressive first-generation design for the future of the ultra-portable market. We expect to see amazing things from Toshiba in the coming years as the Portege line grows and develops.

In terms of how this ultraportable stacks up to the competition, the R500 is a bit of a mixed bag. While the R500 is remarkably well built for such a thin and light ultraportable, most competing systems have a more rugged build quality. Likewise, although the R500 is a full-featured notebook in most respects, the low-voltage processor and only 1GB of RAM running Vista make the R500 noticeably slower than other notebooks in the same class.

Bottom line, the R500 is the thinest and lightest full-featured notebook in its class. Unfortunately, you will have to make some sacrifices if size and weight are important to you.

Pros

  • Amazingly thin
  • Amazingly light
  • Super thin 7mm optical drive
  • Reasonable battery life even at maximum screen brightness
  • Very quiet

Cons

  • Poor viewing angles and light leakage on screen
  • Produces too much heat
  • Build quality is too delicate for everyday use and abuse
  • Not the best location for the PC card slot (may block optical drive)
  • Performance is too slow for anything but short-term travel


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