Toshiba Portege R500 User Review

by Reads (58,198)

by John Ratsey

The Toshiba Portégé R500 is one of the few notebooks with a weight of around 1kg (2.25lbs), an integrated optical drive and a transflective display that can be used in the sunshine. It has now been on sale for about a year. The NBR review of August 2007 was not very flattering. Has the R500 improved since launch?


Reasons for Buying

As discussed in my G11 review, the Sony G11 excels on battery life.  However, the single core CPU does not provide the responsiveness needed for multi-tasking so the G11 is not an adequate backup for my main notebook. Also, while the 1024 x 768 resolution display is easy to read, the relatively low resolution becomes a limitation. I had recently seen the R500 on display and it looked and felt better than suggested by the initial reviews. Another advantage of the R500 is that it uses a 2.5" hard disk which offers better performance and capacity than the 1.8" drives. I was also interested in having a notebook without Vista’s software incompatibilities.


The R500 outside with the backlight off
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Morgan Computers have specialized for many years in end-of-line and refurbished computers and related equipment. I was tempted by a factory refurbished R500 selling for about 30% off the price of the current version. The first R500 I received had a loose keyboard, a deformed touchpad and also ran somewhat hot (which suggests that "factory refurbished" could be better). I returned this to Morgan and was quickly sent another, slightly different model which worked better although it had a blemish on the display. I decided this was acceptable, given the discounted price.

What’s in the Box?

  • The R500 computer
  • The PSU and power cable
  • Two product recovery discs
  • A quickstart guide
  • A hard copy user’s guide
  • Instruction manual for safety and comfort
  • Leaflets about LCD displays, reconditioned notebooks and Windows XP

Hardware Specifications for the Toshiba R500-11C:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo ULV U7600 (1.20Ghz) with Intel 945GMS chipset
  • Display: 12.1" WXGA (1280 x 800) transflective matte LCD with LED backlight. The panel code is TOS508A
  • Memory: 2GB (2 x 1GB) PC5300 RAM  running at 533MHz
  • Hard Disk Drive: 160GB 5400rpm 2.5" HDD (Toshiba MK1637GSX) with shock sensor
  • Graphics: Intel GMA950 integrated GPU
  • Optical Drive: Internal Matshita UJ-844S USB ultra-slim tray loading
  • Network: Intel Pro/1000 Gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: Toshiba USB Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
  • Texas Instruments OHCI Compliant 1394 Host Controller
  • Modem: No modem
  • Wireless: Intel 4965agn mini-PCI-e Wireless
  • Ports: 3 x USB 2.0 (one with Sleep and Charge), 1000Mb/s network (RJ45), Firewire (IEEE1394), VGA, microphone, headphone, 1 x PC Card slot, docking port
  • Media card reader supporting SD / SDHC / MMC
  • Hardware volume control wheel
  • Audio: Realtek ALC262 high definition audio  + single internal loudspeaker
  • 86-key keyboard, which claims to be spill-resistant
  • Touchpad: Alps touchpad 71mm x 42mm
  • Security: AuthenTec AES1610 Personal Information Device with TPM and finger
  • 6-cell battery (10.8V, 5800mAh = 62.64Whr)
  • Toshiba 60W (15V, 4A) power supply with 3-pin connector (some regions may receive a lighter 45W PSU)
  • Dimensions: 283mm x 216mm x 19.5mm ~ 25.5mm (published), 283mm x 216mm x 20mm~30mm (actual dimensions including feet) (11.1" x 8.7" x 0.8"~1.2")
  • Weight : published = 0.987kg (2.18lbs), actual = 1.08kg (2.38lb)
  • Travel weight including PSU and cables 1.53kg (3.37lbs) which reduces to 1.41kg (3.1lbs) with the 45W PSU

 


The weigh in: Without and with PSU and
power cables (kilograms)
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Software

  • Windows Vista Business 32 bit pre-installed plus recover disc
  • Windows XP Pro SP2 supplied on recovery disc
  • Microsoft Office 2007 trial
  • Toshiba Utilities: Toshiba Assist; ConfigFree; Toshiba Controls; Direct Disc Writer; Disc Creator; Display Devices Change Utility; HDD Protection; Hotkey Utility for Display Devices; Mic Effect; Mobile Extension 3; Password Utility; Diagnostic Tool; Power Saver; SD Memory Boot Utility; SD Memory Utilities; Security Assist; Touchpad on/off Utility; Wireless Key Logon; Zooming Utility
  • WinDVD for Toshiba
  • Norton Internet Security

Build and Design

The dominant feature of the R500 is its slim profile and low weight. Without the battery in place the R500 feels almost weightless. The display back is magnesium alloy but the remainder of the construction is plastic (polycarbonate). It is possible to slightly squeeze the palm rests or push in on the base of the notebook but the overall chassis is rigid and does not bend. The display is also slightly flexible and, while pushing on the back slightly bends the LCD panel, it does not cause any ripples. The R500’s colour scheme is silver, except for the black bezel around the display.

During travel the display is held closed by spring-loaded hinges. The hinges have no looseness and are adjusted to hold the display firmly in position. Two hands are needed to open the display. The hinges are located half way down the back of the notebook. This makes the screen reasonably thin but the design of the hinges also limits how far the screen can be tilted back.


The maximum tilt on the screen
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The slim design and low weight of the R500 make it appear to be fragile. However, I have not read reports of a high failure rate. In fact, Toshiba UK currently offers a three-year warranty and a money-back promise if the computer has to be repaired under warranty. This must reflect either confidence in the product’s durability … or confidence in the exclusion clauses. My refurbished notebook has only a one-year warranty without the money back offer.

I also wonder whether certain parts have been strengthened since launch since my R500 weighs 9% (0.09kg / 0.2lbs) more than the advertised weight. The advertised weight says "starting at," but there are no options which would reduce the weight. The models with SSDs and no optical drive have lower advertised weights. Nor can I think of any component option which would account for the increased weight difference.

The bottom of the computer is shaped to suit the components inside with visible protrusions for the hard disk and the PC card slot. There is also a bulge over the hard disk which I presume is intended to provide some impact protection. There is a single removable cover for the RAM slot. The standard 6-cell battery fits inside the chassis between the keyboard and the hinge and occupies the full thickness of the computer. The battery is slotted in from the back and is held snugly in place by two latches, one of which is spring-loaded to facilitate removal. There is also a docking station slot in the base.


Underside of the R500: The only
removable cover is for the RAM slot

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After seeing a video on YouTube showing the R500 being disassembled in very few minutes, I could not resist the temptation to take a peek inside. Nineteen screws and one ribbon cable is all that lies between the internals and daylight. Once inside, the dominant component is the optical drive, next is the 2.5" SATA hard disk (which is slotted into some rubber mountings) and finally, on one corner there is a small mainboard containing the memory slot, the mini-PCIe wireless card, the heat sink and fan. It would have been beneficial if Toshiba had extended the hump which holds the PC card slot to provide room for a bigger fan. Excluding the memory slot cover, the whole base is a thin plastic moulding. The overall rigidity is provided by the 19 screws.


Internals including the small fan
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Keyboard and Touchpad

The front edge of the palm rest is rounded and the palm rest is a comfortable 14mm from the table surface. The keyboard uses the full width of the chassis and has reasonable travel. It is slightly bouncy in places, most noticeably around the F4 key. The main black lettering on silver paint is easy to read. However, the secondary key functions use smaller grey lettering and are less legible. The main keys have a standard 19mm pitch and Toshiba have done well to include dedicated PgUp, PgDn, Home and End keys. This enhances the usability compared to the Fn+ operation needed on many smaller notebooks. The Ctrl key is in the bottom left corner. My main dislike with the keyboard is the small left shift key (on the UK keyboard). One distinctive feature is the inclusion of the Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock lights into the corresponding keys. Toshiba say that the keyboard is spillproof.


The R500’s keyboard. Note the indicator
lights in some keys
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The touchpad is a very generous 71mm x 42mm (2.8" x 1.7") and is slightly recessed into the palm rest. The touchpad has a range of additional functions including both vertical and horizontal scroll zones as well as tap zones in the corners. The touchpad buttons are separated by a fingerprint reader (which I have yet to test). The buttons have a positive action with an audible click but the need to be pushed down quite far to register (the left button is worse than the right). There are six indicator lights in front of the touchpad buttons located so they are visible from above, from the front and when the display is closed. This location is much more sensible than the more popular position under one of the user’s palms. From left to right the lights are: Mains power; Computer on / sleeping; Battery status; Hard disk activity; SD card activity; Wireless / Bluetooth on. The lights have symbols to make them easy to interpret, but the symbols are very small and the reflective background also reduces legibility.


Front indicator lights. The battery icon is
orange when charging
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The power button is located behind the F1 key next to the single loudspeaker. There are two further buttons above the right side of the keyboard. By default, one button actives the Toshiba Assist program and the other turns the backlight off to enable the transflective mode. A utility is provided for changing the default settings for these buttons.

A Tour of the Sides

Overall, the ports are well laid out. The fan exhaust is on the left side so there is no blast of hot air towards the hand which may operate the mouse. There are no sockets near the front of the right side to get in the way of a mouse although the optical drive tray is there (but one doesn’t normally need to have the tray open and use the mouse at the same time) . Three USB ports (one of which supports Toshiba’s Sleep and Charge) is good for this size of notebook but there is no modem port.  The SD card slot is conveniently located on the right side of the palm rest such that a card in the slot does not protrude beyond the edge of the chassis.  There is a docking station port on the base of the computer. Let’s have a tour of the ports, clockwise starting at the front.

Front: activity lights beneath the touchpad. 


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Left side from back to front: Power socket, monitor port, USB2.0 port with Sleep and Charge, Firewire port, fan exhaust, USB port, audio ports, rotary volume control. (Note CD cases for scale – front = 2 cases thick, back = 3 cases thick)


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The back: Just the battery and hinges


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Right side from front to back: optical drive with SD card slot above its left side and PC card slot below the right side, wireless switch, USB 2.0 port, network port and security slot. It may not be possible to use the optical drive when the PC card slot is in use.


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The Sleep and Charge function is controlled in the BIOS or via the Toshiba Assist utility. There are three options, off, mode 1 and mode 2. I expected the difference between the two modes to be that one would provide power whether on mains or battery and the other would power the port only when mains power is connected. However, both modes appear to provide power on both mains and battery.

The Display

The display is 1280 x 800 (WXGA) transflective matte LCD with LED backlight. The "transflective" means the display contains a layer that can reflect external light as an alternative to using the backlight under bright lighting. At full backlight brightness the display is very bright and there is some backlight bleeding at the edges: I found a document on the internet which shows the maximum brightness as 215 cd/m². There are 8 brightness settings. The brightness setting of 3/8 gives adequate lighting to extend battery time and the full brightness is almost too bright. Both the horizontal and vertical viewing angles are adequate with deterioration in colour and contrast as the viewing angles increase. The display is more suited to privacy than sharing.


The R500 display’s viewing angles (view large image)

The benefit of the matte screen is a much reduced problem of annoying reflections. This display is usable outside. In sunshine it is possible to turn off the backlight and use the transflective mode which works quite well and significantly reduces power consumption. However, there is no indicator light to indicate whether the backlight is on or off. I have used this notebook outside in the sunshine and found that, when facing into the sun, the glare off the silver keyboard is an annoyance.

The R500 in the sunshine between the Sony G11 and the Zepto 6024W:


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The same computers inside. You can also see the differences in display real estate:


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Audio Quality

The R500 contains one very small loudspeaker located next to the power button. Not surprisingly for such a small notebook, the audio quantity and quality from this loudspeaker is not impressive although I found that the Bass equalization setting in the Realtek Sound Manager made a noticeable improvement. There is a hardware volume control next to the audio sockets. This is much more convenient than fiddling with buttons on the keyboard but the actual change in volume is slow. A microphone is located near the front of the left palmrest but, although there is an echo cancellation utility, the microphone picks up a lot of noise.

Processor and Chipset

The R500 is powered by the Intel U7600 Core 2 Duo CPU. This CPU is one of the ultra low voltage family with a maximum Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating of 10W compared with over 30W for a standard Core 2 Duo CPU. The CPU in the first R500 had a voltage range of 0.0625V to 0.875V, the voltages on the second unit were one step lower.  These are not really what I could call "ultra-low" since the T7300 on my Zepto will run at 0.9V at 1.2GHz.

CPU-Z reports for the R500. CPU-Z does not see the second RAM module: 


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(Note: This report used CPU-z 1.42: CPU-z 1.46 showed the CPU voltage as 0.963V)

Alongside the low power CPU is the Intel 945GMS chipset which is a lower power version of the normal Intel 945GM chipset. Features include the use of only a single memory channel with a maximum speed of 533MHz and maximum address capability of 2GB. The computer as supplied has 1GB RAM on board plus 1GB RAM in the single slot. Some of the R500 models have 512MB on board. This limits the maximum RAM to 1.5GB since, unlike the Sony G11, the R500 won’t boot with a 2GB module in the single RAM slot. CPU-z includes the on-board RAM in the total, but can’t detect the details.

Hard Disk

The supplied hard disk is a 160GB 2.5" 4200rpm Toshiba MK1637GSX using the SATA interface. It is interesting that Toshiba opted to use a standard notebook HDD in such a small notebook and not one of the 1.8" HDDs. The benefits are better performance and higher capacity but have higher weight and power consumption. Toshiba also offer the option of SSDs up to 128GB. There is a motion sensor on the motherboard which will park the HDD heads if the computer is subjected to significant movement. The sensitivity level for parking the heads can be adjusted via the Toshiba Assist utility. The hard disk’s performance is quite acceptable. HD Tune’s results for this disk are below.

Hard disk test results for HD tune and HD Tach: 


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Optical Drive

The optical drive is the Matshita UJ-844S. This is an ultra-ultra-slim (7mm) thick unit. This burner supports single layer DVD / CD and DVD RAM burning functions. However, it will not read dual layer DVD+R discs or write to dual layer media. I have not extensively tested the optical drive, but it has played DVDs, CDs and burnt a test CD without problems. The burner is connected as a USB device so that the power can be cut off to extend battery time.

Nero’s report on the UJ-844S:


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Toshiba Utilities

Toshiba provide a comprehensive set of utilities for the R500. There appears to be some differences between what is provided for Vista and XP. The Vista on-screen display for the function keys is completely different. The XP version of Toshiba Power Saver has seven different pre-defined power profiles while Vista uses only the standard three. The Vista version drop-down on-screen display for Fn key operations is very slow when running on battery and is often hidden behind other windows. HW Setup enables some BIOS settings to be changed without entering the BIOS.

Perhaps one of the more interesting utilities is the SD memory boot utility. The R500’s BIOS supports booting from an SD card which opens up the possibility of being able to boot an operating system from an SD card.

Toshiba provide some models of the R500 with Vista pre-installed but with both Vista and XP recovery discs to give users the option of installing XP. I took the advantage of carrying out tests on Vista before installing XP.

Benchmarks for Toshiba R500 (Core 2 Duo U7600)

Windows Vista Experience Index

The Windows Experience Index (WEI) is Microsoft’s measure of suitability for running Vista. This version of the R500 scored 2.1 which is the same as the Sony G11 and well ahead of the Zepto Notus (which scored 1.0).


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The weak link was the desktop graphics with 2.1, followed by gaming graphics at 2.8 and the memory at 4.2 while the CPU at 2.9 while the HDD scored 5.0. For comparison, the Samsung Q35 which also has the GMA 950 graphics scored 2.3 but benefited from a faster CPU and dual channel memory.

SuperPi

SuperPi is often used as a test for raw CPU performance and is a fair indicator of single-threaded CPU performance. The U7600 in the R500 needed 1 minute 45 seconds to complete the calculation to 2 million digits. This is almost the same time as the 1.33GHz U1500 Core Solo CPU in the Sony G11. It is significantly faster than a 1.6GHz Pentium M, the 800MHz Intel A110 or the 1.6GHz mobile Pentium 4.


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The table below compares the R500’s SuperPi score with some other notebooks

Notebook

Time

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP

1m 45s

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + Vista

1m 46s

Dell D430 (1.2GHz U1400 and Intel GMA 950)

1m 57s

Dell D430 (1.33GHz U7700 and Intel GMA 950)

1m 41s

Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz)

4m 05s

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110)

3m 51s

Fujitsu S6120 (Pentium M 1.6GHz)

2m 29s

HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz Turion 64×2 TL-52)

2m 05s

Sony Vaio TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600)

1m 50s

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

1m 46s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo  T2300 with 533MHz memory speed)

1m 29s

Samsung Q35 (1.83MHz Core 2 Duo T5600 with 667MHz FSB and 533MHz RAM)

1m 16s

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 with 800MHz FSB and 667MHz RAM)

0m 59s

 

wPrime is a multi-threaded benchmark test for CPU performance. The U7600 CPU completed the 32M calculation in 68.7s. This is much slower than we are used to seeing for the recent dual core CPUs but is much faster than most single-cored CPUs.


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Notebook / CPU

wPrime 32M time

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + Vista

68.717s

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP

70.500s

Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz)

231.714s

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110)

212.232s

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

124.581s

Dell D430 (1.2GHz U1400 and Intel GMA 950)

148.344s

Dell D430 (1.33GHz U7700 and Intel GMA 950)

64.406s

MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.6GHz)

124.656s

Fujitsu S6120 (Pentium M 1.6GHz)

113.705s

Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 (1.66GHz Core Duo L2400)

54.359s

Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz)

46.274s

Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)

42.385s

Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)

38.720s

Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz) 

32.119s

 

The R500’s memory performance is of interest because it uses the Intel 945GMS chipset with only one memory channel running at 533MHz (with an option in the BIOS to run at 400MHz for slight additional power saving). 1GB of RAM is fixed on the main board with 1GB of standard PC5300 RAM in the single memory slot. SiSoftware Sandra reports a memory bandwidth of over 2,700MB/s.  Surprisingly, this is about 10% faster than the Sony G11 with the same chipset and memory timings.

Sandra’s memory bandwidth test result:


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The maximum addressing limit of the 945GMS chipset is 2GB. However the R500 will not boot with a 2GB module so, unlike the Sony G series, the option to upgrade the models with 512MB on-board RAM is limited to adding 1GB. I specifically wanted to buy an R500 with 1GB on-board so that I could have 2GB RAM.

PCMark05

The PCMark05 score for the R500 was 1,953 PCMarks under XP and 1863 PC Marks under Vista. The table below compares the PCMark05 test result with some other notebooks. The result is in the same range as other notebooks with similar hardware. The result for XP is ahead of Vista by a small margin.

Notebook

PCMark05 Score

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP

1,953 PCMarks

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + Vista

1,863 PCMarks

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP + 400MHz RAM

1,831 PCMarks

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110 and Intel GMA950 GPU)

964 PCMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

1,554 PCMarks

Dell D430 (1.33GHz U7700 and Intel GMA 950)

2,184 PCMarks

ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz, Intel X4500)

4,298 PCMarks

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and Intel X3100 GPU)

4,063 PCMarks

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)

3,498 PCMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

3,059 PCMarks

Sony Vaio TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600)

2,517 PCMarks

Sony Vaio TX850p (1.2GHz Core Solo)

1,428 PCMarks

 

3DMark05

The R500 managed a score of 404 3DMarks for 3DMark05. The test was run at 1024×768 resolution with no anti-aliasing.  The result for XP is ahead of Vista by a small margin. This result is better than the single-cored Sony G11 (approximately in proportion to the memory bandwidth noted above) but worse than for the Samsung Q35 which has the T5600 GPU and the Intel 945GM chipset. The R500 is compared below with other results for notebooks with integrated graphics. Setting the R500’s memory bandwidth to 400MHz to reduce power consumption reduced the 3DMark05 score to 329.

Notebook

3DMark05 Score

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP Pro SP3

404 3DMarks

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + Vista Business SP1

388 3DMarks

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP + 400MHz RAM

329 2DMarks

Zepto Notus A12 (800MHz Intel A110 and Intel GMA950 GPU)

188 3DMarks

Dell D430 (1.2GHz U1400 and Intel GMA 950)

348 3DMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

357 3DMarks

Dell D430 (1.33GHz U7700 and Intel GMA 950)

392 3DMarks

Fujitsu C1320 (2GHz Pentium M, Intel 915GM)

410 3DMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

447 3DMarks

IBM Thinkpad T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M, Mobility Radeon X300)

727 3DMarks

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and Intel X3100 GPU)

910 PCMarks

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)

1,151 3DMarks

Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)

1,939 3DMarks

 

3DMark06

The 3DMark06 was where I would expect. This is no gaming notebook but it is fine for Solitaire. It is interesting that while the R500 was ahead of the Sony G11 in 3DMark05, the G11 has a small lead in 3DMark06.

Notebook

3DMark06 Score

Toshiba R500 – (1.20GHz Core Duo U7600) + XP Pro SP3

141 3DMarks

Sony Vaio VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)

148 3DMarks

Samsung Q35 (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600, Intel 945GM)

106 3DMarks

MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.6GHz)

112 3DMarks

Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and Intel X3100 GPU)

561 PCMarks

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)

475 3DMarks

Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)

962 3DMarks

Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz, X4500)

927 3DMarks

 

Cinebench

Cinebench is a good rendering benchmark tool based on the powerful 3D software, CINEMA 4D. Its rendering tasks can stress up to sixteen multiprocessors on the same computer. It is a free benchmarking tool, and can be found at http://www.cinebench.com. It has been recently updated from version 9.5 to 10 and I have included some results below for both versions. Cinebench also includes an OpenGL benchmark which will be of interest to those people who use software which uses OpenGL. There is a big difference in the OpenGL hardware benchmark between Vista and XP which may be a driver issue and the R500 is in the same range as the Zepto 6024W.

Cinebench 9.5 Benchmark

Toshiba R500 (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo) + Vista

Toshiba R500 (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo) + XP

Sony VGN-G11 (1.33GHz Core Solo) + Vista

Zepto 6024W (2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo) + Vista

Samsung R20 (1.73GHz Core Duo) + Vista

Rendering (Single CPU)

200 CB-CPU

200 CB-CPU

193 CB-CPU

349 CB-CPU

256 CB-CPU

Rendering (Multiple CPU)

368 CB-CPU

366 CB-CPU

Not applicable

623 CB-CPU

474 CB-CPU

C4D Shading

232 CB-GFX

237 CB-GFX

225 CB-GFX

409 CB-GFX

299 CB-GFX

OpenGL SW-L

409 CB-GFX

703 CB-GFX

405 CB-GFX

690 CB-GFX

753 CB-GFX

OpenGL HW-L

537 CB-GFX

939 CB-GFX

499 CB-GFX

928 CB-GFX

881 CB-GFX

Cinebench 10 Benchmark

 

 

 

 

 

Rendering (Single CPU)

1208 CB-CPU

1211 CB-CPU

1156 CB-CPU

2116 CB-CPU

1520 CB-CPU

Rendering (Multiple CPU)

2277 CB-CPU

2305 CB-CPU

Not applicable

3903 CB-CPU

2851 CB-CPU

OpenGL Benchmark

406 CB-GFX

437 CB-GFX

357 CB-GFX

711 CB-GFX

543 CB-GFX


Cinebench 9.5 results for Vista (left) and XP (right):


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Power Management and Battery Performance

Now to what I think is one of the critical aspects of the ultra-portables: How big and heavy is the power supply and how long does it run on battery? Toshiba, at least in UK, have supplied a relatively big 60W PSU with a 3-pin connector for the mains cable. The user manual mentions both 45W and 60W PSU and the maximum power drain I have observed at the main socket is 51W (computer under load plus battery charging), which would just be within the 45W PSU output rating. The 3 pin power connector results in a heavier mains cable and adds to the travel weight. It is unfortunate that Toshiba’s efforts, to minimise the weight of the computer didn’t carry through to the PSU selection. While the basic computer weighs 41 grams (1.3oz) less than the Sony G11, the travel weight is 133 grams (4.3oz) more. The PSU has no power indicator light. I was sufficiently annoyed by this aspect that I ordered a 45W PSU from the USA. This arrived within two weeks of ordering (2/3rd of the $45 cost was for shipping!) and reduced the travel weight of the R500 by 0.12kg (but it is still slightly heavier than the G11’s travel weight). The 45W PSU is substantially smaller than the 60W unit but not as petite as the Sony 45W PSU.

Left to right: Toshiba 60W PSU; Toshiba 45W PSU, Sony 45W PSU, Samsung 90W PSU


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The 6-cell battery is rated at 10.8V, 5.8AH (= 61.64WHr) which is at the upper end of the capacity range for 6-cell batteries. The charging rate is only about 18W to 20W when the computer is on or off. This may have been designed to ensure the overall power demand was within the capacity of a 45W PSU but probably also helps the battery’s working life. The battery in my R500 already showed some wear on arrival (57.1WHr maximum capacity in the first R500; 57.5WHr in the replacement). I have noticed something weird about the charging rate. When the computer is on, but idle, the charge rate can drop to around 10W. Put the CPU under load and the charge rate will increase to about 20W.  Go back to idle and the charge drops to about 14W then, after some time, to 10W. Very peculiar!

Toshiba have provided extensive power configuration options for Windows XP (I don’t recall seeing anything similar for Vista). There are seven pre-configured power profiles with a number of variable parameters. One, the Cooling Method, changes the fan settings so that there can be reduced fan activity to save power (but the battery optimised fan setting also throttles the CPU to reduce heat generation). One power profile can be pre-set as the default for mains operation and another for battery operation. Fn+F2 steps through the power profiles. One annoyance (for me) relating for the power management is that unless I set "Do Nothing" under the lid closure action, the computer automatically resumes from sleep / hibernation when I open the lid. This creates the risk of the computer starting up if the display is accidentally opened during travel.

The R500’s Windows XP Power Options:


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So how does the battery perform, both under Vista and XP? First, I would note that for both Vista and XP I have my visual settings set to best performance + smooth screen fonts. Sidebar is disabled in Vista. One of my standard tests is to play the 3 hour DVD "Dances With Wolves" with the display at half brightness and wireless, Bluetooth, etc., turned off. This appeared to be a victory for Vista + the bundled WinDVD, which had 27% of battery capacity remaining after the 3 hours. Power consumption ranged between about 13W and 17W and I noticed that the disc was only read at intervals with, presumably, data cached in RAM. Playback under XP with the bundled WinDVD 5 and the DVD Power Profile was worse, with only 14% battery capacity remaining after 3 hours. The disc was being played continuously. I then tried PowerDVD 7 with XP (mobile settings on balanced) and this had 28% battery capacity remaining after the 3 hours. So, there’s very little to choose between XP and Vista for DVD playback. It is more to do with the player software.

My main method for estimating the battery operation time under different conditions is to look at the power drain under different usage conditions. Toshiba advertise a battery time of "up to 7:30 (Mobile MarkTM 2007)" which represents an average power drain of 8W. Is this realistic? I have carried out an extensive search for that elusive 8W average. So far, the lowest power consumption I have seen is about 7.9W with the computer on idle and the CPU spending 90 to 95% of its time in the C3 (or lower) low power state, no wireless or Bluetooth, optical drive turned off and the display (not just the backlight) off. However, a computer operating under those conditions is not much use! With the display on but the backlight off the power consumption is about 8.25W, rising to 8.5W with the display on quarter brightness.

The BIOS does include some options for reducing power consumption. There is a Performance/Battery Life option and a Display Multi-Field Driving option. The former downclocks the RAM to 400MHz and slows down the GPU while the latter reduces the display panel power consumption. However, the effect of these on idle power consumption is small (0.1W?) and, in my view, not worth the additional loss in performance.

R500 Battery Monitor plots: Left = display at full brightness, right = display at quarter brightness


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In real life usage a battery time of up to around 6 hours continual light usage is realistic, depending on display brightness and whether the wireless is used. Typically, quarter brightness (just about OK indoors) uses about 9W, which will give 6.5 hours on a full battery. Sitting outside with the wireless on (yes, the wirless performance is good) and the display on full brightness gives a predicted battery time of over 4 hours. Turn my back to the sun and switching off the backlight increased the predicted battery time to over 6 hours.

Something, somewhere, is using significantly more power than I saw with the Sony G11 which could get down to 6W on idle with a readable display. I wonder if the dual core CPU is using more than double the power of the single core CPU. Fortunately, I can live with 6 hours battery time, knowing that it is achievable. I could see no significant difference between Vista and XP on the power consumption, but the latter has much better power management configuration.

I also looked at maximum power consumption test using the Prime95 torture test. This indicated a maximum power consumption of about 27W with the display on full brightness. Allowing 4W for the display, 5W for the chipset, 2W for the HDD and 3W for the fan leaves 14W for the CPU and other components. I think the CPU at full load is actually drawing more power than the 10W design power suggests.  For comparison I did the same test on my Zepto 6024W with T7300 and Intel 965GM chipset and using RMClock to set the CPU to 1.2GHz @ 0.90V. With display on minimum brightness (but brighter than the R500’s minimum brightness), no wireless / Bluetooth etc, the power drain was 24.5W. Given that the Intel 965GM chipset is more power-hungry than the 945GMS chipset, this suggests that this U7600 at 1.2GHz, 0.9V consumes more power than my T7300 at the same 1.2GHz 0.90V. So much for low power the benefits of these expensive ULV CPUs!

Heat and Noise

The R500 is blessed with a very small fan which has to spin fast to get rid of the heat when the CPU is under load. As I noted earlier in this review, Toshiba could have installed a larger fan if they had changed the design of the base. It is possible that the original R500 design was made for the cooler single core CPU and they didn’t change it. Stress testing of my first R500 got the CPU temperature up to 95°C. That high temperature was one reason for returning the computer since I would expect it to increase further with time as the cooling system blocks up with dust. The replacement R500 ran cooler and the temperature would stabilise at 90°C after half an hour of stress testing. Dropping the maximum CPU voltage from 0.8875V to 0.85V dropped the temperature to a slightly more reasonable 87°C.


A steady 95°C at 0.90V (view large image)

The fan has at least speed 4 settings: These trigger temperatures depend on the fan optimisation in the power profiles, but are typically 55°C, 65°C, 70°C and 85°C. The lowest speed setting is unobtrusive but anything faster is noisy because it is a high-pitched whine. The R500’s external temperatures are highest when running on battery because the fan is less active. The left palm rest (over the hard disk) can get quite warm and the underside of the computer also warms up but, it is not uncomfortably hot, even for bare skin, so the R500 can be used as a laptop.

Warranty and Customer Support

Toshiba provide a three year return-to-base warranty as standard. On-site repair is available at extra cost. Toshiba, in UK, is also currently offering a money-back guarantee (plus replacement or repaired notebook) if the notebook has breaks down. However, my refurbished model has only a one year warranty without the money back offer.  I contacted Toshiba support regarding the problems I encountered with the first R500. I quickly got through to a support person who listened to my lift of problems but then advised me to contact the retailer. I then phoned Morgan who answered very quickly and made arrangements for the computer to be collected. Once they had received it and verified the problems they quickly made arrangements for a similar model as a replacement.

 

Conclusion

The R500 provides an alternative to the Sony G11 with almost identical weight, better performance, a slightly higher resolution display but without the G11’s impressive battery life. It is actually lighter than the Zepto Notus which has no built-in optical drive. However, 5 to 6 hours working time is fine for my needs. Overall, the R500 is a good example of how light a notebook can be made without losing serious functionality or battery life. The excessive fan noise when the CPU is under load is probably the biggest drawback. The lightweight construction may give cause for concern about durability and I would not intentionally mistreat this notebook. The display is slightly flexible while the magnesium alloy back gives protection against impact. The chassis is surprisingly rigid given the thin materials.

I think of the R500 as being a lighter version of the Samsung Q35. It offers about 70% of the Q35’s performance with 60% of the weight. However, while the Q35 could manage up to 5 hours run time with a standard CPU and CCFL display backlight, the low power design of the R500 does not deliver the expected incremental power savings. Somehow, Toshiba is not close to matching Sony’s low power efficiency. However, with the Sony G series being hard to find and the TZ’s display being too small for some people, the R500 has a niche in the market. There is already an option for a 128GB SSD while anyone willing to undo the 19 screws can upgrade the hard disk to at least 320GB, which is unique in this weight range.

And what about the Vista vs XP comparison? Both battery time and performance were very similar. The Toshiba software set for XP is much more mature. One particular annoyance with Vista is that the on-screen display for the function keys could be very slow to respond. I will be keeping Windows XP. I made that decisioin partly because it has fewer software incompatibilities and partly because, when only a few applications are loaded, the hibernation time is very fast. The downside of Vista using spare RAM for SuperFetch is that is always the full amount of RAM needing to be written to the hard disk.

Pros

  • Compact size and light weight
  • Bright display which is usable outside
  • Well thought-out keyboard and generous touchpad
  • Good battery life
  • Very good hard disk capacity and speed for this form factor
  • Three USB ports on the sides
  • Built-in optical drive
  • XP downgrade option

Cons

  • Large PSU (with UK models)
  • Noisy fan when CPU is under load
  • Light bleed on display and limited viewing angles
  • Mediocre audio
  • Device in PC Card slot may obstruct optical drive
  • No built-in modem (fortunately I have an old PC card modem)
  • High price


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