Toshiba Tecra A9 Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (124,725)

by Kevin O’Brien

The Tecra A9 is the latest high-end business notebook that Toshiba offers to compete against 15.4" notebooks such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T61, HP 8510p, and the Dell Latitude D830. Many notebooks in this business category are designed to hold up to the daily rigors of a business environment, and the Tecra A9 is no different. It’s claimed to have a durable chassis, protection for the hard drive, as well as a spill resistant keyboard. Let’s see how this notebook stands up in our testing.

Technical Specifications:

  • Windows Vista Business (32-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7500 (2.20GHz, 4MB L2, 800MHz FSB)
  • Mobile Intel P965 Express Chipset
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • 2GB 1GB x 2 PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
  • 160GB Fujitsu MHW2120BH
  • 8x DVD (+/-R double layer) drive
  • 15.4" diagonal widescreen TFT LCD display at 1680×1050 (WSXGA+, Matte)
  • 256MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M (up to 255MB additional shared)
  • Bluetooth version 2.0 plus Enhanced Data Rate (EDR)
  • Type II PC-Card Slot
  • 5-in-1 media card reader
  • VGA out, Mic/Headphone connectors, IEEE-1394 (FireWire), Three USB 2.0 ports, Serial Legacy Port, 1Gb LAN, Docking Connector
  • Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 13.2" x 11.1" x 1.43"
  • Weight: 6.3lbs w/standard battery
  • 75W (15V x 5A) 100-240V AC adapter (15oz)
  • 5100mAh Lithium Ion battery
  • 3-Year Standard Limited Warranty


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Build and Design

The design of the Tecra A9 is not unlike many other business notebooks; very basic and professional looking. The display cover and keyboard are a simple matte silver color, with no sleek sloping curves, just mildly rounded edges all around. The rest of the notebook is black plastic, leading to a design that would blend in with most Thinkpads or Latitudes around the office.

The build quality of the laptop does not feel up to par with most other business grade laptops in the same price range. The palmrest and keyboard exhibit a lot of flex, which is pretty uncommon for this class of notebook. The display lid feels fairly cheap with its thin plastic, but it did prevent ripples from showing on the screen from all but hard presses to the cover. The bottom of the notebook features a Swiss cheese style of cutouts, which has to be the most I have ever seen on a notebook to date.


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Screen

The display found on the Tecra A9 is above average in quality. Colors were clear, but not as vibrant as you might see on a glossy texture screen. One improvement over its smaller brother the M9, it does not have the super sparkly matte texture. This made viewing whites much more pleasant, and overall easy to work with on a daily basis.

Viewing angles are also about average, not distorting until much steeper viewing angles. Steep vertical viewing angles showed the most color inversion, while steep horizontal viewing angles only became mildly washed out. For the average user this screen works just fine at its intended purpose.


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Screen brightness could have been better, as some bright rooms did start to overpower the screen. Viewing the display outside in bright sunlight would be very difficult, so find some shade if you plan to do field work with this machine.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard has very light typing feel, and is very comfortable to type on. Key texture feels perfect for a business notebook, and gives your fingers just the right amount of grip that you would expect from a high quality keyboard. Typing for long periods of time on this notebook may get to you though, as poor support structures underneath the keyboard give it an almost bouncing feel. Depending on where you type on certain parts of the notebook, you will also get an echoing sound from the keyboard.


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The keyboard is also advertised as being spill resistant, so avid coffee (or soda) drinkers should not be too afraid of shorting out their equipment from an accidental spill. This feature is appearing on many notebooks these days, and should be considered standard on any true business notebook.

The touchpad has a nice mild matte texture, and worked just as you would expect. The included drivers give you plenty of customization options for all the touch zones on the touchpad, as well as adjusting speed and sensitivity. The default settings had the sensitivity slightly low requiring a heavy pressure, which I adjusted upwards to allow a softer touch.

The pointing stick worked just as expected, and had plenty of adjustments in the control panel. The only feature that seemed missing was a center button for the pointer to allow scrolling. It was comfortable to use, but my main preference on this size of notebook is the touchpad.

Audio

The speakers included with this notebook are average for built-in speakers on business notebooks, and below average compared to most consumer machines. Bass and midrange were lacking, but upper frequency tones came through clearly. Volume levels were acceptable, but for anything over the standard Windows notification chimes, I would recommend wearing headphones for greater listening pleasure.

The headphone jack passed very clean audio, and had no hiss present. It would be perfect for hooking up to a stereo, or attaching a pair of headphones for watching a movie on a longer duration flight.

Ports and Features
Starting front and center the Tecra A9 has the indicator light array, headphone/mic jacks, volume knob, and wireless on/off switch:


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The left side has a legacy serial port, two USB ports, mini firewire, PC-Card Slot, and a 5-in-1 card reader:


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The back has a Kensington lock slot, modem jack, power connector, LAN, and VGA out:


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The right side has the optical bay and one USB port:


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Performance

Users should find no trouble performing common tasks on this notebook, as it has more than enough power for you average office productivity suite. Graphics performance on the other hand was lacking, even compared to its smaller brother with a lesser video card configuration. The NVS 130M on the Tecra A9 included 256MB of dedicated video memory, but scored almost 30 percent lower compared to the Tecra M9 with only 128MB on the same card. Even after installing the latest NVIDA drivers the lackluster performance continued.

Listed below are the benchmarks run on the Tecra A9 to give you an idea how it compares to other notebooks in its class:

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s
Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.218s
Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz) 42.947s
Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz) 44.922s
Zepto Znote 6224W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 45.788s
Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz) 46.274s
Samsung R20 (Core Duo T2250 @ 1.73GHz) 47.563s
Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz) 231.714s

PCMark05 measures the overall system performance of a notebook, the A9 came out with a respectable score, though nothing spectacular:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Toshiba Tecra A9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 256MB) 3,674 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 3,723 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6910p (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,892 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6510b (2.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, Intel X3100) 4,241 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6910p (2.20GHz intel Core 2 Duo T7500, ATI X2300 128MB) 4,394 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 2,420 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite A135 (Core Duo T2250, Intel GMA 950) 3,027 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950) 2,994 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950) 2,732 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo) 3,427 PCMarks


3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Toshiba Tecra A9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 256MB) 932 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 1,115 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
LG R500 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS 256MB) 2,776 3DMarks
HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,055 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

Software

Daily performance with the Tecra A9 went hand in hand with the included software from Toshiba. The function key dropdown menu for example brought the machine to a halt as it slid down, from either poor coding or lack of 3D acceleration. This made simple adjustments like increasing your screen brightness take 5-10 seconds for one notch, where it should take a fraction of a second. Thankfully you could uninstall this program, and still retain all adjustments, just without an onscreen notification.

Excessive bloatware on the notebook was present, but thankfully didn’t put up a fight when removing it through the Vista control panel. It wasn’t as bad as some notebooks we have reviewed in the past, but I would still tell users to remove most of it before they start using the computer on a regular basis.

Heat and Noise

Under normal use the Tecra A9 was fairly tame in terms of noise and heat production. Fan noise was minimal even after prolonged computer use, with only minor spikes of noise under more tasking situations. Benchmarking the system for example made the system increase its fan speed over normal situations, but even then it was not bothersome.


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Heat was contained to very reasonable levels, never getting too hot in any "skin contact regions". The palmrest and keyboard stayed only a few degrees higher than room temperature, and the bottom was only hot near the exhaust fan outlet. Its larger size compared to the Tecra M9 looks to have helped out some, since its smaller brother was very warm in our previous testing. Below are images showing the temperatures in degrees Fahreheit while the Tecra A9 was running inside a room with an ambient temperature of 72 degrees:


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Battery Life

With screen brightness at 80 percent, wireless enabled, "balanced" profile set, and accessing web pages on occasion the system managed 2 hours and 40 minutes on its 6-cell battery. Manufacturers estimated battery life was listed as "up to 3.97hrs", which I felt was a bit high.

Conclusion

Starting at such a high price point ($1,199 online at base configuration) the Toshiba Tecra A9 is priced a bit high compared to other notebooks in its class. Few parts on this notebook really stuck out in comparison to its competitors, or even models Toshiba sells in its consumer line. Graphics and gaming performance was also oddly low, even compared to the smaller Tecra M9 with a lesser card. For the given starting price and performance, it’s hard to recommend this notebook over other models in Toshiba’s own consumer line.

Pros

  • Comfortable keyboard and pointing stick
  • Very cool and quiet cooling system
  • 3-year warranty standard

Cons

  • Poor graphics performance
  • Included software can bring the machine to a halt


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