Toshiba Tecra M3 Review (pics, spces)

by Reads (157,562)

by Alex Karian, California USA

I have had  my Toshiba Tecra M3 for a week now, I had originally chosen the Acer TravelMate 8104 notebook but had a rather disastrous experience within one-day of purchasing that notebook.  Right out of the box, the Acer blue-screened, consistently failed to come out of hybernation, and ended the day by completely killing the touchpad.

Understandably, I returned it the next day for a full refund, and ordered the Toshiba Tecra M3 instead, not trusting the Acer brand anymore after this bad experience. The M3 arrived two weeks later configured with a Pentium M 770 (2.13 Ghz), 1 GB of DDR2 memory (more on that later), 14″ SXGA+ screen, an NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 Turbo Edition graphics card with 128 MB, a 60 GB 5400 RPM hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo optical drive, and an Intel 2915 802.11 a/b/g wireless chip.  All Tecra M3’s come standard with the same array of ports, which include two USB 2.0 ports, a parallel port, Ethernet LAN port, S-Video out port, and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port.

In addition to the expected PCMCIA accessory slot, the Tecra M3 comes standard with a SecureDigital (SD) slot, and more importantly, the new ExpressCard slot. This makes it ready for the new generation of notebook accessory cards, which should become more available later this year.

The price tag of the Tecra M3 was $2,282 before tax on Toshiba s web site (http://www.toshibadirect.com). At the time of purchase Toshiba was running a new-product promotional pricing deal.

 

Toshiba Tecra M3 (view larger image)

Toshiba Tecra M3 Review Unit Specs

  • Pentium M 780 (2.13 GHz)
  • 14.1″ screen, SXGA+ (1400 x 1050)
  • Dimensions: 12.36″ x 10.20″ x 1.24″ (W x D x H)
  • Weight: 5.2 lb
  • 60GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce 6600 with 128MB of RAM
  • DVD / CD-RW optical drive
  • 1GB DDR2 400MHz RAM
  • 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi
  • Ports: 1 PCMCIA slot, 1 ExpressCard Slot, 1 Secure Digital Reader, FireWire port, S-Video out, 2 USB 2.0 ports, Monitor out port, Parallel port, Ethernet, Modem, Infrared port, Microphone jack, Headphone jack

Full specs from Toshiba:  http://cdgenp01.csd.toshiba.com/content/product/pdf_files/detailed_specs/tecra_M3-S212TD.pdf

Reason for Buying

My objectives when picking a notebook were: high-end performance, decent screen and powerful graphics.  The graphics needs were due to the fact I wanted to run games such as Rome: Total War and Il-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles). I had to save some money when configuring the notebook, so I went for the cheaper 5400 rpm drive and a CD-RW. But there is an option of a 7200 rpm drive, as well as a DVD-RW.  I did however go for the topmost circuitry, picking the fastest CPU and the top video card, the Intel Pentium M 770 Sonoma platform processor (2.13 GHz) and NVIDIA GeForce 6600 with 128MB of RAM.  Other choices for the video card included 64 GB versions of the GeForce Go 6200 and 6600 Turbo Edition and various processor speeds for the Intel Pentium M.

First thing I noticed when I pulled the notebook out of the box was how light it was. My previous notebook, the Dell Latitude C610, is the same size as the M3, but is almost a pound heavier. Another thing that struck me was the excellent magnesium lid. The plastic casing is high-grade and sturdy everywhere. Overall, the notebook look has a restrained high-quality air about it. The chassis is built for durability and usability, not for eye-candy.

 

Toshiba Tecra M3 above view, notice the magnesium lid (view larger image)

The set-up procedure for this notebook was short and trouble-free, but it right away brought to my attention the notebook’s biggest drawback.  The default setting for the AC operation was at the full CPU speed and cooling mode.  This caused the fan to run virtually non-stop at high-speed operation. It was as loud as any notebook fan I have ever heard before.  I had to adjust the power settings to lower CPU speed and cooling to prevent the fan from running so constantly. This made the notebook quiet, but also dropped CPU to from 2.13 GHz to 1.04 GHz.

So my advice for the AC operation of this notebook is to use the high-power mode for game playing and heavy processing tasks such as number crunching or video encoding. For normal day-to-day operation, such as word processing, email etc the lower power mode is much easier to live with from the comfort standpoint. The notebook is always quiet when running on battery as it throttles back and runs at only 787 MHz in this mode.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Initial impressions of the Tecra M3 keyboard were very good, and now, a week later, I like it even more! You don’t get the crisp clicking sound of a ThinkPad keyboard, but the precision is every bit as good. The travel is not as long as on a ThinkPad, but somehow this also makes it easier to type for me. In my view, the keyboard is definitely better than any other notebook I have ever tried.

Toshiba Tecra M3 keyboard, speakers and touchpad (view larger image)

The pointing device for the Tecra M3 includes touchpad and pointing stick. The touchpad is unusual in that it is noticeably offset to the left. I have seen the offset in widescreen notebooks, but never in a 4:3 screen notebook. It makes sense if you’re a right-handed person like myself, but it may be an inconvenience for a left-hander.  I am not a big fan of the touchpad because it staggers any time the finger pressure is too high or too low. The pointing stick works fine.

Speakers

The speakers are located just above the keyboard. This means that you are expected to listen to them while working, with the notebook’s lid open. One nifty feature is the volume control wheel on the case, so you can set the software volume slider to the max and change volume without ever having to use your mouse. The speakers’ sound fidelity is fine, but the power output is low, and the bass is nonexistent. This can be expected of a business notebook. I would prefer using headphones as the speakers, and recommend that you do too for the best audio.

Screen

The screen for the M3 is very good, and has a wide brightness range. All Tecra M3’s come only with a 14″ screen, but you have a choice of the XGA and the SXGA+ resolution. I opted for the SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) because I needed to use the notebook for writing and some programming. My unit has no dead pixels. There is no extra bright feature, but the readability is definitely great due to high image crispness and a broad viewing angle (I’d estimate it to be 140 degrees).

Benchmarks

Benchmark results on the screen of the Tecra M3 (view larger image)

I ran 3 benchmark programs: SuperPI,  3DMark05 and PCMark04, all with the Tecra M3 set to full power configuration. The results for SuperPi and 3DMark05 are shown in the photo above. I should note that I ran SuperPi again later and was able to get a better result of 1 min 32 seconds (the picture shows 1 min 33 seconds, which is a superb score anyway).  Graphics performance is rather disappointing; I was expecting around 2,000 3DMarks.

I could not obtain the overall PCMark04 score, because one of the tests, WMV Video Compression, required Windows Media 9, while the notebook came with Windows Media 10.  I didn’t want to roll back the Windows Media version, especially since the other tests in the PCMark04 suite ran fine with the results shown below:

Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression (MB/s)  3.93 
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption (MB/s)  31.57 
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression (MB/s)  27.86 
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing (MPixels/s) 12.46 
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning (MB/s)  2052.65 
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check (KB/s)  3.22 
File Decryption (MB/s)    63.3 
Audio Conversion (KB/s)    2924.57 
Web Page Rendering (Pages/s)   6.76 
WMV Video Compression (FPS)   Test failed
DivX Video Compression (FPS)   60.52 
Physics Calculation and 3D (FPS)   203.49 
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines (FPS)   1192.93 

PCmark04 reported that DDR2 operates at 400 MHz, not 533 MHz allowed by the Sonoma chipset. Although the performance is great, I wonder what it would be like if the memory was clocked at 533.  I went for the two 512 MB sticks instead of one 1024 stick. This limits your memory upgrade options because there are only 2 memory slots, but having two stick enables the dual-channel mode, which improves performance.

Battery

The battery for the M3 lasts just a bit below 3.5 hours. Considering the notebook’s compact dimensions and low weight, this is a good result.

Right-side view of Toshiba Tecra M3, showing PCMCIA, ExpressCard and SD Card slots (view larger image)

Conclusion

To summarize, the Tecra M3 is a very nice notebook designed for getting your work done very effectively. It doesn’t have the WOW’ factor some fancy consumer notebooks do, but it comes with very high-performance CPU and graphics. Its biggest drawback is fan noise when running at full throttle and being worked hard, but this can be mitigated by changing power settings using a built-in Toshiba utility. It’s definitely not a good choice for a multimedia notebook, and it was never intended to be one. But I would highly recommend this book to someone who needs a heavy-duty, portable, high productivity notebook for work, and plays games in their spare time.

Pros:

  • Excellent chassis
  • Light weight and compact size
  • Great CPU performance
  • Great keyboard
  • Great screen
  • Good battery life at 3.5 hours
  • Wireless on/off switch and volume control wheel
  • ExpressCard, FireWire and SD slots

Cons:

  • In full power mode the fan is very loud, and it’s on most of the time
  • Bottom of the case gets hot
  • Touchpad too sensitive to finger pressure
  • Video performance less than what you would expect from the 6600 chip
  • Weak speakers, bass virtually non-existent
  • 400 Mhz DDR2 (instead of 533 Mhz)
  • No SATA hard drive choice
  • No DVI output

Availability and Pricing


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