Toshiba Tecra M8 Review

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by Jerry Jackson

The Toshiba Tecra M8, like the Toshiba Satellite U300/U305 series, is a new 13.3" widescreen business notebook packing solid Intel Core 2 Duo performance in a relatively thin and light form factor. Add to that a thin integrated DVD SuperMulti drive, webcam, and fingerprint reader and this notebook starts looking even better. Toshiba calls the new M8 "a feature-rich fusion of mobility, performance and value" … but is the M8 worthy of such praise?

The Toshiba Tecra M8 is available with various configurable options starting at $1,249.00 for a system with Windows XP. Our Windows Vista Business review unit (Tecra M8-S8011) features the following specs:

  • Windows Vista Business (32-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7100 (1.80GHz, 2MB L2, 800MHz FSB)
  • Mobile Intel GM965 Express Chipset
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • 1GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
  • 120GB Serial ATA hard disk drive (5400RPM)
  • 8x DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive
  • 13.3" diagonal widescreen TruBrite TFT LCD display at 1280×800 (WXGA)
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 with 64MB-251MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • Bluetooth version 2.0 plus Enhanced Data Rate (EDR)
  • PCMCIA Card slot
  • 5-in-1 media card reader
  • RGB out
  • Microphone input port
  • Headphone output port
  • IEEE-1394 (FireWire)
  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 12.2" x 8.9" x 1.19" /1.33" without feet
  • Weight: 4.5 lbs
  • 75W (19V x 3.95A) 100-240V AC Adapter (5.04" x 1.20" x 2.01" and weighs 0.77 lb)
  • 6-cell (5200mAh) Lithium Ion battery (0.75 lbs)
  • 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty

You may notice that the Toshiba website indicates that the Tecra M8 has a maximum memory capacity of 2GB. However, we confirmed that the maximum RAM capacity is in fact 4GB. While 1GB is plenty for Windows XP, any notebook running Vista will perform better with a minimum of 2GB of RAM.


The Tecra M8 … one nice-looking notebook. (view large image)

Build and Design

If you read our recent review of the Toshiba Satellite U305 then the Tecra M8 should look very familiar to you. Both of these Toshiba notebooks share the same case design and many of the same parts. Like the U305, the M8 is on the border of the thin-and-light and ultra-portable categories. With a weight of four and a half pounds it isn’t the lightest notebook in the 13.3" class. Likewise, since the notebook is 1.2 inches thick at its thinnest point the M8 falls in the "middle of the pack" among recent 13.3" systems. Nevertheless, Toshiba has successfully engineered a stylish and compact frame with some unique elements that make it attractive to everyone from students to business professionals.


The virtually identical Toshiba Satellite U300/U305. (view large image)

Although the exterior is constructed of plastic it felt relatively solid. Some of the plastics in areas such as the palm rests and the LCD lid felt thin, but overall the build quality seems good. There is very little case flex and no audible creaks to the plastics.

The optical drive in particular is quite thin yet still remains very sturdy. The optical drive (manufactured by LG and similar to drives used in some Lenovo notebooks) is actually as good or better in terms of build quality than some drives we’ve seen in larger budget notebooks. The optical drive was relatively quiet during operation and drive noise was not an issue while viewing DVDs.


The thin, yet very sturdy DVD SuperMulti drive. (view large image)

The LCD cover only comes in one color for the M8: titanium silver. Essentially the cover looks like it’s coated in gray paint with fine silver metal flakes. The same titanium silver paint job is carried over onto the palm rests and around the keyboard. Overall, I must say the titanium silver paint looks and feels much more durable than the glossy colored plastics seen on many other Toshiba notebooks. Fingerprints aren’t nearly as visible on the M8 compared to the Toshiba U305. The rest of the case plastics are made of matte black plastic.


The titanium silver paint is stylish and hides fingerprints. (view large image)

Screen

The LCD lid on the M8 doesn’t use a latch mechanism and instead relies on resistance from the hinge … or dual hinges in this case. The separation (gap) between the LCD and the rest of the notebook looks a little odd at first but I personally grew fond of the design after about a week.

The display panel itself is a 13.3" glossy screen with WXGA resolution (1280×800). There were absolutely no problems with the screen on our review unit: the refresh rate seems excellent when videos or games with fast motion are displayed and there are no stuck pixels. As is common with glossy screens, colors and contrast are quite good and both images and video "pop" off the screen. Brightness is quite impressive, though not quite as bright as some of the newer screens with LED backlights. When set to maximum brightness the screen is bright enough to cause some people to squint in a dark room.

Horizontal viewing angles are better than average. Colors are good and the backlight brightness remains even across the screen while viewing at extreme horizontal angles. There is some minor color inversion when you view the screen from sharp vertical angles (such as standing above the notebook or looking up at the screen from the floor. Of course, as with any glossy screen reflection from room lights can become a problem … depending on the room and the lights.


The 13.3" display is quite good. (view large image)

The built-in webcam located above the LCD is average in terms of performance. The frame rate for video conferencing and chat is good and the camera can record higher-resolution (1.3 megapixel) still images. Colors are accurate indoors in good light but video and images are overexposed or "washed out" when outdoors or grainy when used in low light. The Toshiba webcam software was quite useful, though like several Toshiba applications it uses a pop-up "tile" for the user interface which sometimes is a bit frustrating to use.

Speakers

The audio performance on the M8 was average for a thin and light 13.3" notebook, but it was far from impressive. Both of the small speakers located above the keyboard produce a "tin can" sound quality with plenty of highs but almost no mid range and absolutely no bass. On the bright side, the speakers are located in a good position to direct sound up and toward the user. The sound quality is perfectly fine for listening to business webcasts. Unfortunately, you will still want to use headphones or external speakers if you care about sound quality.

On that note it’s worthwhile to mention that the audio out port on the M8 is located on the left side (a good location for an external speaker connection) and audio output was clean (there was no static or cracking in the sound coming from the headphone jack).


The built-in speakers aren’t very good for listening to music. (view large image)

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the M8 was a welcome improvement over the keyboard on the U305. The keys have a good texture with excellent cushion and travel. The keys are very silent in operation and there are dedicated page up and page down keys (nice to have on a compact keyboard). While the U305 keyboard has a significant degree of keyboard flex across the board, the M8 keyboard was remarkably firm. There was almost no flex … amazing for a notebook this thin and light.


The keyboard feels nice and solid. (view large image)

The touchpad was responsive and felt durable, but the recessed edges actually made the touchpad feel smaller than it already is. Unfortunately, the touchpad buttons on the M8 are quite bad. The buttons have almost no feedback and are not responsive at all. Not only are they uncomfortable to press because of the shallow feedback but I often had to press the touchpad buttons several times before a click was registered.

On a positive note, the one-touch fingerprint reader does a wonderful job reading fingerprints without accidentally being triggered when you use the touchpad buttons. Once the fingerprint reader was set with my fingerprint and passwords all I needed to do was swipe my fingertip over the reader whenever an application or website asked for a password … a nice feature if you have multiple passwords.


The touchpad is responsive but the buttons have VERY shallow feedback. (view large image)

The M8 includes three additional buttons located above the keyboard. These include the power button, Toshiba Assist, and Presentation buttons. Toshiba Assist is essentially a glorified help application while the Presentation button is actually a useful button that allows you to quickly switch between the notebook LCD and a projector for business presentations. Although these buttons are a nice addition, media buttons are curiously absent from the M8. Sure, the M8 is a business notebook but it would have been nice to include CD/DVD control buttons.


The Toshiba Assist and Presentation buttons are nice features. (view large image)

Performance and Benchmarks

Toshiba chose to offer the M8 in a range of configurations starting with the Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 (1.8GHz) and up to the Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 (2.4GHz) processor. While the T7100 with its 2MB of L2 cache and 800MHz frontside bus provides excellent performance for a business notebook, it’s good to know that the T7700 (4MB L2) is an option for people who need faster multimedia encoding or image editing.

The Intel X3100 integrated graphics with 64MB-251MB of dynamically allocated shared memory provides enough video horsepower for a business machine. The primary benefit of integrated graphics is extended battery life and reduced heat. However, more and more 13.3" notebooks are offering dedicated graphics cards in high-end configurations. For example, the Dell XPS M1330 is available with nVidia GeForce 8400M GS graphics … which provides basically twice the video/graphics performance compared to the Intel X3100 chipset.

In any case, the Tecra M8 is a business notebook and not a "gaming machine" so the lack of dedicated graphics isn’t a deal killer. In fact, the reduced weight and heat as well as increased battery life should be considered as reasons for wanting integrated graphics.

As with many Toshiba notebooks, the M8 is configurable with your choice of hard drives including 80GB (5400RPM), 120GB (5400RPM), 160GB (5400RPM) and the very slow 200GB (4200RPM) drives. Although the 200GB hard drive option is attractive for people who need enough storage space for music, encoded videos, and photos, the 160GB still provides plenty of space and is a much faster drive. The PCMark05 benchmarks and HDTune results below show the difference a faster hard drive can make. The Toshiba U305 has an almost identical configuration but features the slower 200GB (4200RPM) hard drive.

Super Pi comparison results:

Notebook Time
Toshiba Tecra M8 (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100) 1m 12s
Toshiba Satellite U305 (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100) 1m 07s
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
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s

PCMark05 comparison results:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Toshiba Tecra M8 (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100) 3,196 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite U305 (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100) 2,972 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 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
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks

3DMark05 comparison results:

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
Toshiba Tecra M8 (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100) 863 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite U305 (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100) 876 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

HDTune results:


(view large image)

Heat and Noise

The M8 does an excellent job of controlling internal heat thanks in no small part to the massive copper heatsink visible through the air vent on the left side of the notebook. CPU temperatures peaked at no more than 54 degrees Celsius during benchmarks and hard drive temperatures averaged around 43 degrees Celsius. The palm rests never became too hot during our tests and the left palm rest spiked at no more than 91 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom of the notebook remained reasonably cool despite the large warning sticker on the bottom of the notebook advising you to use caution when keeping the notebook on your lap. The memory expansion bay spiked at 108 degrees Fahrenheit during benchmarking. While the notebook got warm, it was never too hot to keep on the lap.


The bottom view with Fahrenheit temperature readings. (view large image)

Fan noise, on the other hand, was not something that the M8 managed well during stress. Although the M8 remained relatively cool and quiet, the fan produced significant noise at the maximum setting. When the fan turns on maximum it sounds like a weak hair dryer and puts out enough hot air from the left side that you could probably dry your hair with it after a shower. The exhaust temperature averaged between 115 and 118 degrees Fahrenheit during our tests.

Bottom line, the M8 keeps heat under control at the expense of some noise.

Input and Output Ports

We were pleased to see an impressive number of ports on this notebook despite its smaller form factor. While many notebooks in the 13.3" class have only two USB ports and some have no FireWire port, Toshiba managed to include three USB ports and even squeezed in a FireWire port by moving it to the front of the notebook.

Let’s take a closer look at the ports:


Left side: VGA out, two USB ports, headphone out, microphone in, and volume control wheel. (view large image)


Front side: FireWire port, 5-in-1 card reader, and wireless on/off switch. (view large image)


Right side: Optical drive, PC Card slot, USB port, Ethernet, modem, and security lock slot. (view large image)


Rear view: Nothing here except hinges, the battery, and the DC power jack. (view large image)

Toshiba wisely replaced the ExpressCard slot with a PC Card slot on the Tecra M8. Although ExpressCard accessories are becoming popular, many more accessories are available for the PC Card slot as of this writing and many businesses still use PC Card accessories. Toshiba also offers a universal docking station if the built-in ports aren’t enough for you.

Software

Unfortunately, Toshiba includes much, much too much bloatware on the M8 … particularly since this machine is marketed as a notebook for business professionals. As with the consumer-oriented U305, there are so many applications pre-installed on the notebook that startup took much longer than it should. Several useful applications like Internet Explorer and Adobe Acrobat Reader actually suffered through serious delays because the notebook’s resources were being used by numerous applications that didn’t need to be running.

Just to give you an idea of how much bloatware is running upon startup, we discovered there are 93 processes running using 824MB of the 1GB of system RAM when we opened Windows Task Manager. Ninety three processes. A typical bloatware-infested notebook has between 50 and 70 processes running after the first startup.

Of course, customers can always uninstall this bloatware when they start using the notebook … it’s just unfortunate that Toshiba includes this much "junk" on a machine designed for business professionals.

Battery

Our M8 came with the standard 6-cell battery (10.8V, 5200mAh) but the 9-cell extended life battery (10.8V, 7800mAh) is also available. With power management set to "High Performance" and screen brightness set to maximum while wirelessly browsing the web the battery lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes. With power management set to "Power Saver" and screen at half brightness the battery lasted 3 hours and 12 minutes while browsing the web. The battery lasted an impressive 4 hours and 8 minutes with the notebook set to "Power Saver" with half screen brightness and letting the system idle without any activity and without letting the screen turn off.

While the extended life battery would be a worthwhile accessory for this notebook consumers should be more than pleased by the battery life of the standard battery.

Conclusion

The Toshiba Tecra M8 is a solid business notebook with plenty of features and few problems. The quality 13.3" glossy display, thin and light lines, sizeable hard drive, good battery life and a good selection of ports help make this an excellent work machine. The Core 2 Duo processor and plenty of available RAM likewise give the system an impressive backbone for performance. In addition, the sturdy keyboard and convenient fingerprint reader interface help users immediately recognize this machine means business.

Unfortunately, the obscene overabundance of bloatware is enough to make an IT professional run away screaming. The painful touchpad buttons are also likely to leave users with sore thumbs after a full work day. Still, these are minor hurdles for an otherwise good machine. The only other issue that the Tecra M8 faces is price. Businesses willing to put up with more bulk and weight can buy a Dell Latitude D630 for $400 less than the base price of the M8. Of course, the M8 is much more thin and light than any 14.1" notebook on the market.

Bottom line, the Toshiba Tecra M8 is an excellent business notebook in the 13.3" display class. If you can uninstall the bloatware and use an external mouse it makes one amazing mobile workstation.

Pros:

  • Good performance for a business notebook
  • Sturdy keyboard
  • Reasonably thin and light for a 13.3" notebook
  • Nice screen
  • Solid selection of ports
  • Thin yet durable optical drive

Cons:

  • Bad touchpad buttons
  • Too much bloatware
  • Fan is a bit too loud when the system is under load.


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