Toshiba Tecra M9 Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (101,666)

by Kevin O’Brien

The Toshiba Tecra M9 is a business-grade notebook competing against the Dell D630 and Lenovo T61. It is an update to the older Tecra M5, using the latest 800MHz Santa Rosa Intel platform. Compared to the Lenovo T61, HP 6910p, and Dell Vostro 1400, its starting price of $1,349 is slightly higher from the rest. Let’s see how this notebook stands up to the rest in the pack.

Our review system had the following 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)
  • 1GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 4GB)
  • 120GB Fujitsu MHW2120BH
  • 8x DVD (+/-R double layer) drive
  • 14.1" diagonal widescreen TFT LCD display at 1440×900 (WXGA+, Matte)
  • 128MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M
  • 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
  • Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 13.2" x 11.1" x 1.43"
  • Weight: 5lbs 4oz 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 M9 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. I would have to imagine that they are for heat dispersion, but as you will read on the notebook does get very warm under average stress.


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Screen
The display on this notebook is a matte texture, like many business notebooks. The texture seems to go overboard in comparison though, as this screen has a high level of "sparkle" that gives the screen a dirty look. Colors look average, but with the excessive matte texture most intense colors appear to be washed out.


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Viewing angles are limited causing most dark or midrange colors to wash out or completely disappear moving vertically above or below normal viewing angles. Horizontal viewing angles are a bit better, but still phases out much sooner than other notebooks in this class. Some may call this a privacy feature, but it just looks like a lower quality LCD used in a expensive notebook.

Brightness levels are ok, but at times I wished I could go two or three notches above its max setting. The screen easy starts to wash out in a bright office setting, and would probably be hard to read in a well lit conference room.

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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Toshiba lists the keyboard as being spill resistant, and even goes on to say the following, "Toshiba also improved their spill resistant keyboard to help protect against accidental spills of liquids, including soda, beer and coffee with cream and sugar, an upgrade from the previous protection against water."

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.


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The pointer 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 M9 has the indicator light array, wireless on/off switch, firewire connector, headphone/mic jacks, and volume knob:

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The left side has a modem jack, Kensington lock slot, exhaust port, one USB port, PC-Card Slot, and SD card slot:

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The back has a serial port, VGA connector, and AC plug:

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The right side has two USB ports, the optical bay, and the LAN port:

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Performance
With the T7500 Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and Nvidia NVS 130M graphics card, the system had no problem working any productivity software, or even average computer games. Startup and shutdown times seemed to lag, but some of that could be blamed on Toshiba only including 1GB of ram in this configuration, instead of the highly recommended 2GB for Vista.
Listed below are benchmarks used to compare this notebook against others we have reviewed:

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 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 6910p came out with a respectable score, though nothing spectacular:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
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 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 M9 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
Thermal performance of the notebook was of concern through most of this review. The exhaust vent during normal use put out heat between 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. While running PCMark05 exhaust temperatures reached a record 150 degrees, higher than any notebook I have reviewed in the past. During the first run through PCMark05, the wireless card vanished from Windows Device Manager (from what I could only imagine as overheating) and Device Manager was unable to locate the wireless card until the notebook cooled down.


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Fan noise was always present after the system had been on for over 15-20 minutes, and it was warm enough to always heat up objects nearby. Using our decibel meter, the fan noise at low speed registered 45dB at 6" away from the vent. It blended in with most other office noises, but could stand out in a very quiet classroom.

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 29 minutes on its 6-cell battery. I do not believe this system would be able to watch a full length movie in flight without an extended battery present. Manufacturers estimated battery life was listed as "up to 3.38hrs", but I don’t see how that would be possible at anything close to average use.

Conclusion
Starting at such high price point ($1,349 online at base configuration) the Tecra M9 is priced above other business grade notebooks in its class. With its flimsy chassis, lackluster screen, and the fire breathing dragon hidden behind the exhaust vent, it’s hard to see why customers would want this over other models Toshiba sells. Although the specifications and features of the Tecra M9 are quite good for a business notebook, users looking to purchase the Tecra M9 should consider looking at models in the Toshiba home user lines instead.

Pros

  • Comfortable keyboard and pointing stick
  • Beer resistant keyboard (?)
  • Clean sound from the headphone jack
  • Pointing stick doesn’t drift
  • 3-year warranty standard

Cons

  • Super hot exhaust
  • Flexing palm rest and keyboard
  • Sparkly screen with poor viewing angles


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