by Vincent Winandy – Brussels, Belgium
Introduction and buying rational
I have had my Toshiba Tecra S2 since May of 2005. My goal with this review is to provide an “as objective as possible” review of this notebook, considering my expectations, my user profile, the good surprises and the disappointments. But obviously it is extremely difficult to completely avoid subjectivity in such a review!
I am coming from a Dell C810 (Pentium III) with Windows 2000 Pro. I kept this laptop more than 3 years and had absolutely no problem with it. Since I am keeping my laptops several years, and since my laptop is playing both the role of desktop replacement and mobile I was looking for a new machine with following criteria in mind:
- Sonoma platform with Dothan CPU (Centrino PM750 – 1.86 GHz or above)
- A very good 15″ screen (SXGA+ or above) with one of the latest graphic controller (ATI X600, NVIDIA Go6600 or above)
- At least 512 MB of RAM (preferably 1 GB)
- At least 80 GB hard disk
- A decent docking/port replicator option
- As comprehensive as possible in terms of ports and slots available
- As thin and light as possible
- A business model with excellent build quality, durability and warranty and with dual pointing device
After some investigation, I came down to the following short list: IBM T43/T43p, HP NC8230, HP NW8240 and Toshiba TECRA S2. The main reasons for selecting the Tecra were the better compromise on all the criteria and in particular some details that made the difference (at least on paper) over the IBM and HP such as the 3 USB ports, the 6 in 1 memory card reader, the parallel port, the port replicator (price was not a key differentiator).
Toshiba Tecra S2 Review Unit Specs
- Reference — PTS20E-01Y012BT
- CPU – Pentium M 760 2.0 GHz (Intel PRO/Wireless 2200bg and Chipset Intel 915PM Express)
- Data Bus Speed — FSB 533 MHz
- Cache Memory — 2 MB L2 cache
- Memory — 1 GB (2 x 512) DDR RAM (PC2700, 333 MHz)
- Hard Disk — 100 GB 5400 RPM (Enhanced IDE ATA-6)
- Display — 15″ TFT SXGA+ (max res 1400 x 1050 / 24-bit / 16.7 million colours)
- Video card — NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 — PCI Express x16 (max res 1920 x 1440 / 24-bit / 16.7 million colours)
- Video Memory — 64 MB dedicated DDR RAM
- Audio — Stereo speakers — Sound card (MIDI) — Toshiba Bass Enhanced Sound System
- Optical Drive — DVD Super Multi single layer (DVD RW / DVD-RAM)
- Input — Keyboard, Dual pointing device (AccuPoint II and TouchPad)
- Battery — 6-cell lithium-ion battery (marketed autonomy 3h46 (Mobile Mark))
- Size — 338 x 279,7 x 29,7 — 37,2 mm (W x D x H front — rear)
- Weight — 2,8 kg
- Telecom — Fax / modem – 56 Kbps (ITU V90, ITU V17)
- Networking — Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet LAN (10/100/1000 Base-TX),
- Wireless — Wireless LAN (802.11 b/g), Intel Wi-Fi international 802.11b/g,, Bluetooth, Infrared port (FIR)
- Ports — PCMCIA slot (2 x type II or 1 x type III); Port replicator connector; Headphone jack; Microphone jack; Monitor out; Modem (RJ11); Ethernet (RJ45); Parallel port; Serial port; S-Video out; i.LINK/FireWire IEEE1394; 3 x USB 2.0; Bridge Media slot (Memory card 6 in 1supporting SD, SM, MS, MS Pro, MMC, xD); Infrared IrDA
- OS — Windows XP Pro SP2
- Software and utilities — Toshiba ConfigFree; Office OneNote 2003; Sonic RecordNo!; InterVideo WinDVD; Norton Internet Security 2005 (90 days evaluation); Toshiba Power Saver; Toshiba Assist; Toshiba Enhanced SpeedStep; Adobe Acrobat Reader, InterVideo WinDVD Creator Platinum 2, etc
Port Replicator (Advanced Port Replicator III) –
- Reference — PA3314E-1PRP
- Ports — Parallel port; Serial port; Monitor port; 4 USB 2.0; PS/2 keyboard; PS/2 mouse; Audio Line in and Line out; Ethernet (RJ45) and Modem (RJ11) jacks, DC-IN jack, FireWire IEEE1394, DVI port
- Size — 356 x 160 x 54mm
- Weight — 1 kg
We can already make some early comments simply based on the specs. On the good side we can certainly point to the NVIDIA Go 6600 graphic controller (unfortunately it comes with 64 MB dedicated DDR RAM only), the 100GB 5400 RPM hard disk and the extensive number of ports and slots (in particular the conservative approach of providing a parallel port and the 6 in 1 memory card reader). On the bad side, we wonder why Toshiba did not opt for the newest and fastest DDR2 RAM, why not support the 802.11a protocol and last but not least why not have included an ExpressCard slot !
The laptop arrived the day after the order in a nice cardboard box protected by a plastic bag, looking very secure
The port replicator also arrived in a nice cardboard very well protected
Tecra S2 Front with display closed (view larger image)
Front with display closed. On the front side you have (from left to right): Four green/amber LEDs to indicate DC in, power status, battery status and hard disk activity; the infrared receptor; a switch to turn on/off the wireless connection (with a LED to indicate the wireless on/off status); the headphone and microphone jacks; the built-in internal microphone; a volume control.
Tecra S2 Left side (view larger image)
Left side. On the left side you have (from left to right): The parallel port; the S-Video port; a big opening for ventilation; the PC Card slot which can accommodate two PC card type II or one PC card type III; the multi digital media card slot which supports 6 formats (SD, SM, MS, MS Pro, MMC, xD) and a LED to indicate the card is accessed; the i.LINK (IEEE 1394) port to connect an external device such as digital video camera.
Tecra S2 right side (view larger image)
Right side. On the right side you have (from left to right): Three USB (2.0) ports; the optical media drive (CD/DVD bay); the serial port.
Tecra S2 back side (view larger image)
Back side. On the back (from left to right): A security lock (Kensington-type hole) to attach a security cable; the modem and LAN jacks; the external monitor port; the DC-IN socket to plug the AC adapter;
Underside. On the underside of the computer you have: The battery pack (with a latch and a lock to remove and secure it); the docking port (with two holes to ensure proper connection); the expansion memory socket; the select bay latch and lock (to remove and secure the select bay); a fan vent
Tecra S2 front view (view larger image)
Front with display open. Once you open the display, you have (on the top): The silver power button (whose surroundings shine green when on and show a nice pulsating amber when in standby mode) and next to it there are two configurable buttons. The Toshiba presentation button to switch between LCD and LCD/CRT (or projector) and the Toshiba Assist button to access Toshiba Assist (a menu with some Toshiba tools, utilities and options for support) or any other application (this is configurable). On top of the keyboard, next to the screen, you have a textured plastic band all along the width of the laptop with two holes on each side for the speakers. You also have the AccuPointII pointing device (with two control buttons) and the Touchpad (with two control buttons). The keyboard has three additional LEDs (the Caps Lock, the Arrow Mode to use the keypad overlay as cursor keys and the Numeric Mode to use the keypad overlay for numeric input).
Keyboard and touchpad
Initial impressions of the Tecra S2 keyboard were rather good. Some flex, not the clicking sound of a ThinkPad nor the same long travel, but the precision and comfort seemed good (although the keys seem smaller than on my Dell). I heard many people complaining about the position of some keys on Toshiba’s keyboard (the delete and insert keys next to the space bar, the lack of a right ctrl key and some other discrepancies with usual notebook keyboards). I think we can simply get used to it very quickly.
But when using it intensively, there are however some little details I don’t like on the keyboard: The spacebar is really small (due to the 4 keys on its right, but I think this is specific to European AZERTY keyboards), the enter key is also quite small (because of the Home/End/PgDn/PgUp keys on its right), also annoying, when typing too fast some keystrokes are not taken, and finally the feel is not identical on all keys (more travel and more flex on the keys located on the left side of the keyboard but I think this is specific to my unit). After three weeks I really got irritated with these minor issues (especially the last two).
The touchpad is horrible and the pointing stick is average. The touchpad is pretty standard, with a smooth dark surface, with two buttons which do not feel too stiff or too soft. The touchpad also includes two scrolling bars on the right and bottom. Unfortunately it is not very precise. The pointing stick works fine but after a while your finger will start hurting. There are plenty of options associated with the Touchpad/Pointing stick available from the control panel but even with those options I could not fine tune the touchpad to my needs. For those not used to working with a pointing stick, I strongly recommend using a mouse.
You can use the touchpad/pointing stick together with a mouse when connecting the mouse to an USB port but not when connecting the mouse to the PS/2 mouse connector of the port replicator. It’s a pity!
The screen is simply fantastic (probably one of the best features of this laptop). The SXGA+ resolution (1400 x 1050) is great, the readability as well due to high image crispness and a broad viewing angle. The brightness can be adjusted via the Toshiba Power Saver utility. Unfortunately Toshiba do not propose a UXGA option in Europe.
Sound and Multi Media
The sound out of this laptop is quite good for a business oriented model (of course the power output is limited and the bass is low but you cannot expect more from those tiny speakers). The speakers are located just above the keyboard. A nice feature is the volume control wheel on the front side of the case. It lets you change the volume without going to the XP control panel. Looking in the device manager, it appears that the sound controller is Realtek AC97 Audio.
This laptop arrived with a DVD Super Multi optical drive. It’s a DVD RW / DVD-RAM which has the following speed characteristics: Read – 24x (CD) / 8x (DVD); Write — 24x (CD) / 8x (DVD R); Rewrite — 10x (CD) / 4x (DVD RW) / 3x (DVD-RAM).
It is definitely nice specs, but I already had two frustrations with the optical drive: it does support the Ultra Speed CD-RW (24x) but does not support the new Ultra Speed+ CD-RW (32x). Secondly, when ordering I really thought the DVD was supporting Double Layer but actually it does not (the specs were not too clear on that point).
On top of that, the machine is equipped with a flash memory card reader (6 in 1 Bridge Media slot they call it) which supports SD Card, SmartMedia , Memory Stick , Memory Stick Pro , MultiMedia Card and xD-Picture Card . This is quite unusual on a business notebook but I found it a great idea from Toshiba to integrate this nice device on almost all of their laptops.
To support these hardware devices, Toshiba provides the following software:
- Sonic RecordNow! Sonic RecordNow! Provides features to record digital music, video and data on CDs and DVDs. The version provided is the RecorNow version 7 basic. I suggest reading the following review of the software http://www.cdfreaks.com/article/197 to know more about it. As mentioned in this article there are they are positives points (Very easy to use; Good results were obtained; Simple for beginners; Low price) but also some negative points (Very limited features; Too many features require an upgrade to at extra cost to function; Wrongly reported CD space) and I fully share the conclusion “This program is not Nero or Easy CD Creator but a program for burning music and data off of your computer quickly and easily. With the added label creator this is a package that will appeal to the beginner burner or someone that just wants to create there CD’s and run without having to worry”
- InterVideo WinDVD. Well known and a powerful DVD decoder/player with very good picture and audio quality.
- InterVideo WinDVD Creator Platinum 2. Also a very well known product. WinDVD Creator Platinum 2 is an easy to use application that captures video (for instance a camcorder connected via the IEEE-1394 cable), allows editing and menu creation and burns the content to CD, DVD or your hard drive. The four step process (capture, edit, author and burn) is easy to follow and is very intuitive for those who have some experience with similar software CD/DVD creation products. I suggest reading the following review http://www.laaudiofile.com/windvdc2.html. This software is not pre-installed on the laptop but provided on a CD.
Port replicator front side (view larger image)
A port replicator has two major benefits: it eliminates the hassle of connecting multiple cables time after time (cables remain connected to the replicator and you simply plug/unplug the laptop from the replicator) and it adds some extra ports. A port replicator was one of my key requirements for selecting a laptop. I wanted something more sophisticated than the universal USB port replicator from Acer, Asus, etc. I rapidly realized that apart from IBM, HP and Toshiba very few brands had laptops with a dedicated docking/replicator port. The IBM docking solution is bulky and its port replicator misses some important extra ports (only 1 USB port). The HP one was fine in terms of ports but was also a bit bulky. The Toshiba Advanced Port Replicator III really drew my attention: it is slim and light and contains all the ports I needed: Parallel port, serial port, monitor port, 4 USB ports, PS/2 keyboard and mouse, Ethernet and modem jacks, Audio line in and out, FireWire, it has its own power supply, etc (see the specs at the beginning)
Port replicator back side (view larger image)
I really found this solution stylish and convenient. In addition, connecting your laptop to the port replicator does not disable the port of your laptop (concretely you end up with 7 USB ports).
Tecra S2 in port replicator (view larger image)
The only minor issue I have discovered so far when using the port replicator is the fact that when I connect a mouse to the PS/2 port of the port replicator, then the touchpad and pointing device are disabled and even with the numerous settings from the control panel, I never managed to have them work together. I found a workaround by connecting the mouse to a USB port (in that case, the touchpad and pointing stick remain enabled)
Heat, fans, power management and battery
Here comes the most annoying point of this laptop: fan noise and heat!!! When running at full power the fans are constantly running (and this is noisy). A lot of heat is generated and evacuated via the vent on the left side (unfortunately this heat comes straight on your left hand). In addition, the whole case (palm rest) gets warm after an hour or two. Luckily there is a utility (see below Toshiba Power Saver) to mitigate this by decreasing the power consumption and adjusting the cooling method but (see below) effect is limited.
- Toshiba Power Saver is a very nice power management utility that overwrites the power options from the XP Control Panel. You can adjust different sets of power management settings and associate them to a “Profile”. There are “Power usage settings” to balance between maximum performance and reduced power consumption (eg by setting the LCD brightness or CPU speed or by setting the cooling method). You can adjust “Power down settings” to determine how and when your LCD, hard drive, or the system itself will power down when not being used. You can also set up “Actions” to occur when pressing the power button or closing the display of your notebook PC (eg standby, hibernate, shut down, request password when resuming, etc). There are six predefined “Profiles” (Full Power, High Power, Normal, Long Life, etc) to be used in the most common user environments. You can use these profiles, adjust them or even create your own custom profiles.
As mentioned the Power Saver is a very nice utility, I did try all the possible settings but never succeed in solving my fan and heat problems!! Even with all the settings set to minimize the power consumption (CPU speed to min, LCD to min brightness) and the Cooling Method set to “Battery Optimized” (i.e. the system is cooled by slowing CPU speed, and the fan is started only when necessary) I could not avoid the fan to run almost constantly and the heat to blow from the vent.
Battery life is average to low for a Pentium M model. I run two tests, one with all Power Saver Settings set to “max power consumption” and one with all settings set to “min power consumption”.
Input & output and connectivity
- Toshiba ConfigFree is a superb set of utilities for configuring networks. It contains several utilities: “Connectivity Doctor” diagnoses the network connection status, if a problem is found, it is displayed along with the cause and possible solutions; the function “Search for wireless devices” searches for wireless LAN devices and Bluetooth devices currently used in the neighbourhood, and displays the information about these devices on a virtual map. “SUMMIT” is a utility to create a virtual conference room with other members who are using ConfigFree on the network. You can send files to other members who are participating in the conference easily (either by sending the file directly or by copying the file to common storage area). “Devices setting” is another utility to enable and disable network devices. It enables the changing of properties of your wired and wireless LAN devices and enables automatically switching between wired and wireless LAN connections. “Profile setting” enables a faster and more efficient network configuration by managing the network configuration as a profile. When is selected, the network configuration of the computer switches to the network configuration of that profile. Finally “Quick connect” can be used to configure a wireless LAN connection (ad hoc connection) between the laptop and a Toshiba Wireless device. There is however one concern with this nice utility which is resource utilization and impact on performance.
Performance was not my main priority when choosing this laptop. I knew that with a PM760 running at 2.00GHz and 1GB memory I would be on the safe side for what I had to do. I only ran SuperPI and PCMark05 benchmarks with the power savings set to full power configuration and by disabling other programs like ConfigFree, Norton, etc.
Super Pi is used to get a benchmark of processor speed. The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy. Calculating to 2 million digits is a frequent benchmark:
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Toshiba Tecra S2 (2.00 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 41s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) ||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|Sony VAIO S170P (1.5 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 07s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m|
It is important to note that this benchmark will significantly change with other settings. For instance, I ran SuperPI with power saving option set to ‘Long Life battery” and without disabling the applications in the background and it took 8m07 to calculate Pi to 2 million digits.
PCMark05 is an analytical tool for measuring the overall performance of PCs in a home environment usage. PCMark05 tests CPU, the memory subsystem, graphics memory, hard disk drive(s), 2D & 3D graphics capabilities.
|Test||Tecra S2 (Pentium M 760 2.00 GHz)|
|HDD – XP Startup||5.985363 MB/s|
|Physics and 3D||145.754562 fps|
|3D – Pixel Shader||54.121391 fps|
|Web Page Rendering||3.020450 pages/s|
|File Decryption||49.600731 MB/s|
|Graphics Memory||49.600731 MB/s|
|HDD – General Usage||4.185269 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 — Text edit||54.932514 pages/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 — Image Decompression||10.945502 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 – File Compression||2.299415 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 – File Encryption||12.624740 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 – HDD – Virus Scan||8.216782 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 – Memory Latency – Random 16 MB||7.009942 MAccesses/s|
Those results are rather disappointing. For comparison the IBM T43 (PM750 1.86GHz with 60GB, 7200RPM Hard Drive and 512MB DDR2 SDRAM) scored better on almost all tests (see http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=2285)
Subjectively, I think this laptop gives quite adequate performance but certainly not a Formula One speed laptop. I used to work with an IBM T42p (PM745 1.80 GHz, 1BG Ram, 60GB 7200RPM hard disk) and I feel the IBM is faster, especially in amount of time to come back from stand-by and hibernation.
Toshiba put a lot of effort around the security features and in particular a lot of marketing effort on the Toshiba EasyGuard concept.This concept includes features to simplify connectivity (ConfigFree), reinforce system security (function execute disable XD-bit, easy access to system components for easy replacement, diversity of antennas, robust and durable built, etc) and facilitate support (Toshiba Assist)
Next to this, Norton Internet Security 2005 (90 day evaluation version)
A Product Recovery DVD-ROM is also provided (it contains Windows XP Professional Edition SP2 and all the Toshiba custom
Software and utilities
I am quite impressed by the set of useful software utilities provided with this laptop. I already described some of them (Power Saver, RecordNow!, ConfigFree, Norton Internet Security, WinDVD Creator Platinum 2, Lotus OneNote 2003, etc). Some are preinstalled, some others are provided on a CD-ROM
Also worth mentioning is the Toshiba Assist functionality:
- Toshiba Assist is a useful utility which aggregates the other utilities present on the laptop. By default it launches from the Assist button (next to the Power button). It organizes the utilities in different categories: Connect (ConfigFree, bluetooth settings, etc), Secure (Norton Internet Security, Password utility, etc), Protect and Fix (Diagnostic tool, backup, restore, etc), Optimize (Power Saver, Hardware setup, Dual pointing device setup, etc), Expand.
Support and warranty
Because of the fan, heat and keyboard issues I contacted Toshiba’s support. First impression of the help desk was excellent, no queue, very kind and professional persons. They initially suggested some actions to be done by myself (download of the latest BIOS and latest Power Save drivers from Toshiba website and upgrade). I did it without any difficulties (although my laptop was already equipped with the latest version of both the BIOS and the driver but we never know the impact of reinstalling).
This did not resolve the problem at all so they offer to pick up the laptop and investigate the problem. Pick up was a little more laborious because they were unable to stick to the agreed pick up date and time. I finally decided to bring the laptop myself to a given address (in total we lost a full week).
Finally I got my case back 20 days later and the conclusions were very disappointing: In short, Toshiba kept my laptop for 3 weeks; they ran a series of standard tests (something like 18 hours of test) but could not highlight any kind of defect (compared to the standards in place at Toshiba).
For me it was clear I could not work with such a noisy and uncomfortable notebook without getting irritated after half an hour. I contacted Toshiba’s Customer Service to se if they could take it back or replace it. Conclusions were again very disappointing: In short because there was no demonstrated defect, Toshiba refused to replace or pay back. According to them “during summer days, all powerful notebooks behave the same”. They probably do not know that in May in Belgium the weather is not that hot and that Intel Pentium M processor have a feature called Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology that dynamically adjust the CPU frequency with the application load (which consequently save power and reduce heat).
Conclusion and recommendation
It’s difficult for me to recommend this laptop, I was so upset by the noise of the fans, by the generated heat and by the lack of precision of the keyboard that I decided to return the case and select one from another brand.
But let’s try and stay objective, it has some nice features and the overall quality is still very high. I would summarize its advantages by saying it is a “quality, relatively mobile and good performing desktop replacement”. Here is an overview of the pros and cons as I see them:
- Built quality and general design
- Screen and graphics (quality of the display, nVIDIA Go6600 card)
- Extension, Ports and Interfaces (all is there except PCI ExpressCard)
- Port replicator
- Little extras (wireless on/off switch, volume control wheel, media card reader)
- Software & utilities bundle
- Fan noise and Heat
- Keyboard (too much flex, lack of precision and unusual layout)
- Disappointing performance
- Memory technology (DDR RAM instead of DDR2)
- No PCI ExpressCard slot
- Limited battery life (~ 3 hours)
- Support (helpdesk) and Customer Service
Pricing and Availability