- Built-in fingerprint sensor
- Excellent keyboard
- Dual cursor controls (touchpad and pointing stick)
- Could struggle with some graphics-heavy workloads
- Slightly flimsy lid section
- Only three USB ports
Toshiba’s Tecra range of notebooks is designed with portability in mind, and the Tecra M9 is no exception. It's a small format notebook, yet large enough to accommodate a decent-sized screen and keyboard. Ultraportable it is not, but usable on the move it certainly is. And at an attractive price.
Toshiba has given the Tecra M9L-12K a no-nonsense look and feel. The upper parts of the lid and keyboard sections are a deep silver/grey, while the sides of each section and the underside are black. The keyboard and screen surround are also black. The Toshiba brand name is picked out in reflective silver on the front of the lid, and you can see it from a fair distance.
At 2.4kg, this isn't the lightest of notebooks to carry around. It measures 33.6cm wide by 24.5cm deep and is 3.16cm thick at the front, rising to 3.63cm thick at the back. The general build quality is reasonably good, although there's a fair amount of give in the lid section.
A notebook's size is always a compromise between portability and usability. If you find the keyboards and/or displays on ultraportable systems too small, the dimensions of the Tecra M9 should appeal.
The display measures 14.1in. across the diagonal and delivers a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. This is plenty wide enough to have two working windows open at the same time. Furthermore, the display has a nice non reflective finish, which makes it easy to use in most lighting conditions.
The keyboard's keys appear slightly narrower than they are tall, but this is an optical illusion created by bevelling on their left and right sides. They have a generous return and touch-typing at speed was no problem. A half-height row of function keys is physically separated from the top number row by a narrow band.
A tall Enter key and a column to the far right offering Home, PgUp, PgDn and End are notable keyboard features. Toshiba claims the keyboard area is spill resistant.
Beneath the keyboard is a touchpad with left and right mouse buttons. A second set of buttons sit above the touchpad. These are designed to be used with the pointing stick that nestles between the G, H and B keys.
To the right of the keyboard, buried in the wrist rest, is a fingerprint scanner. The Tecra M9L-12K includes the necessary software for fingerprint scanning and system security.
Three buttons sit above the row of function keys. One is the main power switch. Another is the Toshiba Assist button, which provides access to system settings and features such as password management and controls for the hard drive protection system (see below). The third is for PowerPoint jockeys, and is called the Toshiba Presentation button: this calls up more system settings such as muting, battery status information and external display switching.
There are two models in the range, and we evaluated the slightly less well specified system. We will point out key differences between our review sample and the other model, the M9L-12T which costs £949 (ex. VAT) as. Both machines run Windows Vista Business.
The processor on both models is Intel’s Core 2 Duo T7100 running at 1.8GHz with 2MB of Level 2 cache and an 800MHz frontside bus. There is no Turbo Memory module (also known as Robson), but then we’ve not seen much of this in any Core 2 Duo notebooks to date, and it's currently not as well supported as Intel might like.
The Tecra M9L-12K comes with 1GB of RAM, expandable to a maximum of 4GB, while the Tecra M9L-12T has 2GB. Graphics are handled by Intel’s integrated GMA X3100 module. This can use up to 358MB of memory — 8MB dedicated and 350MB of dynamically allocated system memory.
The 80GB Hitachi hard disk on our review sample is replaced by a 120GB drive on the Tecra M9L-12T. It benefits from anti-shock protection, which seemed to respond more to side-to-side than vertical movement, but it appeared to be pretty sensitive all round. When it was activated, a window popped up to tell us that 'Vibration has been detected in the PC. The hard disk drive head has temporarily been moved to a safer position'. You can deactivate this window if it starts to irritate.
W-Fi is provided by Intel’s Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN adapter. This is part of the Santa Rosa platform, and as well as supporting 802.11a, b and g includes Intel’s own implementation of the Draft-N standard. Bluetooth and Gigabit Ethernet are also present.
Ports and connectors are ranged around all four edges. On the back there's a serial port, an external VGA connector and the power socket. The left edge houses an RJ-11 (modem) port, along with a single USB 2.0 port, a PC Card slot and, beneath it, an SD card slot.
The right edge houses an RJ-45 (Ethernet) port at the back, plus two further USB 2.0 ports. Between these is a bay containing a multi-format dual-layer DVD rewriter.
At the front there's a mini-FireWire (IEEE 1394) connector, microphone and headphone jacks and a volume control wheel. The microphone is also here, along with an on/off switch for wireless communications. This activates both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, although Bluetooth can be turned off individually via its system tray icon. The left of the front edge also houses a bank of status LEDs.
Performance & battery life
Toshiba does not quote battery life for the Tecra M9L-12K, stating on the spec sheet at its web site that there are no official battery benchmark results available. We sympathise with Toshiba’s plight, being unable to run a rigorous test ourselves as the industry-standard Vista-compatible benchmark we want to use, MobileMark 2007, are not yet available.
Anecdotally, however, we forced the notebook to leave its display on and set the screen to maximum brightness, and found we were able to work for around three hours solidly from a full battery charge.In terms of overall performance, the Tecra M9L-12K is a comfortable notebook to use. However it's worth noting that Vista’s Windows Experience Index rated the notebook at 3.5, while the maximum score is 5.9. Looked at in more detail the WEI rating reveals that graphics processing brings the overall score down. If you intend to do a lot of graphics-intensive work you may find the Tecra M9L-12K's integrated graphics a bit limiting.
The Tecra M9L-12K is a nicely designed notebook. It lacks pizzazz, but where it matters (screen size and keyboard, for example) it's an ergonomic system. The fingerprint sensor will appeal to the security conscious, and our only real complaints are the slightly flimsy lid section, the presence of three — rather than four — USB 2.0 ports, and the possibility that the system may lack graphical horsepower.