Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-00V05C)

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Toshiba's updated R500 is a remarkably compact and complete machine, making it ideal for business travellers. However, at $3,300 you are paying extra for the privilege of a lighter load, and the screen is a little flimsy.

Test Procedure
We used PCMark Vantage and Battery Eater to assess system performance and battery life respectively. We also provide the "Windows Experience Index" scores provided by Vista. Aside from raw performance, we also consider the Portege R500's physical design issues.

PCMark assesses the machine's overall performance with specific scores given for a variety of usage models; this gives us a useful indicator of performance dealing with typical office tasks. Battery life is tested with Battery Eater (Reader's Test), which gives scores very similar to MobileMark. Battery life is assessed with the screen set at 40 per cent brightness.

Usability issues include location (and type) of ports and buttons as well as image quality and additional software utilities. Construction elements of interest are the laptop's case material quality and ease of opening for maintenance and upgrades. Sound quality is also considered along with the software included with the Portege R500.

Design and Features
Our first reaction on seeing this laptop was wow, look at the thin screen! Our second reaction was yikes, look how flexible the screen is! So how small is it? It bears a 12.1-inch, 1,280x800-pixel widescreen and full-sized keys. The weight is specified as "from 999g" — it seems they want to claim "under 1kg". Our review unit weighed 1.1kg with the battery. The footprint of this machine is about A4 size with a thickness of only 25mm (1 inch). Despite its petite form it still has room for a 120GB HDD and DVD drive and BigPond Wireless reception.

The Portege is powered by an ULV U7600 Intel Core 2 Duo processor — an ultra low voltage CPU that is extremely energy efficient. On the downside this is hardly a heavy duty number cruncher given the clock speed of 1.2GHz; still it should serve basic office productivity functions quite adequately. The basic 1GB RAM can be doubled if required using the one spare memory slot.

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The R500 boasts a suite of ports that normally would only be found on larger machines. Despite squeezing in an optical drive there is still room for SD and PCMCIA card slots and the wireless WAN receiver preconfigured for Telstra 3G Broadband services. There are three USB ports, plus VGA, FireWire, Gigabit LAN, audio I/O jacks and docking port.

The mouse buttons were touchy, needing to be pressed more centrally than some we have seen. Also, the touch pad was insensitive at the sides as if scroll regions had been reserved, but were inactive. The 85-key keyboard is silver to match the casing and labelling has good contrast. Status lights appear behind the panel surrounding the mouse buttons. The arrangement is attractive, but perhaps a little too subtle if you actually want to be alerted by these.

Toshiba machines have a utilities menu which appears whenever your mouse strays too near the top of the screen. Frankly, if we want to use these utilities we'd be happy to look for them under the Windows Start menu — we don't need strange and poorly labelled menus popping up without so much as a mouse click! (One also wouldn't mind if there were an easy way to disable it (finding and renaming or deleting the TCrdMain.exe file works nicely).

Apart from BigPond software, trial versions of Microsoft Office and Norton Internet Security are also pre-installed.

Benchmark Test Overall
PCMark Vantage Overall 1,151
Memory 455
TV and Movies 859
Gaming 607
Music 2,015
Communications 1,346
Productivity 1,539
HDD 2,635
Battery Eater 2.7 Reader's Test 156 minutes
Classic Test 257 minutes

Verdict
With an easy workload, the Portege can last over four hours without mains power, and with a heavy load this was reduced to a still useful two and a half hours. Performance was not startling, but certainly good for such a small machine with only a 1.2GHz clock-speed. The results for music handling and hard drive performance were very good. Graphics handling processes were the worst performers — not that anyone would expect serious graphics handling in an ultra-mobile computer. Windows Vista gives the machine the following ratings: Processor, 4.5; Memory, 4.2; Graphics, 2.0; Gaming graphics, 2.8; and HDD, 5.1.

Our main concern is the apparent fragility of the machine — then again, the ability to flex in the wind saves many trees from breaking branches. The image did not react nastily to screen flexing as occurs with some LCDs; the image was clear and bright.

The basic warranty is for just 12 months, but it is extendible to four years with options for on-site service and data recovery service also being available. At $3,300 you are paying extra for the privilege of a lighter load. Nonetheless, the feature set is excellent for such a compact unit.

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