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Toshiba Tecra A9

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Toshiba hoped to create a desktop replacement model with their Tecra A9 series, allowing a customer to use the same machine at the office, at home and on the road.

Test Procedure
PCMark2005, 3DMark06, Cinebench 9.5, and Sandra Pro provide us with our hard performance scores when testing. We also provide the "Windows Experience Index" scores provided by Vista. Aside from raw performance, we also consider a number of physical design issues.

PCMark assesses the machine's overall performance with specific scores given for CPU, memory, graphics and HDD; this gives us a useful indicator of performance dealing with typical office tasks. 3DMark and Cinebench are indicators of the machine's graphics capabilities.

We also use Sandra Pro to give some specific figures on processor, memory and drive performance. Battery life is tested with Battery Eater (Reader's Test), which gives scores very similar to MobileMark. Useability issues include location (and type) of ports and buttons as well image quality (where monitors are provided) and additional software utilities.

Construction elements of interest are case material quality and ease of opening for maintenance and upgrades. Sound quality is also considered along with the software included with the machine.

Design and Features
Toshiba label this machine as a "high performance desktop replacement". It came supplied with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of RAM. Only one memory slot is used and the system RAM can be upgraded to 4GB. There is a big 120GB hard drive (other A9 models come with only 80GB drives). Graphics handling relies on integrated Intel GMA965GM which can use up to 251MB system memory.

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The built-in stereo speakers delivery good sound with an impressive volume. The screen provides good colour and sharp images, though brightness could improve for use is brighter environments.

The Tecra is cased in black and silver. The black keyboard is of standard size with large lettering for primary functions, but secondary function labels are pale and overly small. The machine gives a feeling of space with power, screen output and "Toshiba Assist" buttons being placed to the left of the keyboard. It is a generously sized machine, having a 15.4-inch WXGA screen with a 1,280 x 800 resolution. The screen is well supported -- although the screen can flex the resulting image smearing is mild. The touchpad is silver to match the pleasing keyboard surrounds, but the rough surface texture is somewhat unpleasant.

The front of the case includes the usual status lights, wireless switch and audio I/O jacks. There are two USB ports on the left beside slots for PCMCIA and SD/Memory Stick/xD cards. The right side bears a rewritable DVD drive, plus an additional USB port. At the rear we find only VGA output plus network and modem ports. There is also a fingerprint reader below the keyboard and a port-replicater slot on the underside. Bluetooth is also included in the review machine.

When all your precious data is on a mobile machine, security becomes a very serious issue. The Tecra A9 addresses this problem in several ways. The most obvious method is fingerprint validation for log-on. Security begins at the hardware/BIOS level with password protection for system start-up and the hard disk and Trusted Platform Module which protects encryption systems. Protection against shock and accidental liquid spills is also included.

The operating system is Microsoft Vista Business, with Adobe Acrobat Reader, DVD tools and a raft of tools for system recovery and management also provided. There is also some preinstalled trial-ware -- MS Office 2007 and Norton Internet Security 2007. Windows "Mobility Centre" and Toshiba specific software tools are instantly accessible via a dedicated button near the power switch -- a feature that can save you much time in browsing menus.

Performance

Benchmark Test Score
PCMark05 Score 5128
CPU 5653
Memory 4582
Graphics 3000
HDD 4197
3DMark06 Score 1347
CPU 1932
Cinebench 9.5 Rendering (1x CPU) 379
Rendering (2x CPU) 682
C4D Shading 444
OpenGL SW-L 1197
OpenGL HW-L 1981
Sandra Pro Lite 11.17 Processor, Arithmetic 19918MIPS ; 13950MFLOPS
Processor, Multimedia 5121444 it/s ; 65105 it/s
File System 39MB/s ; 9ms
Memory Bandwidth 4324MB/s
Battery Eater 2.7 Reader's Test 368 minutes
Classic Test 228 minutes

Verdict
While the Integrated GMA965 isn't great for gaming, it is able to handle standard graphics features such as Windows Aero. Hard drive performance and general processor performance is more than enough for most users. Windows Vista gives the machine the following performance scores: Processor, 66% (4.9); Memory, 59% (4.5); Graphics, 64% (4.8); Gaming graphics, 37% (3.2); Hard drive, 66% (4.9).

Battery life is not spectacular at about three and a half hours, but larger machines can be expected to be power hungry and a larger battery pack is available. Toshiba appear to be designing for indoor portability rather than outdoor usage away from mains power; certainly the screen brightness is inadequate for outdoors use. On the other hand Toshiba expect this machine to take some knocks, the HDD, for example, is protected by motion sensors that disengage the head when potentially harmful shocks are detected.

A plethora of service and warranty options are available with the Tecra A9. The basic level is a 12-month warranty with complimentary pickup and delivery when servicing. Warranties can be extended to three years and other options include theft insurance and onsite servicing.

For AU$2,310, you can certainly find better performance in lower-priced machines, but the Tecra does have the advantage of good security and durability. It is our opinion that a slight reduction in system speed justifies the added security, software and warranty features available with the Tecra A9.

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