Toshiba Tecra M1

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Toshiba always offers a compelling lineup of business notebook features, and the company pulls out all the stops with the Tecra M1. The Tecra M1 series offers the newest and fastest components available. The system we tested included the 1.6GHz Pentium M (PM), Intel's 855 mobile chipset, and the optional Intel wireless 802.11b networking solution, making it a true Centrino system. Throw in a 60GB 5,400rpm hard drive, a DVD burner, and Bluetooth wireless personal-area networking, and you have a fast and capable system designed for the road. Given the Tecra M1's 1.6GHz PM and its relatively high price tag, however, we expected a lighter weight and better than the second-best performance we found in testing.The Toshiba Tecra M1 makes a strong first impression with a classy black-and-silver design that looks formal enough for a CEO and utilitarian enough for those on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

Despite its good looks, the Tecra M1 is bigger and heavier than the Tecra 9100 series it replaces. At 1.6 by 12.2 by 10.8 inches, the Tecra M1's rounded case is a little pudgy, and it's thicker and wider than the Compaq Evo N620c's. The Tecra M1 weighs only 6.1 pounds, but its 1-pound AC adapter brings the system's travel weight to 7.1 pounds. This is a few ounces more than the Acer TravelMate 803LCi, which has a larger screen (15 inches, to the Tecra M1's 14.1 inches). You can swap the optical drive with a blank module that Toshiba supplies, slimming down the weight to more modest 5.5 pounds, but the Compaq Evo N620c weighs roughly that with a drive in place.

With a 14.1-inch screen, the Tecra M1 can show video on an external monitor or projector at 2,048x1,536 resolution in full color. During our weeklong workout with the Tecra M1, we found that the keyboard screen-brightness adjustment had no effect, but its Brightness Sensor Control, which uses a light-level sensor above the keyboard, worked fine.

The Tecra M1's keyboard doesn't disappoint. While it lacks the firmness of the ThinkPad T40, the 19.5mm springy keys have a generous 2.4mm of depth, making for a comfortable experience. Unfortunately, the G, H, and B keys have pieces cut out of them to make room for the system's pointing stick, making it somewhat hard to hit the keys without also nicking the pointing stick. The pointing stick is flanked by two mouse buttons, and the Tecra M1 also includes a small touchpad, with two more mouse buttons.

Audio plugs on the front of the notebook make it easy to connect headphones or a microphone, but the Tecra M1 has neither external audio CD controls nor an S/PDIF connector to link it with high-end speakers. It does have a handy thumbwheel for adjusting the volume, however. All told, the SoundMax sound chip does well but doesn't really get loud enough, and as with the Evo N620c, the Tecra M1's Andrea noise-reduction microphone doesn't help.

With a single fan on the bottom of the Tecra M1, the system remains cool whether charging or running on battery power. The notebook's elaborate cooling system pushes excess heat through a heat pipe and radiator to the fan. Every bit as functional as a Porsche exhaust system and graceful as a Frank Gehry building, it's a shame that it's hidden from view.

Beneath the plastic skin of the Tecra M1 beats the heart of a true-blue Centrino notebook (read more about Centrino technology here). It's one of the most up-to-date available, with features galore. The Tecra M1's top-of-the-line, 1.6GHz Pentium M processor is matched with a 5,400rpm hard drive that can hold 60GB of data and 512MB of 266MHz RAM. Like most of its peers, the system accommodates up to 2GB of RAM, for data hogs.

Based on a 14.1-inch SXGA+ screen, and a Trident Cyber-XP4 graphics accelerator with 32MB of dedicated memory, the Tecra M1 lags behind more advanced Pentium M video systems. The Dell Inspiron 600m and the Acer TravelMate 803LCi, for example, both include the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 chip and twice as much video memory, making them much more suitable for graphics-intensive tasks or games.

Wireless is front and center, as with all new members of the Centrino family, with an on/off switch for air travel and sensitive locations. The Tecra M1 includes both Wi-Fi (via Intel's wireless/Pro 2100 802.11b wireless data radio) and Bluetooth data radios, so you'll probably be able to communicate but will have to choose between the two. Around the edges of the system lies an impressive complement of ports that will prove useful for workers on the road, including legacy parallel and serial ports, one FireWire connection, a trio of USB 2.0 slots, and external monitor and S-Video ports. You also get two Type II PC Card slots and the bonus of a Secure Digital slot for tiny postage stamp-sized flash cards. The notebook includes modem and LAN connectors as well as an infrared data window.

The Tecra M1 features a single modular bay and can hit the road with a variety of optical drives as well as a second battery or hard drive. Unlike most notebooks, Pentium M or otherwise, our test model included a mobile DVD burner, which can write up to 4.7GB of data to DVD-RW media at 1X and DVD-RAM at 2X; it can also read CDs and DVDs at 24X and 8X, respectively, and write to CD-R (16X) or DVD-R (4X) and CD-RW at 8X. It conforms to the DVD MultiFormat specification, making its compatibility a mixed bag: It can read and write DVD-R/RW media and read DVD-ROMs, DVD Audio and Video discs, and DVD-RAMs. The drive can't deal with DVD+RW media, however. The system includes a handy external USB floppy drive.

Outfitted for corporations who like to load their own software, the Tecra M1 includes Windows XP Professional and little more. However, additional standouts include Toshiba's excellent array of utilities for power management and for updating the system's software. Our favorite is ConfigFree, a nice program for changing communications settings and getting online wirelessly, although we could have done without the program's annoying ringing bell and doorbell tones.

Mobile application performance
Compared to the other thin-and-light Pentium M systems we tested, the Toshiba Tecra M1 is at the shallow end of the mobile-performance pool. The 1.6GHz Pentium M-based system tied for third place. It was 12 points behind the Dell Latitude D600 and scored the same as the IBM ThinkPad T40, which has a slower hard drive.