Weighing just a hair over five pounds, the Toshiba Tecra M3 is one of the lightest laptops in the business thin-and-light category. Despite its modest dimensions, the Tecra M3 houses its fair share of design perks, such as an external Wi-Fi on/off switch and a volume wheel. Unfortunately, the system was also light on performance and battery life in CNET Labs' benchmarks. While we like its overall design, the Tecra M3 isn't cheap enough to justify its middling test scores.
Measuring 12.4 inches wide, 10.2 inches deep, and 1.2 inches thick, the Tecra M3's dimensions are nearly identical to those of its thin-and-light corporate competitors, such as the IBM ThinkPad R52 and the Dell Latitude D610. However, the five-pound Tecra M3 weighs almost half a pound less than the Latitude D610 and almost a full pound less than the ThinkPad R52. Like the other models, the Tecra M3's compact AC adapter adds approximately 0.8 pound to the package.
The beauty of the Tecra M3's design is that, while highly portable, it still accommodates many design niceties. It offers a full-size keyboard that's comfortable to type on, as well as a pointing stick and a touch pad that we wish were just a bit bigger; however, the touch pad does have handy arrows running along its right and bottom edges to help you figure out exactly where to place your finger for scrolling through documents and Web pages. Both pointing devices include their own pair of generously sized mouse buttons. The Tecra M3's front edge features a useful volume wheel and a wireless on/off switch that make sound and Wi-Fi adjustment convenient. Finally, two quick-launch buttons sit above the keyboard, one of which can be programmed to open the application of your choice. The other adjusts the display output settings when the laptop is connected to a digital projector, an external monitor, or a TV.
You can pick up a preconfigured Tecra M3 at various computer stores, through several online resellers, and on Toshiba's Web site. If you go the latter route, you can also build your own system. CNET's Tecra M3 series review offers more information on component choices.
We tested a version of the Tecra M3 that featured pretty average parts for its $1,699 (as of May 2005) price. Our unit was equipped with a 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M 740 Sonoma processor; 512MB of speedy 533MHz RAM; an Intel Pro Wireless b/g card; and a DVD/CD-RW drive for its internal, hot-swappable bay. Our Tecra M3's 14.1-inch display (1,024x768 native resolution), graphics chip with 64MB of dedicated video RAM, and 60GB hard drive are also typical among thin-and-lights. And though Toshiba does offer hard drives that spin up to 7,200rpm, the 4,200rpm hard drive in our test unit is slower than those typically found in corporate thin-and-lights.
In CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, the system ran 11 percent behind another 1.73GHz Pentium M-based corporate laptop, the ThinkPad R52, and 12 percent behind the 2.0GHz Pentium M Dell Latitude D610. Employees working with basic business applications, such as e-mail and Word, will not notice this speed difference, but those who deal with big PowerPoint presentations, giant databases, or other intensive applications will find the Tecra M3 too slow. On average, Sonoma laptops' batteries last at least 200 minutes, but the Tecra M3's lasted just 184 minutes--decent, but not great compared to the ThinkPad R52's 217 minutes and the Latitude D610's 249 minutes (though it has a larger battery).
Though we'd prefer to see more than two side-by-side USB 2.0 ports on the Tecra M3, the system offers an otherwise gratifying list of connectors. Highlights include Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, S-Video-out, and parallel ports, plus one Type II PC Card slot, one ExpressCard/54 slot, and a third slot for SD cards. Given the Tecra M3's business bent, it's no surprise that our test unit came loaded with Windows XP Professional. Toshiba threw in a token copy of the mini office suite, plus InterVideo WinDVD Creator, Sonic RecordNow, and Sonic DLA for burning and playing CDs and DVDs. The laptop also comes preloaded with Toshiba's useful ConfigFree software, which includes a handy wireless utility that displays the distance of all the Wi-Fi networks in your area on a bull's-eye-style map and lets you connect to the one you want via a simple drag-and-drop method. While our test unit didn't sport a secure Trusted Platform Module chip, Toshiba does offer it as an option.
The Tecra M3 ships with a three-year warranty, which is becoming the standard for corporate thin-and-lights. The term includes postage-paid, return-to-depot service, though you can up the ante to onsite service, accidental damage protection, and more by purchasing one of Toshiba's many service extension plans. You can also access 24/7, free phone support during your warranty period. Toshiba's support Web site lists the customary FAQs and downloads, along with a link to a helpful user forum run by the Windows Users Group Network.
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Dell Latitude D610
Windows XP Pro; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X300 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm
IBM ThinkPad R52
Windows XP Pro; 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M 735; 512MB DDR SDRAM; Intel 915GM/GMS 910GML Express 128MB; Hitachi 5K100 40GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Pro; 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M 740; 512MB DDR SDRAM; NVIDIA GeForce Go6600 TE/6200TE 64MB+A22; Toshiba MK6025GAS 60Gb