Toshiba has added the new 2GHz version of the mobile Pentium 4-M to its thin-and-light Tecra 9100 notebook. Besides the new chip, this solid business notebook hasn't changed much from its predecessor, except that it's even more expensive. Additionally, the slick-looking, all-silver magnesium-alloy case now has a plastic base. But the notebook's smoking performance and wealth of cutting-edge features should make up for its quirks. Toshiba has added the new 2GHz version of the mobile Pentium 4-M to its thin-and-light Tecra 9100 notebook. Besides the new chip, this solid business notebook hasn't changed much from its predecessor, except that it's even more expensive. Additionally, the slick-looking, all-silver magnesium-alloy case now has a plastic base. But the notebook's smoking performance and wealth of cutting-edge features should make up for its quirks.
Slick and loaded
At 12.2 by 10.6 by 1.5 inches and 5.3 pounds (6 pounds with the power supply), the top-of-the-line, 2GHz Tecra 9100 is a midsized beauty. The well-equipped configuration starts with the 2GHz mobile Pentium 4-M, 512MB of PC2100 DDR SDRAM (expandable to 1GB), and a 16MB S3 SuperSavage/IXC graphics chipset. You also get a decent-sized 40GB, 5,400rpm hard drive and a bright, 14.1-inch, TFT display with a 1,024x768 (XGA) native resolution. The plentiful connection options include an SD (Secure Digital) slot; dual Type II/single Type III PC Card slots; and modem, Ethernet, monitor, PS/2, four-pin FireWire; S-Video; and two USB ports. An external USB floppy drive costs extra. Antennae for 802.11 (Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth wireless networking are built into the lid, but you'll need to spend extra money for a module to complete the setup.
The Tecra 9100's modular Slim SelectBay is particularly useful for business users. The bay can accommodate a selection of Toshiba-manufactured devices, including a second battery or hard drive, as well as the 8X/24X/8X/8X combo DVD/CD-RW drive in our test unit and other flavors of optical drive.
Looks aren't everything
The only thing we didn't like about the Tecra 9100 was its host of input devices. For starters, the keyboard layout threw us. The Delete key is just to the right of the spacebar rather than in the upper corner, as on standard Windows keyboards, so we often lost track of it while typing. The left Alt key is one button over from the spacebar, which can be confusing if you Alt-Tab a lot. Toshiba says it moved these and a few other buttons to avoid accidental hits. We also wish Toshiba had integrated the innovative touchpad found on the Toshiba Satellite 5105-S607 instead of restricting us to a trackpoint. Finally, the multiple rows of mouse buttons can be confusing; it's not clear which are for clicking and which are for scrolling.
High performance scores
Although you might work a bit more slowly as you adjust to some of the Tecra 9100's keyboard and mousing quirks, the notebook's processor muscle will quickly take up the slack. The Toshiba's performance ranks in the middle of that of other 2GHz P4-M systems we've tested. For example, Dell's Inspiron 8200 beat the Tecra 9100 by 5.6 percent overall; the bigger, desktop-replacement Dell was faster on office-productivity tasks, whereas the two systems tied on multimedia and content tasks. But the Tecra raced 13.5 percent ahead of the WinBook N4 overall and opened an especially big lead on office-productivity duties.
Notebooks with the P4-M chip are hard on battery life in general, but the new Tecra 9100 is harder than most. Its battery held out for only 2 hours, 8 minutes, whereas the Dell and the WinBook lasted 22 and 13 minutes longer, respectively.
Solid service and support
Toshiba supports the Tecra 9100 well. The three-year warranty includes two-business-day repair service and 24/7 tech support via a toll-free line. The manuals and documentation are superb. Toshiba's Web site also offers a wealth of information. The only weak spot in Toshiba's support is that you have to arrange--and pay--for getting the Tecra to a repair shop if something goes wrong.
The Tecra 9100 may be pricey, but the cost is mostly justified by the notebook's swift performance and useful feature set, not to mention the company's exemplary support. The layout of the keyboard and the input devices is definitely quirky, however, and may turn impatient business users to more traditionally designed machines.
--By Charlotte Dunlap and Dan Littman
100=performance of a test machine with a PIII-800, 128MB of PC133 CL2 SDRAM, Creative Labs GeForce Annihilator 2 32MB, and Windows 2000 (Service Pack 1)
Longer bars indicate better performance
Battery life test
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance
Dell Inspiron 8200 (Pentium 4-M-1.8GHz)
Windows XP Home; Pentium 4-M-1.8GHz; 256MB DDR RAM, Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 64MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Dell Inspiron 8200 (Pentium 4-M-2GHz)
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-2GHz; 512MB DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 32MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Pro; mobile Pentium 4-M 1,700MHz; 512MB RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm
Toshiba Satellite 5005-S607
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-1.7GHz; 512MB DDR RAM; Nvidia GeForce4 440 Go 32MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Toshiba Tecra 9100
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-2GHz; 256MB PC2100 DDR SDRAM; S3 Graphics SuperSavage/IXC1179 16MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-2GHz; 256MB DDR (PC2100) SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce2 Go 16MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm
The thin-and-light Tecra 9100, featuring the new 2GHz mobile P4-M, was beaten by the bigger Dell Inspiron 8200. But the Tecra did handled the WinBook well. The Tecra's battery life was a barely adequate 128 minutes.