The Tecra A5 offers sufficient performance and a decent array of features for most business users, but you can find less expensive options.
There's nothing wrong with the mainstream Toshiba Tecra A5 laptop. It offers a fairly light though largely nondescript case; lots of unremarkable components, such as a Celeron M processor and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive; average performance and battery life; and a decent price of $999. Unfortunately, none of these mundane attributes makes the Tecra A5 just so right you gotta have it. For an especially cheap business-oriented portable, find an identically configured Dell Latitude D510; for a more expensive and full-featured package, go with the ThinkPad R52.
Where size and weight are concerned, the Tecra A5 resides on the wider yet lighter side of the business/mainstream divide. It weighs 5.1 pounds and measures 13.5 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 1.2 inches thick. In contrast, the Dell Latitude D510 and the ThinkPad R52 have narrower cases but weigh nearly a pound more than the Tecra A5. The Tecra A5's heavy AC adapter adds just under a pound to your total travel weight.
The staid silver-and-black, corporate-looking Tecra A5 is a stripped-down version of the system's more colorful, more expensive consumer counterpart, the Satellite M55. Though both laptops feature an identical keyboard layout, the Tecra A5's clattery board feels cheap compared to the sturdy, extraquiet one on the Satellite M55. Both portables feature small mouse buttons, but their touch pads are large and comfortable to use. Like the Satellite M55, the Tecra A5 offers a wide-aspect, 14-inch display with a 1,280x768 native resolution, but this business-focused portable lacks the multimedia controls and the Harman Kardon speakers found on its consumer-oriented cousin. The Tecra A5 does feature two programmable application buttons next to the keyboard, and its front edge has a handy Wi-Fi on/off switch and a volume wheel.
The Tecra A5 incorporates a complete set of connectors that will suit the needs of most business employees. First and foremost, it offers four USB 2.0 ports--one more than you'll usually find on a mainstream portable. The list also includes S-Video-out, four-pin FireWire, and VGA ports; modem, Ethernet, microphone, and headphone jacks; one Type II PC Card slot; and a 5-in-1 flash-card slot that accepts tiny Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, and xD-Picture media. As you would expect with such a low-priced laptop, the Tecra A5 lacks such heavy-duty security features as a Trusted Platform Module or a fingerprint reader.
Due to its business bent, the Tecra A5 ships with the Windows XP Professional operating system. Like most other business-laptop manufacturers, Toshiba doesn't bundle an expensive productivity suite with the system, but it does throw in a copy of the Microsoft Works 8.0 minisuite for businesses that are still in need of the basics. Otherwise, the Tecra A5 includes the usual software suspects: Sonic RecordNow and DLA (Drive Letter Access) to help with disc-burning tasks; InterVideo WinDVD 5.0 for assistance with watching videos; and Toshiba's convenient ConfigFree utility for programming the system's application buttons, configuring wireless settings, and performing other maintenance tasks on the laptop.
Though our Tecra A5-S116 test model is available only from retail stores and online resellers, you can buy other configurations in the Tecra A5 series through Toshiba's Web site. The Tecra A5-S116 comes in just a dollar short of $1,000 (as of September 2005), which is an appropriate price for its commonplace components: an economical 1.5GHz Celeron M 370 processor; a scant 256MB of middling 333MHz SDRAM (we recommend at least 512MB for any business system); a small 40GB, 5,400rpm hard drive; a cost-cutting Intel 915GM chipset, which steals 128MB of video memory from main RAM; an adequate but uninspiring DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive; and a baseline Atheros 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card. A Dell Latitude D510 configured with nearly all the same parts (save a slightly slower 1.4GHz Celeron M processor and a cheaper 1,024x768 native screen resolution) costs more than $150 less than the Tecra A5. A 1.3GHz Celeron M-based ThinkPad R52 will set you back $50 more than the Tecra A5, but it also ships with a larger 15-inch screen.
In keeping with its no-frills theme, the Tecra A5 pulled midrange scores in CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks. It ran 10 percent slower than the similarly configured Satellite M45 and 10 percent faster than the exceptionally slow Satellite M35X. Its battery lasted 2 hours, 43 minutes--nearly an hour longer than the cells in the Satellites but just short of the 3 hours we consider to be the baseline average for mainstream battery life.
Unsurprisingly, given the laptop's low price, the Tecra A5's one-year warranty falls short of the standard three years you get with most business systems. During the warranty term, you can mail or carry the system in to an authorized repair center for fixes. You can also call Toshiba's toll-free support line at any time of the day or night for help. If you would like to extend the warranty, Toshiba offers several options, such as four years of service, accidental damage protection, and next-business-day repairs. The best part about the company's generally unremarkable support Web site is its link out to the Windows Users Group Network, a forum where laptop users from all over convene to gab about their system issues.
For more detailed information about warranties and service plans, check out Computer Shopper's overview of 37 major computer vendors.
|BAPCo's MobileMark 2002 performance rating|
|MobileMark 2002 battery-life minutes|
Toshiba Satellite M35X-S163
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Celeron M 360; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile 855GM/GME up to 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 80GN 80GB 4,200rpm (NTFS)
Toshiba Satellite M45-S165
Windows XP Home; 1.5GHz Celeron M 370; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; ATI Radeon Xpress 200M 64MB; Toshiba MK8026GAX 80GB 5,400rpm (NTFS)
Toshiba Tecra A5
Windows XP Pro; 1.5GHz Celeron M 370; 256MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 166MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS; 910GML Express 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 40GB 4,200rpm (NTFS)