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Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512 review: Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

Though larger businesses might be willing to pay for a richer feature set, the Toshiba Tecra A8 is an affordable, basic laptop for individuals and small-business users.

Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
Michelle Thatcher
6 min read

Toshiba's entry into the budget midsize category, the Tecra A8 line starts at just $749. Our fixed configuration review unit, the Tecra A8-EZ8512, incorporates a decent feature set and the latest-generation components--including an Intel Core 2 Duo processor--for just $999. Competitively speaking, the same-sized Lenovo 3000 N100 can be configured with similar components for $100 less than the Tecra A8, but the Lenovo has a previous-generation Core Duo processor. Another competitive model, the Dell Latitude D820, costs more than $1,200 for similar components, though it also offers a sweeter feature set that includes a Trusted Platform Module, higher-resolution screen, and more ports. Though larger businesses would appreciate (and be willing to pay) for such extras, the Toshiba Tecra A8 is ideally suited for individuals and small businesses who want a simple, workhorse laptop that doesn't cost a lot of money.


Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

The Good

Low price; sturdy construction; attractive matte-finish display; fingerprint reader; long warranty.

The Bad

Keyboard could be bigger; weak speakers; smallish touch pad; merely average performance and battery life.

The Bottom Line

Though larger businesses might be willing to pay for a richer feature set, the Toshiba Tecra A8 is an affordable, basic laptop for individuals and small-business users.

The Tecra A8's ho-hum gray-and-black case isn't likely to attract jealous stares, but its sturdy construction should be a boon to business users. Two thick hinges support the display, and the shock-absorbing chassis and hard drive protect the machine from everyday knocks. Weighing 6.3 pounds (7.3 pounds with its AC adapter), the Tecra A8 isn't really light enough to carry home every day, but it will easily make the trip to the conference room down the hall. Its case measures 14.3 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick--almost identical in size to the $999 Dell Latitude D820 and a little smaller than the $799 Lenovo 3000 N100, both of which have the same size display.

The Tecra A8's 15.4-inch widescreen display features an average 1,280x800 native resolution and a matte finish. Though it doesn't seem as bright and color-rich as the glossy displays found on entertainment-oriented systems (such as the HP Pavilion dv6000t), we did appreciate that there were absolutely no screen reflections. The display size is great for working with two documents side-by-side or with many-columned Excel spreadsheets; movies look pretty good on it, too. Though the two speakers above the Tecra A8's keyboard are passable for listening to recorded speech, music sounds tinny and becomes muddled at high volumes.

Typing long documents on the Tecra A8 is comfortable enough (we wrote this review on it), but we were surprised Toshiba didn't give it a slightly roomier keyboard. A two-inch space to the left of the board is dedicated to just three buttons (power, a button to launch Toshiba's help and configuration utility, and a button for quick access to brightness, volume, and other settings); why not place those buttons along the top of the board and stretch the keyboard out a little? That said, the keyboard feels extremely sturdy and the keys offer just the right amount of resistance. Our biggest complaint is that Toshiba keyboards deviate from the standard layout, placing the Windows key on the upper-right side of the keyboard and eliminating the right-side control key completely--a significant frustration for heavy keyboard-shortcut users. On the positive side, Toshiba gives you a choice of navigation devices. A tiny blue eraser-head pointing stick has its own arched activation buttons just below the space bar, which are curiously one above the other rather than side by side; a smallish (3 inches diagonal) touch pad features two side-by-side buttons as well as dedicated scroll zones. During our use we found both methods workable, though we occasionally wished the touch pad were larger. Below the keyboard, you'll also find a fingerprint scanner that lets you log on to Windows and to your favorite Web sites with the swipe of a finger.

Nearly all the Tecra A8's ports are lined up along the back edge, which can get crowded but also contains the cord mess to the back of your desk. The port selection is pretty typical for a budget business system: three side-by-side USB 2.0, a four-pin FireWire, VGA-out, modem and Ethernet ports. Headphone and microphone jacks are conveniently located along the laptop's front edge, accompanied by a volume wheel and Wi-Fi on/off switch. On the left side of the case sit slots for Type II PC cards (though not the latest ExpressCards) and SD cards. A built-in DVD burner sits along the right side of the case. Wireless options include 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR.

Toshiba sells a handful of fixed configurations of the Tecra A8; our review unit, the Tecra A8-EZ8512, cost just $999. Its components include a 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor (the entry level of the Core 2 Duo mobile line), 1GB of midrange 533MHz RAM, an average 80GB, 5,400rpm hard drive, and economical Intel GMA 950 graphics. For the sake of comparison, a similarly configured Lenovo 3000 N100, with a 1.6GHz Intel Core Duo T2060 processor, costs $899, while a nearly identical Dell Latitude D820 costs $1,277.

On CNET Labs' benchmarks the Tecra A8 performed in the middle of a pack that included systems with faster processors and more RAM. Its latest-generation Intel processor helped it out on our CPU-intensive multitasking and iTunes tests, where the Tecra A8 performed as well or better than a Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Tablet with a previous-generation 1.83GHz Core Duo processor. On our Photoshop test, the Tecra A8 trailed behind the ThinkPad X60 Tablet and the Tecra M5, both of which had 2GB of RAM. Even on this fixed configuration of the Tecra A8, you can upgrade the RAM to 2GB ($139). The upgrade would be worth the expense for workers who run such resource-intensive software as Photoshop; however, the base RAM configuration on the Tecra A8-EZ8512 is sufficient for typical e-mail, office productivity, and Web research tasks.

The Tecra A8 uses a common six-cell battery and turned in an average score of 1 hour and 43 minutes on our demanding DVD drain test. You can expect longer life during typical Windows use, but we would have liked to see the Tecra A8 hold out for at least 2 hours.

Toshiba backs the Tecra A8 with an industry-standard one-year warranty; extending the warranty to three years costs $134, with express and on-site upgrades available for an additional fee. Support is accessible through a 24/7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and both a carry- and mail-in repair service.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

Microsoft Office productivity test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:
Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Tablet
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo L2500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Intel Mobile Express 945GM; 100GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra A6-EZ6411
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5600; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS110M; 80GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel Express 945GM; 80GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra M5-S4333
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS110M; 120GB Toshiba 5400rpm SATA/150


Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6Battery 5Support 5