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Toshiba Tecra M5 review: Toshiba Tecra M5

But for its abbreviated battery life, the Toshiba Tecra M5 is a well-balanced, powerful business laptop.

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

The Toshiba Tecra M5 seems be something of a dying breed. While most business laptops have incorporated wide screens and more entertainment features, the Tecra M5 holds fast to its standard-aspect display and minimal media controls. That's not to say that the Tecra M5 is behind the times; it's just all business, with such corporate-friendly features as a fingerprint reader, Trusted Platform Module, and a lengthy three-year warranty. And when it came to our office productivity tests, the Tecra M5 performed as well as some laptops with higher-end components. In fact, our primary complaint relates to the system's battery life: the Tecra M5 couldn't quite hit the two-hour mark on our drain tests. If you're not planning to stray far from a power outlet, or if you can afford the extended battery ($152), the Toshiba Tecra M5 delivers a nice balance of business-friendly features and strong performance for its $1,899 price.


Toshiba Tecra M5

The Good

Lightweight yet sturdy; strong office productivity performance; comfy keyboard; Trusted Platform Module and fingerprint reader; long warranty.

The Bad

Short battery life; display is not wide-screen; weak speakers; smallish touch pad; available only in fixed configurations.

The Bottom Line

But for its abbreviated battery life, the Toshiba Tecra M5 is a well-balanced, powerful business laptop.

Weighing 5.3 pounds (6.3 pounds with its AC adapter), the Tecra M5's boxy case is lighter than you'd expect. It measures 12.2 inches wide, 10.1 inches deep, and 1.5 inches thick, making it a bit chunkier than the Lenovo ThinkPad T60P, which has the same size display. Despite its light weight, the Tecra M5 feels well-built and sturdy enough to endure the bumps and spills of business travel. Two thick hinges support the display, and Toshiba trumpets a magnesium-alloy chassis and a shock-absorbing hard drive. Overall, the Toshiba Tecra M5's boxy, gray-and-black design can't be called inspired, but it is functional.

The 14.1-inch standard-aspect display on the Toshiba Tecra M5 has a native resolution of 1,400x1,050. The boxy screen lacks the glossy finish found on more entertainment-focused notebooks, making the Tecra M5 ideal for documents and spreadsheets, but less exciting for watching DVDs. Though it'll do for watching a movie on the plane, the screen color seemed washed out, and the video had to be letterboxed to fit the square screen. As on many business-oriented laptops, the built-in stereo speakers produce muddled, canned sound. A volume wheel on the right side of the case constitutes the extent of the system's media controls.

Typing long documents on the Tecra M5's keyboard was a breeze; the nearly full-sized board felt extremely sturdy and the keys offered just the right amount of resistance. As with all Toshiba laptops, the Windows key has been moved to the upper-right side of the keyboard, and the right-side control key has been completely eliminated--a frustration for heavy keyboard-shortcut users. In a nice touch, Toshiba gives you a choice of navigation devices. A blue eraser pointing stick has its own activation buttons just below the space bar, which are curiously one above the other rather than side by side, and 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 do wish the touch pad were larger. Below the keyboard, you'll also find a fingerprint scanner for quick, secure log-on (which also conveniently frees you from having to remember passwords). Above the keyboard sit two buttons: one calls up Toshiba's help and configuration utility, while the other maximizes the laptop's output for presentations.

The Tecra M5's case is well-stocked for business users; it includes three USB 2.0 ports (two side-by-side, which can lead to cord crowding), a four-pin FireWire port, VGA-out, headphone and microphone jacks, and a serial port that gave us flashbacks to the '90s (though it could be welcome to businesses with older input devices). An expansion slot recognizes Type II PC cards and the latest ExpressCards; there's also an SD card slot . A built-in DVD burner sits along the right side of the case. Communications options include modem, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR; a handy hardware switch lets you quickly turn the wireless radios on and off. The final feature of note is the laptop's Trusted Platform Module, which secures data at the hardware level.

Toshiba sells a number of fixed configurations of the Tecra M5; our review unit, the Tecra M5-S4333, cost a competitive $1,899. Its components include a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor (the third-most-powerful in the Core 2 Duo mobile line), 2GB of swift 667MHz RAM, a large 120GB, 5,400rpm hard drive, and the business-focused 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS110M graphics card. For the sake of comparison, an identically configured Lenovo ThinkPad T60P costs $2,292 (though at the time of this review, it was on sale for $1,957), while a nearly identical Sony VAIO BX640 with half as much RAM costs $2,100.

The Tecra excelled on the Office productivity portion of CNET Labs' benchmarks, keeping pace with three other laptops with faster processors, better graphics cards, or both. In fact, the Tecra M5 held its own against similarly configured entertainment-oriented systems, such as the Dell Inspiron E1505 ($1,789) and the Dell XPS M1210 ($2,329) on all our benchmarks. However, the Toshiba was bested by the $2,250 Lenovo ThinkPad T60P--not much of a surprise, given that the costlier Lenovo incorporates a 2.33GHz processor and a 256MB graphics card. That said, for the money, we think the Toshiba Tecra M5 offers more than enough oomph for business tasks.

We were less pleased with the performance of the Tecra M5's standard six-cell battery, which lasted just one hour and 41 minutes in our DVD drain test. The Lenovo ThinkPad T60P, even with its higher-end, power-draining components, lasted three hours and 19 minutes on a battery that was only slighter larger than the Tecra M5's. Users who need the extra juice can drop $152 on either a 12-cell extended battery or an additional six-cell battery that can take the place of the optical drive.

In times past, all business systems shipped with three-year warranties, but these days most manufacturers include just a single year of coverage in a laptop's base price. Not so, Toshiba: the Tecra M5's $1,899 price tag includes an attractive three-year warranty. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and both a carry- and mail-in repair service.

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System configurations:

Dell Inspiron E1505
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon x1400; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm SATA/150

Dell XPS M1210
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition: 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB nVidia GeForce Go 7400; 120GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150

Lenovo ThinkPad T60P
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility FireGL V5250; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm 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 M5

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Battery 4Support 6