Toshiba Portege R835-P56x Black Friday Reviews

Toshiba Portege R835-P56x Black Friday


I've had Toshiba Portege R835-P56x for nearly three weeks, and think it's great!

Summary:

Pros:
- Lightweight
- Clean and understated design
- Sturdy: most surfaces are made of metal (only the bezel, hinges, and a few bottom panels are plastic). You can easily lift it up by the corner with one hand.
- Battery life is good (7.5+ hours with mixed usage). Also, no "battery bulge" in the back!
- Battery is removable
- Trackpad has a nicely configurable driver (Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Mouse > Device Settings > Settings...)
- Value; saves enough money for an SSD compared to a competing system like a Macbook Pro (see below)

Cons:
- Screen isn't great. (It isn't bad, though -- just narrow in vertical viewing angle).
- Black color means you might be tempted to clean the keyboard/trackpad a little obsessively.
- Industrial smell coming from the vent in the first few days of ownership (now gone)
- When closed, the lid depresses a little when you apply pressure to the middle. I suggest keeping the included fabric insert thing to protect the lid from keyboard scratches. (Note that keyboard scratches also occur on other notebooks, including the sturdy Apple Macbooks, so I'm not taking off any points).

Overall:
I'm giving Toshiba Portege R835-P56x five stars because it represents a great value. I paid $835 for the system, and replaced the hard drive with an Intel X25-M 120GB SSD ($175). The total cost of my system therefore was $1010, which puts it in entry-level Macbook territory.

(Note that the SSD is very easy to install -- you unscrew two panels in the back, swap the drives, and clean-install your operating system).

Why the SSD? With the SSD plus Sandy Bridge processor, performance is superb -- startup is fast (15 seconds from button to login screen, plus 8 seconds from login to loaded desktop). Programs launch quickly, and shutdown is quick as well. I'd say the stock system with the hard drive is a bit imbalanced (processor is too fast for the 5400 RPM hard drive) but at least it comes with plenty of room and doesn't cost much. With this configuration, program launching and startup are slower, and you are stuck with bloatware, but the computer still operates reasonably fast.

--

Comparisons with other systems:

Compared with the Air, the R835 (with SSD installed) gives you:
- more storage space (120GB SSD on my R835 vs. 64GB for the $999 11" MBA model)
--- with SSD, similar bootup times (23 seconds for R835 vs. 15 seconds *see 6/2/2011 edit* for MBA) and wakeup times (both about 2 seconds)
- a better processor (core i5-2410M vs. a core 2 duo) and more memory
- longer battery life + removable battery
- a DVD drive, USB 3.0 port, eSATA, VGA (no need to carry a dongle around)
- 0.9 or 0.3 pounds more weight (vs. the 11" and 13" MBA models, respectively).
- about 0.25" more thickness

Compared with the Macbook Pro (13" entry-level model), you get:
- $190 in savings (with SSD in the R835) or $365 savings (with stock HDD)
-- With SSD swap, you get performance gains compared to the MB. With the default hard drive, you get twice as much storage (640GB vs. 320GB, both 5400 RPM).
- Removable battery
- Similar metal build quality (Macbook pro feels a little sturdier, but weighs 40% more)
- 1.3 pounds in weight savings (!)

Compared with the plastic Macbook (13" $999 model), you get:
- Metal build quality
- an SSD (for about the same total cost), or $165 in savings + 390GB more hard drive space
- Better processor (two generations ahead) and RAM (4GB vs. 2GB).
- 1.5 pound weight savings (!)

So, I saw no reason to go with the Macbooks when I could get superior performance and save money, weight, and battery flexibility with the R835.

Compared to other PC systems -- It's thinner and slightly less expensive than the Lenovo x220 (but isn't as rugged and has slightly shorter battery life), and is very much cheaper and has a better processor (but has an inferior screen) than the Sony Z series.

In short, the Toshiba Portege R835-P56x makes its Apple competitors look seriously overpriced (or under-featured, depending on how you look at it) and costs less than its PC competitors.

--

My evaluation of the unit:

I liked the design -- it's quite sturdy (with its metal construction) and light (3.2 pounds). It doesn't feel as "dense" as the Macbook Air, but it's sufficiently sturdy and light enough, such that you can lift it by a corner with one hand. Also, it certainly breaks a threshold in thinness, so it certainly *looks* thin. The CD/DVD drive makes a great "but wait, there's more" parlor trick!

(The design also appeals to me because it's pleasantly different from the Macbooks' design. In my Econ class, it looks stealthy and elegant compared to the sea of glowing Apples. Funny how "Think Different" should now apply to a PC rather than a Mac...)

As noted above, the performance is good, especially with an SSD installed. The weakest point is the integrated graphics, though it's not completely pathetic; I was able to play Portal without too much choppiness.

The battery life is great -- I got 7.5 hours with mixed use (web browsing, spreadsheets, including an hour of Steam running). I estimate you get about 4-5 minutes per percent used (according to the Windows battery icon), or 400-500 minutes total.

There are a few minor drawbacks. For one, the screen is merely average because the vertical viewing angle is not good. Also, a downside to the black body color is that I obsessively clean it with every fleck of dust. The unit had a distinctly industrial smell when it first came, but now it's gone. Also, its lid depresses a little, which I suspect will lead to the keyboard leaving scratches on the screen (this also happens to Macbooks, which are supposed to be the pinnacle of design, so I guess it's acceptable). To counter this, I use the included piece of fabric between the screen and keyboard when I transport the unit around.

Despite these minor drawbacks, the system overall exudes great quality, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a well-built, fast, and highly portable notebook. I would strongly recommend replacing the stock hard drive with an SSD to balance the performance, especially given that the relatively low price (for this weight class) leaves some money to acquire an SSD.

EDIT (5/16/2011): PCMark Vantage scores for my system are here: [ ... ] . You can compare with other Core i5-2410M systems here: [ ... ]

EDIT (6/2/2011): I visited the Apple Store today. The 11-inch MBA started up in about 50 seconds (not sure what took so long), while the Core i7 MacBook Pro ($1500) started up in about 35 seconds (didn't have a chance to try the i5 MBP). If I remember correctly, the default R835 took about 60 seconds to start up. Again, the startup time for my configuration is 23 seconds.

EDIT (7/24/2011): Thanks to several reviewers for bringing this up: apparently, the motherboard does support SATA III speeds, but Toshiba disabled the speed, thus getting you SATA II speeds. This would mean that it wouldn't be too valuable buying a SATAIII SSD for use in this computer. I'll update this after I confirm this limitation.


--- Review By : Macky (USA)---




Product Features

Intel Core i5-2410M Processor 2.3 GHz (2.9 GHz with Turbo Boost Technology), 3MB Cache
Configured with 4GB DDR3 1333MHz (max 16GB)
640GB (5400 RPM); Serial ATA hard disk drive, 8x SuperMulti DVD drive
13.3" diagonal widescreen TruBrite TFT display, Intel HD Graphics with 64 MB
Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium, 8 Hour Battery Life

Processor, Memory, and Motherboard

Hardware Platform: PC
Processor: 2.9 hertz Intel Core i5
Number of Processors: 2
RAM: 4 GB
RAM Type: SODIMM
Memory Slots: 2

Hard Drive

Size: 640 GB
Manufacturer: Serial ATA hard disk drive
Type: Serial ATA
Speed: 5400 rpm

Ports and Connectivity

USB Ports: 3

Cases and Expandability

Size (LWH): 12.44 inches, 8.94 inches, 1.05 inches
Weight: 3.2 pounds

Power

Rated Charge (normal use): 8 hours

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