Toshiba Tecra R940-1CW review

Pros

  • Decent performance
  • Good selection of ports
  • ExpressCard slot
  • SIM slot for 3G wireless data

Cons

  • Slightly pricey
  • Not many more features than Portege

Toshiba's Tecras have historically been some of the most highly specified - and expensive - notebooks on the market, costing as much as £7,000 in the mid-1990s. However, more recently the range has become more of a mainstream business one, with prices less stratospherically above what might be expected for an equivalent consumer model with similar basic features. In this context, the Tecra R940-1CW version we have on review here is no heavyweight desktop replacement. Instead, it has clear design cues in line with the Portege R930-116 we reviewed recently. It almost looks like a larger version of the same model.

The similarities are not just on the outside, either. This particular Tecra has a very similar base specification to the Portege R930-116. The processor is an identical Intel Core i5 3320M. This is a 2.6GHz dual-core processor from the mainstream mobile range, so has a 35W power envelope. It has the usual Intel enhancements we expect at this level, with a 3.3GHz Turbo Boost 2.0 mode available to a single core, and Hyper-Threading on hand to improve multi-threaded performance. The processor is backed by the same 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM as the Portege, with an 8GB maximum possible if you populate the second, free SODIMM slot beneath a removable cover on the base of the notebook.

Despite the Tecra's larger form factor compared to the Portege, it still relies on the Core i5's integrated graphics, rather than including a discrete chipset from AMD or Nvidia. Fortunately, though, the Core i5 3320M is from Intel's latest Ivy Bridge range, so the integrated graphics are HD 4000, which is pretty close to the level of performance offered by entry-level discrete graphics. Unless you need better entertainment-oriented 3D or professional graphics acceleration, the HD 4000 chipset will be more than adequate. It supports the latest DirectX 11, OpenGL 4, and even OpenCL 1.1 for graphics-powered co-processing tasks. Storage comes in conventional form, with a regular mechanical hard disk taking care of the main duties. This is a 500GB Toshiba MK5061GSYN - a 7,200rpm model and so relatively quick. There's a 8x Matshita UJ8B2 DVD rewriter, too. Again, this is an identical specification to the Portege.

However, the larger chassis has afforded extras that wouldn't have fitted in the Portege. Where the Portege has a 13.3in screen, the Tecra has a slightly larger 14in TFT. Despite this, Toshiba hasn't taken advantage of the greater space to squeeze in more pixels. The same 1,366 x 768 resolution is used, which is a slight disappointment when 13in ultrabooks such as Samsung's Series 9 900X3B offer higher resolutions. The screen has a matt finish, so isn't prone to unwanted reflections. Horizontal viewing angles are decent enough, whilst vertical viewing angles are not so great, as usual for the panel technology used. Colours aren't as vibrant as more consumer-focused models, such as the aforementioned Samsung Series 9. Audio is just as weedy as the Portege, and not much use beyond Skype calls.

In line with both Toshiba's Portege and Tecra ranges, the R940 has a reassuringly solid build, although the styling is only slightly more aesthetic than the average Lenovo Thinkpad workhorse. The Island-style keyboard is extremely comfortable to use, but is actually exactly the same size as the Portege's. Also like the Portege, the trackpad takes a traditional approach, with two reassuringly physical buttons beneath a smaller pad, and a fingerprint reader in between. However, the Tecra also offers a trackpoint device in the midst of the keyboard, with a couple of extra buttons just below the space bar, which some might prefer, and is actually easier to use in very tight situations such as on a crowded commuter train.

The range of ports, surprisingly, isn't that far beyond the Portege. On the left there's a combined USB 2.0 and eSATA port alongside USB 3.0, plus VGA. There is no HDMI connection, but a full-sized DisplayPort is included instead, which will be more useful for connecting to TFTs in offices anyway. On the right, further back from the optical drive, can be found another USB 3.0 port plus Gigabit Ethernet and an SDXC-compatible memory card reader. However, above the latter there is an ExpressCard/34 slot as well, so the Tecra is a little bit more expandable than the Portege, although Acer managed to squeeze one of these into its slightly unorthodox TravelMate P633-V-73528G50ikk. Aside from 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, there's 3G UMTS built in – just add a SIM to the slot hidden behind the battery and you have wireless data unfettered from the Wi-Fi hotspot, which will be essential for some business travellers.

With the same processor, memory complement, graphics and storage as the Portege R930-116, the Tecra R940-1CW wasn't likely to differ much in performance, and it doesn't. The result of 3.02 in Maxon Cinebench R11.5's rendering test is slightly slower, but only by a couple of per cent. With its HD 4000 graphics, 3D performance is almost identical as well. The R940 manages 12.65 in Cinebench R11.5's OpenGL test, alongside 4,418 in 3DMark06 and 597 in 3DMark11, showing reasonable abilities for occasional use, although not up to any intense 3D work. So the Tecra is not a mobile graphics workstation, even if it will be great for many other types of work on the move.

The Tecra's battery life is slightly behind the Portege's as well. In our battery test, which stresses processor and graphics at 100 per cent with the TFT slightly dimmed, the R940 achieved a respectable 126 minutes. As with many other Toshiba models, however, this one offers an eco mode that cuts power and performance to some key components. In this mode, the R940 lasted a very respectable 231 minutes. You do lose the full capabilities of the processor and graphics in this mode, but if you need to work on the move for an extended period, the R940 will provide this, with the added option of greater performance if you need it for shorter periods. The battery is removable, too, so you could carry a spare if required.

Verdict

The R940-1CW isn't the hugely equipped Toshiba Tecra of old, but it isn't as hugely expensive either. It is a little more pricey than the average 14in notebook, but has a reassuringly solid build, understated looks and some useful extra features, in particular the ExpressCard slot, DisplayPort and 3G data option. It's not breaking any boundaries, but won't disappoint as a solid business traveller, where 13in models are just that little bit too small.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Product

Toshiba Tecra R940-1CW

Processor

2.6GHz Intel Core i5 3320M

RAM

4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4000

Hard disk

500GB Toshiba MK5061GSYN hard disk

Optical disc

Matshita UJ8B2 8x DVD rewriter

Display

14in Toshiba HD non-reflective High Brightness TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels

Networking

Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, UMTS 3G

Interfaces

1 x USB 2.0 / eSATA, 2 x USB 3.0, VGA, DisplayPort, LAN, headphone, microphone, SD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

341 x 239 x 27.4mm

Weight

1.99kg

Warranty

3 years collect and return