Toshiba Tecra R950-11F review

Pros

  • Decent price for a business laptop
  • Good selection of ports
  • Optical drive
  • 3G mobile broadband option
  • Reasonable performance

Cons

  • No ExpressCard slot

Over the last few years, Toshiba's Tecras have descended from being the most expensive, bleeding-edge notebook technology around to a more general quality business brand, aimed at the same sort of market as Dell's larger Latitudes. The R950 is the current flagship 15in range. We took a look at the 11F model, which is the top member of the R950 selection.

After all the Ultrabooks we have reviewed recently, the R950 feels decidedly portly. But it's not hideously heavy, weighing just a little under 2.5kg. This is a 15in notebook, and the extra size affords plenty of room for a keyboard with a separate numeric keypad on the right. The keyboard design is island-style, and typing is extremely comfortable, with a clearly defined key action. There are no discrete media playback buttons, though, which is a sign of this notebook's business orientation. The finish is sober and black, although the lid hinge is finished with chrome in a style that is in keeping with the Portege range, although this model doesn't feel so much like a big Portege as the 14in Tecra R940-1CW we looked at recently.

Despite the screen having a 15.6in diagonal, the resolution is still the same 1,366 x 768 pixels we have come to expect from 13in displays. A resolution of 1,600 x 900 would have been more appropriate for this screen size. Nevertheless, this is still a very acceptable display, with an anti-glare finish that will make it usable in bright sunlight or high contrast conditions. Colour and detail are reasonable, if not outstanding, and viewing angles similarly acceptable. Audio quality from the speakers located just above the keyboard is distinctly treble-heavy, however, and only really suited to Skype calling rather than multimedia enjoyment.

The trackpad is a little bit small in comparison to the multi-touch monsters found on quite a few notebooks these days. But it's responsive enough, with reassuringly separated buttons. In between the latter can be found a fingerprint reader, for added corporate security. The trackpad is also accompanied by a joystick-pointing device, the buttons for which can be found just below the space bar. There is also a small button for turning the trackpad off, so you don't have to worry about jogging it accidentally with the heel of your hand.

The R950-11F is yet another system built around the Intel Core i5 3320M, so it isn't an all-out performance beast. This is a 2.6GHz dual-core processor, with a 3.3GHz Turbo Boost mode and Hyper-Threading. So it has a good level of performance on offer, but is neither an ultra-low power model, nor a range-topping speed monster. The processor is backed by 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, but this can be upgraded, with a free DIMM slot readily accessible beneath an access panel on the underside of the system. The processor also supplies graphics, in the shape of Intel's HD 4000, which may not quite provide the power of discrete graphics but it's not far off, and much closer than the previous HD 3000 generation.

Storage options are comprehensive, but traditional. The main capacity is provided by a 500GB Toshiba MK5061GSYN hard disk. Toshiba hasn't opted for the extra performance – and expense – of a solid-state disk for this model, and not even provided a small one as a cache. But the main drive is at least a 7,200rpm model rather than the generally slower 5,400rpm variety. There's a Matshita UJ8B2 8x DVD rewriter with support for DVD-RAM as well as all flavours of DVD and CD, so alongside the SD card reader the usual storage bases are covered.

The R950 has a decent selection of ports, but no more than you would expect for this chassis size. On the right can be found a trio of USB ports, one of which is USB 2.0, another USB 3.0, and the third eSATA/USB 2.0 combined. Surprisingly, the headphone socket shares a single connection with the microphone jack, when the chassis has ample space to keep these separate, although the right side is mostly taken up by the optical drive, with the LAN port conveniently placed further back on this side. The left is home to a further USB 3.0 port, as well as VGA, full-sized DisplayPort and the SD card reader.

However, we were surprised to see that there is no ExpressCard slot on this model. It's not something everyone will find essential, but we would have expected it in a notebook this size, especially as the smaller R940-1CW does have this feature. The usual 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are on hand for wireless connections, and lurking behind the removable battery is a slot for a SIM, so you can connect the R950 to 3G mobile broadband. In other words, the lack of ExpressCard is the only significant connectivity omission.

Since we have seen quite a few notebooks sporting Intel's Core i5 3320M, we weren't expecting any surprises when it came to testing the R950's performance. We completed testing as unsurprised as we had started. The R950 achieved a result of 3.04 in Maxon Cinebench R11.5's rendering test, which is almost exactly the same as other notebooks we have tested with this processor. The OpenGL score of 12.94 is similarly in the same ballpark, as are the 3DMark06 and 3DMark11 results of 4,893 and 616 respectively.

However, the R950 lasted a very healthy 210 minutes in our intensive 100 per cent utilisation test, using Toshiba's eco mode. This compares favourably with Toshiba's more portability-oriented models. In the more real-world Bapco MobileMark 2007, the R950 managed 402 minutes of the productivity test, which will give you most of a working day on battery, and 273 minutes of the DVD playback test, so you will be able to watch at least a couple of movies during a journey. The 66Wh battery is removable, too, so you could bring a spare to further boost endurance.

Verdict

The Toshiba Tecra R950-11F is more of a standard business workhorse than a ground-breaking showcase of new technology. Its sober appearance hides few surprises. But the features and performance are both more than adequate for most business users, and this model lacks the hefty price of early Tecras even more than the R940-1CW. It's not a budget model, and the standard one-year warranty is a tad meagre for a business notebook. But just as once upon a time you wouldn't get fired for buying IBM, this is a laptop you couldn't criticise your IT manager for specifying, even if you might have hoped the budget would stretch to Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Toshiba Tecra R950-11F

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

15.6in LED backlit anti-glare TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels

Networking

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

Interfaces

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

Width x Depth x Height

379 x 252 x 25.4mm

Weight

2.49kg

Warranty

1 year RTB