Super-thin notebooks may have style on their side, but they still don’t provide a desktop computing experience on the move. For this you will still need a larger, more feature-packed portable. Toshiba’s P850-12Z provides plenty of power, but still comes in a package you won’t mind lugging with you too much. It weighs in at 2.66kg, with a sober and understated brushed aluminium finish that Toshiba describes as Precious Silver, making this a rather less funky proposition than the Toshiba's Satellite L855-118.
Central to the 12Z iteration of the P850 we had for review is an Ivy Bridge-generation Intel Core i7-3610QM. This is a quad-core processor running at a nominal 2.3GHz, although Intel Hyper-Threading divides it into eight virtual cores and Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 means that an individual core can run at up to 3.3GHz when required. The CPU is backed by a healthy 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR SDRAM, and this can be upgraded to 16GB if desired, although this would necessitate swapping out the existing pair of 4GB DIMMs.
The Core i7 processor also supplies Intel HD 4000 graphics, which will be called upon for everyday graphics acceleration. But Toshiba has included Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics as well, which will be enabled dynamically as required via Nvidia’s Optimus technology. This sports a reasonable 96 CUDA cores and 2GB of dedicated memory, although an additional 2GB can be added from system memory if needed.
Another benefit of a regular notebook over slim and light alternatives is usually found in storage. In the P850's case, there’s a capacious 1TB Toshiba hard disk, which won’t be anywhere near as quick as an SSD but will at least offer many times the capacity for the money, and an 8x TSSTcorp DVD rewriter. An SDXC-compatible memory card reader can be found at the front of the machine.
The keyboard is an island-style one with a comfortable layout and separate numeric keypad. The action is clear and defined, making typing a very pleasant experience. The touchpad isn't quite such a tour de force. It supports pinch-to-zoom, two-fingered scrolling, and two-fingered right clicking, but although the buttons are indicated graphically at the bottom, their action can be a little hit or miss. Fortunately, the whole touchpad is a button, and with the two-fingered right clicking, this more Mac-like approach proves effective instead.
A plethora of expansion ports are available, including no less than four USB 3.0 connections, two of which support USB sleep and charge. These are distributed evenly around the chassis. Alongside the two USB ports on the left are wired networking and the optical drive, whilst on the right two more USB ports are partnered by separate minijacks for headphones and an external microphone, plus full-sized HDMI and VGA. Wireless connections include the usual 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, but there’s no option for a 3G SIM built in. Intel Wireless Display is supported, so you can push images to a compatible screen across the radio waves.
The P850 owes its reasonably sized chassis to a 15.6in display, rather than the 17in screens usually associated with full desktop replacements. This is a TruBrite model with LED backlighting. However, it only offers a resolution of 1,366 x 768, which is relatively modest for this screen size. Horizontal viewing angles are acceptable, but vertical viewing angles aren't so impressive. The glossy finish also means there's quite a lot of reflection to contend with in bright sunlight, forcing you to push screen brightness levels to the maximum to maintain visibility. An HD webcam with 1,280 x 800 resolution and microphone can be found in the usual location in the middle of the top edge of the screen bezel. Audio is enhanced by the inclusion of Harman Kardon speakers, which are capable of a decent level of volume with no hint of distortion even at the top setting. Bass response is, unsurprisingly, not quite up with a decent desktop speaker system, but overall the P850's sound is well above average, and will be good enough for watching movies, music or gaming.
Although the P850 is reasonably well endowed for performance, it's not an absolute monster in this department. With the same processor as Toshiba's own Satellite L855-118, raw processing power is not surprisingly very similar. The P850 scored a nearly identical 6.18 in the rendering portion of Maxon Cinebench R11.5, whilst the L855 managed 6.19. So, for everyday tasks, there will be little to separate the two models. However, the P850’s Nvidia Geforce GT 630M graphics are a little less powerful than the L855's AMD HD Radeon 7670M, with 24.89 in Cinebench R11.5's OpenGL preview test, compared to 35.52. Similarly, the result of 1,101 in 3DMark11 is slightly behind as well. You will still get decent gaming performance, and the 3DMark06 score of 9,501 implies at least twice the frame rate of notebooks equipped with just Intel HD 4000 graphics.
On the other hand, battery life isn't exceptional. In our intensive 100 per cent battery run-down test, the P850 managed just one minute longer than an hour. Toshiba also offers an eco mode, though, to help stretch a little more life away from the power socket. In this mode, the P850 managed a much more respectable 114 minutes. It's also worth mentioning that this is a worst-case scenario. The maximum time you could play a really intensive 3D game wouldn't be much more than an hour, but watching a two-hour movie would be entirely possible, and general office and Internet usage will last much closer to the quoted five and a half hours. So whilst this isn't a go-anywhere Ultrabook, it can be used on the road a bit more than a desktop replacement, making it a much more general-purpose machine.
Toshiba’s Satellite P850-12Z is well above average for general performance, and offers pretty decent gaming capabilities too. As a mobile entertainment system and jack-of-all-trades, it has plenty to like. In eco mode, it will also give you a respectable battery life. The chassis is more sober and conservative than some entertainment-oriented models, which will appeal if the bright colours of these more consumer-focused machines are too garish. However, it's also quite a bit more expensive than, for example, Toshiba's own Satellite L855-118, which trades slightly better gaming for worse battery life. The P850-12Z is solidly built, feature rich and powerful, but it's not exactly a bargain.
Manufacturer and Product
Toshiba Satellite P850-12Z
2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM
8GB DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000 and Nvidia Geforce GT 630M
1TB Toshiba MQ01ABD100
8x TSSTcorp SN-208AB DVD-RW
15.6 TruBrite TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, LAN
HDMI, VGA, 4 x USB 4.0, SD card reader, headphone, microphone
Width x Depth x Height
385 x 252.5 x 27.65mm
1 year collect and return