Review : Toshiba Tecra R950-11F

Summary: The Tecra R950 is a hefty 15.6in. business-grade notebook with an up-to-date set of security and manageability features, integrated mobile broadband and a solid but understated design. It performs well enough for its market, but we'd prefer a higher screen resolution.

Toshiba's range of third-generation Intel Core (Ivy Bridge) notebooks, announced in June, included the business-grade R9 series, comprising the ultraportable 13.3in. Portege R930, the mid-range 14in. Tecra R940 and the desktop replacement 15.6in. Tecra R950. There are four preconfigured R950 models on Toshiba's UK website, starting at £799 (ex. VAT); we looked at the top-end R950-11F, which costs £959 (ex.VAT).

As noted above, Tecra notebooks are business-grade systems, and so Toshiba doesn't feel the need to make everything consumer-shiny — which suits us just fine. Built around a magnesium alloy chassis, the case is a sober graphite colour with a textured finish that will not require constant wiping to remove unsightly fingerprints.
The 2.49kg Tecra R950 has a 15.6in. screen, but the resolution is a moderate 1,366 by 768 pixels. 

If you're planning to travel with the Tecra R950 (and the presence of integrated mobile broadband suggests that this is expected), be prepared to lug a hefty 2.49kg system measuring 37.9cm wide by 25.2cm deep by 2.54cm-2.08cm thick. More realistically, it's likely to spend most of its time deskbound — perhaps plugged into one of Toshiba's port replicator options. If you do take the R950 on the road, you'll need a sizeable laptop bag, but the system feels robust enough, with relatively little flex in the screen or elsewhere.

The 15.6in. screen is a non-reflective LED-backlit unit with a (moderate) native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. With brightness set to maximum, it's crisp and clear, and even with Toshiba's power-saving Eco mode enabled, which drops the brightness to 50 percent, it's perfectly readable in normal office lighting. As usual, viewing angles are better in the horizontal plane than the vertical, but the screen hinges are solid enough to position the display optimally at angles up to 180 degrees (i.e. flat, level with the keyboard). There's a basic 1-megapixel webcam and a microphone in the middle of the screen bezel, at the top.
The 102-key isolation-style keyboard includes a separate number pad on the right-hand side.
The first thing to note about the keyboard is that, thanks to the screen size, there's room for a separate number pad, which is always useful. It's a spill-resistant, isolation-style unit that, despite its width, feels pleasingly solid to type on. We have no major complaints about the layout, although some may find the spacebar a little short for comfort. When you press the Fn key, a useful map of the available functions — and multiple functions on a single key if present — pops up at the top of the screen. For example, pressing Fn-F8 lets you cycle through options to toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile broadband on or off, either singly or en masse.

There are dual navigation options, in the shape of a two-button multitouch touchpad with vertical and horizontal scroll zones and a small blue pointing stick between the G, B and H keys. The stick has its own pair of buttons, and there's a button just below the spacebar that toggles the touchpad (but not the stick) on and off, to guard against accidental pointer movement when you're typing. An icon pops up temporarily on-screen when you press this button, but an LED indicating that the touchpad is disabled would be useful as you can easily forget that you've activated the button. (Incidentally, Fn-F9 also performs the same touchpad-toggling function.)

There's a fingerprint scanner nestling between the touchpad buttons, and beneath these is a row of status LEDs. Between the keyboard and the screen you'll find the stereo speaker grilles along with the power button, a button that invokes the power-saving Eco mode and a Presentation button that fires up Intel's WiDi (Wireless Display) utility.
The Tecra R950 measures between 2.54cm and 2.08cm thick.
Features :
Like all but one of the four preconfigured Tecra R950 models on Toshiba's UK website, the R950-11F is powered by Intel's 2.6GHz Core i5-3320M processor, which can go up to 3.3GHz in Turbo Boost mode. The CPU, which is supported by 4GB of DDR3 RAM (expandable to 8GB), also handles the graphics courtesy of its integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. The operating system is Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.

For storage there's a 500GB Toshiba hard drive spinning at a respectable 7,200rpm. The other three models all have 320GB drives, and one (the R950-106) has a self-encrypting drive for maximum data security. By default, Toshiba's accelerometer-driven HDD Protection is over-sensitive, but you can adjust this via a system tray utility if it's too intrusive. All models have an optical drive and a multi-format flash card reader.

There's a full complement of wireless connectivity available: dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0 and mobile broadband (HSPA up to 21Mbps down, 5.76Mbps up, network permitting). Gigabit Ethernet is also available for wired networking.

Ports and slots are restricted to the two sides. On the left, from the back, is a VGA port, a DisplayPort connector, a USB 3.0 port and a multiformat flash card reader (SD, Memory Stick, xD Picture Card), with a smartcard reader above the latter two components. The right-hand side, again from the back, has an RJ-45 (Ethernet) port, an eSATA/USB 2.0 port (with sleep-and-charge support), a USB 2.0 port and a second USB 3.0 port.

The underside carries the proprietary docking port and provides easy (single screw removal) access to the memory slots, PCIe MiniCard slots and the hard drive compartment.
As well as hard disk protection, smartcard/fingerprint reader access control and an encrypted hard drive option, the Tecra R950 offers vPro (out-of-band management) and TPM (hardware access control) support and a panoply of security/management utilities under the Toshiba EasyGuard banner.

Performance & battery life :
The Tecra R950-11F's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is 5.0 (out of 7.9), the WEI being determined by the lowest component score — Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero) in this case. The remaining scores were 5.9 for Memory (RAM) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 6.4 for Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics) and 7.2 for Processor (Calculations per second):
This adds up to system perfectly capable of handling the mainstream business workloads for which it's designed. Boosting RAM to the full 8GB will make it more responsive generally, but this is not a notebook for running demanding graphical software.

The Cinebench 11.5 benchmark confirms that, compared to the fastest notebook we've seen recently (the 11.6in. Eurocom Monster 1.0), the Tecra R950-11F is no speed demon:
To estimate battery life we measured the Tecra R950's power consumption when idling and when loaded (running Passmark Software's Performance Test 7), under the system's High Performance and Eco power management schemes. Dividing the wattage (recorded using a Voltcraft VC940 Plus multimeter) into the 6-cell battery's 66Wh capacity gives an expected battery life figure in hours:
Toshiba's Eco utility gives a graphical display of power consumption, and lets you invoke the power-saving Eco mode.
On this basis, you can expect the Tecra R950 to last for between about 8 hours and 2.5 hours, depending on the workloads you're running. As mentioned above, though, this isn't a notebook you're likely to be using away from a desk (and a source of mains power) for long.

Conclusion :
The Tecra R950 is a hefty 15.6in. business-grade notebook with an up-to-date set of security and manageability features, integrated mobile broadband and a solid but understated design. It performs well enough for its market, although we'd prefer a higher screen resolution.

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