Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: Toshiba Tecra A11 laptop

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The Tecra A11 weighs 2.5kg and has a clear 15.6in screen

Daniel Robinson

The Toshiba Tecra A11 is intended as a desktop substitute for business users, and is designed with an emphasis on performance and features rather than portability. Despite this, it is not excessively weighty at 2.5kg, but its short battery life means the system can scarcely be used much while away from mains power.

Available since February, the Tecra A11 models have a 15.6in widescreen display with Intel Core i3 and Core i5 processors, optical drive as standard, plus a whole range of I/O ports and business features such as fingerprint scanner, smartcard reader and Trusted Platform Module security chip.

Our review unit was the Tecra A11-11H, which has a dual-core 2.4GHz Core i5 M520 processor, 2GB of DDR3 memory (expandable to 8GB) and a 250GB Sata hard drive, with a built-in DVD Super Multi drive that can record as well as read DVD and CD media.

Windows 7 Professional is supplied as the operating system, with downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional if required.

We found the Tecra's main appeal is the large 15.6in display with its 1,366x768 resolution that makes for comfortable viewing of spreadsheets and web pages, while its size also means there is plenty of space to rest your palms while using the keyboard. This resolution is a bit low for a screen of this size, but users can obtain resolutions up to 2,048x1,536 on an external display.

In terms of performance, the 2.4GHz Core i5 processor, which looks like four CPUs to the system because of Intel's Hyperthreading technology, seemed to make little difference in normal use. That was until we tried an action such as opening a graphics-heavy PDF, which the Tecra took in its stride, while another PC we viewed it on struggled to display it, especially when scrolling up and down.

The Windows Experience Index in Windows 7 rated the Tecra at just 3.9, but this result is pegged back by the performance of the Intel graphics built into the processor itself, with the processor, memory and disk subsystems all showing high scores of 5.1 and above.

Battery life
Another point worth noting is the relatively poor battery life of this model. Toshiba quotes a life of four hours and 40 minutes from the 55Wh lithium ion battery, but we found that it lasted no longer than one hour and 23 minutes in our tests using the Battery Eater Pro benchmark.

This suggests that, while the Tecra A11 is a good overall workhorse machine, it should be regarded as a portable computer for lugging between sites where there is mains power, rather than to be used much on batteries while travelling.

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