Review posted September 10, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The Toshiba Portege M400, first released in late Spring 2006 is the successor to the Toshiba Portege M205, one of our favorite Windows XP Tablet Edition convertible notebooks. We loved the M205's better resolution (most tablets were XGA and the M205 had a 1400 x 1050 display) and dedicated graphics which made decent gaming possible. The M400 keeps the high resolution as an option (according to the spec sheet, we couldn't find a way to actually add it to a build to order cart), with XGA as the standard but instead relies on integrated graphics which brings down the machine's otherwise strong benchmarks. The one thing we wished the M205 had, an internal optical drive, is a standard feature of the M400, though the machine maintains the M205's light weight and modest proportions.
In fact, the 12" M400 is one of the smaller and lighter convertibles on the market, making it an ideal travel companion for business users and students on the go. For those of you who aren't familiar with Windows XP Tablet Edition nomenclature, a convertible looks like a regular notebook but you can swivel the display to use the machine as a tablet with the keyboard concealed under the display. The other flavor is the pure tablet which sports a slate design and has no permanently attached keyboard.
The M400 is also one of the most affordable tablets, starting at $1,619 on Toshiba's web site for the 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300E machine with an XGA display, 40 gig hard drive and 512 megs of RAM. We received the Core Solo model for review, though that model is now being phased out. For those who need more speed, $100 more will get you a 1.66GHz Core Duo with a gig of RAM and an 80 gig hard drive: definitely the wiser buy (M400-S4031). If you've got even more cash to spare and a need for even more speed and features, the top-of-the-line $2,200 M400-S4032 has a 1.83GHz Core Duo, a gig of RAM, 100 gig hard drive, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR and a 3G radio (EVDO) for high speed cellular wireless data connections. All machines have a Bluetooth antenna inside, and adding the Bluetooth module costs only $30.
For a "budget priced" tablet (tablets cost more than regular notebooks), the M400 machines come with a fine laundry list of standard features including a biometric fingerprint scanner and matching TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip, hard drive shock protection, Intel PRO/Wireless 802.11 a/b/g WiFi, Intel gigabit Ethernet, 667MHz DDR2 RAM, built-in stereo speakers, a PCMCIA slot, a card reader supporting SD/MMC/xD Picture Card, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro media (the SD slot supports SDIO!), an internal mic (standard for tablets since they have voice recognition), a 4 pin unpowered FireWire port, three USB 2.0 ports and a modem. All of this fits into an 11.6 x 9.8 x 1.53" machine that weights 4.5 pounds.
The machine feels and looks well built with a magnesium and polycarbonate housing, strong display swivel and excellent fit and finish. The predominantly gray and silver notebook won't challenge Sony and Apple's industrial designs by a long shot, but it's not a bad looking machine. The track pad is a tad small, though most users will adjust and the keyboard is roomy enough with good key travel and tactile feedback (Toshiba says it's spill resistant).
The included software bundle is generous: Toshiba's own utility suite software, Protector Suite QL, Microsoft's excellent OneNote 2003 software (a tablet's best friend), MS Works 8.5 for those who don't want to shell out the big bucks for Office, InterVideo WinDVD 5, WinDVD Creator 2 Platinum (with models that have a DVD burner), Sonic Solutions RecordNow! and Drive Letter Access and 30 day trials of McAfee VirusScan and MS Office Small Business Edition.
Though we received the Core Solo version of the M400, with only one active processing core, the machine was responsive for business tasks such as word processing, working with spreadsheets, tweaking PowerPoint presentations, surfing the web and checking email. DVD and streaming video playback were good as well, and the machine has more than enough power to do quick work of handwriting recognition and even voice recognition. Should you wish to encode video, use more demanding applications such web development, software development and Photoshop work, you'll want to upgrade to one of the Core Duo configurations with more memory.
We used PCMarok05 to benchmark the M400 with 1.66GHz Core Solo T-1300 and got very good numbers with the exception of graphics.
All Intel Core Solo and Core Duo M400 models have 2 megs of level 2 cache and a 667MHz front side bus with PC5300 (667MHz) DDR2 RAM. The machine has 2 DIMM memory slots and can hold a maximum of 4 gigs of RAM. Toshiba's standard configurations include 512 megs with the base model and 1 gig with the higher end models. If you build one on Toshiba's web site you can order it with a maximum of 2 gigs of RAM.
The basic hard drive is a 40 gig SATA 5400rpm model (unsurprisingly, ours has a Toshiba drive), with 60 and 80 gig options available as well as 7200rpm 80 and 100 gig options. The machine takes standard 9.5mm height notebook drives and the drive is easily accessed via a door on the notebooks' bottom. The standard optical drive is a CD-RW/DVD ROM, with an option to upgrade to a dual layer DVD burner (the top-of-the-line preconfigured model has dual layer drive). The optical drive is swappable and fits into the notebook's "Ultra SlimBay". This means you can easily upgrade later and need not open up the notebook— just release the latch on the M400's bottom and slide out the drive.
Despite the fairly good performance, the machine managed very good battery life. This is equal parts frugal Intel Centrino architecture, the efficient CPU, good power management software and the very ample standard 6 cell 4700 mAh Lithium Ion battery. We got 4 hours 15 minutes on a full charge when using the machine on standard power management settings with WiFi turned on. For a 12" notebook, that's very respectable. The Portege comes with a medium sized notebook charger that weighs about a pound.
Though the CPU, memory and hard drive performance are good, graphics performance is just average. This won't be a problem if you mainly work with MS Office apps, web browsing and email but don't expect the M400 to fly through Photoshop tasks or play cutting edge action games. The only quotidian task the Toshiba lagged on was screen rotation. The screen is a bit slow to redraw when changing orientations (which it does automatically when swiveling the display between normal notebook and tablet positions). The machine uses Intel's integrated GMA 950 which uses anywhere from 8 to 128 megs of system memory, depending on graphics load. Integrated graphics solutions are common to notebooks with the exception of high end, gaming and Media Center models so the M400 isn't particularly sub-par among its peers.
The display itself is bright and crisp with a fairly wide viewing angle. Tablets use a digitizer display and EMR pen, and digitizers are rarely as striking as their "normal" notebook counterparts. That said, the screen looks nearly as good as a non-gloss standard notebook display and is good enough to watch DVDs without ghosting.
Side view, showing removable DCDRW/DVD ROM drive. A dual layer DVD burner is optional.
The Toshiba M400 is a bargain among Windows XP Tablet Edition convertibles. The Core Duo (now standard), SATA hard drive, optical drive and plenty of ports make this a very capable portable, yet the notebook is light and very compact. We love having the internal CD-RW/DVD drive and the dual layer DVD burner is an enticing option. The biometric fingerprint scanner and hardware level security work well and is a must for those who carry sensitive data. If only the machine had the M205's 1400 x 1050 SXGA+ resolution!
Pro: Good performance and very good battery life. Plenty of ports, good viewing angle, internal optical drive means you can watch DVDs on the plane. Intel wired and wireless networking are strong and the Bluetooth option offers 2.0 + EDR speeds. Biometric fingerprint scanner secures your data from prying eyes.
Con: Standard XGA resolution doesn't put the M400 ahead of the tablet competition. No recovery media included so you must burn your own CDs (about 10 of them!).
Display:12.1" XGA 1024 x 768 color display with active digitizer and EMR pen. Extended viewing angle. Intel GMA950 integrated graphics using up to 128 megs shared memory.
Battery:6 cell 4700mAh Lithium
Core Duo (Core Solo being phased out). 1.66GHz (Intel T2300E), 1.83GHz (Intel T2400), 2.17GHz (Intel T2600) and 2.33GHz (Intel T2700) available. PC-5300, 667MHz DDR2 RAM, 512 megs to 1 gig configurations available, 2 gigs max memory capacity (2 DIMM slots). 40, 60, 80 and 100 gig SATA hard drives available (5400rpm standard with 7200rpm upgrade option). SATA-150 drive interface, drive height 9.5mm.
x 9.8 x .1.53 inches. Weight: 4.5 pounds.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack and mic jack. Audio jacks and volume controls are front-facing.
WiFi 802.11a/b/g Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG80. Intel PRO/1000VE 10/100/1000 Ethernet. 56k modem. Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR standard on some configurations.
Software: Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005. Microsoft OneNote 2003, Microsoft Works 8.5, Protector Suite QL, InterVideo WinDVD 5, WinDVD Creator 2 Platinum (with models that have a DVD burner), Sonic Solutions RecordNow! and Drive Letter Access and 30 day trials of McAfee VirusScan and MS Office Small Business Edition.
Expansion: and Ports 1 PCMCIA type I/II slot, 1
card reader slot (SD, MMC, xD PictureCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro). 1 unpowered FireWire IEEE-1394 port, 3 USB 2.0 ports, docking connector, RJ-11 modem, RJ45 Ethernet, 3.5mm stereo out and 3.5mm mic ports.