Reviewed March 9, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Toshiba has populated its ultraportable Portege line of notebooks with 12.1-inch models built on Intel Core 2 Duo mobile series processors. These ultralight notebooks range from $1299 to $2999 and differ in processor and HDD vs. SSD. The Portege R500 series has the U7700 (Merom, 1.33GHz) processor and the Portege R600 has the SU9400 (Penryn, 1.40GHz) while the Portege A600, which we used in this review, has the SU9300 (Penryn, 1.20GHz) that’s considerably cheaper than the other two models. Toshiba currently offers the Portege A600 in four models online, and all have the same specs-- the different model numbers represent only the different color chassis in each model. These colors include Soft Pink (ST2231), Titanium Silver (S2201, used in this review), Cosmic Black (ST2232) and Frost White (ST2230).
The Toshiba Portege A600 runs on an Intel Core 2 Duo processor SU9300 (Penryn) clocked at 1.20GHz with 3GB memory and 160GB hard drive. The notebook performs well when running MS Office applications, IE and even some graphically demanding games. The notebook has a not-so-high-end 12.1-inch widescreen 1280 x 800 display and a built-in DVD drive. The Toshiba has Windows Vista Business pre-installed (32 or 64-bit), SP1 and like many notebooks on the market today, it offers Windows XP downgrade on a media disc.
Design and Ergonomics
Now that both Apple and Sony have left the 12-inch ultralight notebook market, the 12-inchers have become more business orientated notebooks that provide ultra portability and enough power for business applications. The Toshiba Portege A600 fits right in the middle of the ultralight business notebook category. The notebook measures 11.3 x 8.8 x 1.2 inches and weight starts at 3.22 lbs. It’s heavier than the Fujitsu LifeBook P8020 12-inch notebook (2.9 lbs) but lighter than the Sony Z 13-inch notebook (3.31 lbs). The design is all business in the Titanium Silver finish: the brushed silver chassis is by no means flashy and there’s nothing shiny except the mouse button area. If you want a hint of fashion, check out the Cosmic Black or the Soft Pink models.
The only bit of bling: the mouse button area.
The 85-key US keyboard has a normal layout and decent travel. The touch pad sits in the center below the keyboard and it’s responsive. The left and right mouse keys live below the touchpad with a fingerprint reader separating them. The fingerprint reader works well and the notebook has the Infineon TPM software Pro package. A line of small LED lights shines through the cover just below the mouse buttons and the fingerprint reader. A single speaker grill sits next to the power button on the top left and the 0.3 megapixel web cam lives above the display.
In addition, the Toshiba Portege A600 has two very useful dedicated launch keys above the keyboard that provide quick access to some essential utilities and system settings. One of the dedicated keys launches the Toshiba Assist tools that can help you set up wireless connections and manage system tools and utilities such as the face verification logon utility. Another dedicated key launches the Windows Mobility Center, a Vista application with settings for screen brightness, audio volume, battery settings, Wi-Fi connection management and computer locking.
Hardware and Performance
The Toshiba Portege A600 runs on the Intel Core 2 Duo U9300 at 1.2GHz with 3GB memory. The notebook has 1GB memory on the motherboard and one SODIMM slot with a 2GB memory module. You can upgrade the memory to 5 gigs using a 4 gig SODIMM. The memory slot is under a cover secured by a Philips head screw at the bottom of the notebook. Though the notebook only has integrated graphics (Intel GMA4500MHD), it runs some fairly demanding games just fine.
The Toshiba Portege A600 has a 160GB S-ATA hard drive running at 5400 RPM. Toshiba incorporates a movement sensor that parks the heads when movement is detected, and the A600’s is annoyingly sensitive. With any slight movement, like gently picking the notebook up from a table, the notebook will park the drive heads to protect it from the “vibration” and gives you a warning message. We put the Toshiba Portege A600 through PCMark 05 benchmark tests with power management setting at Balanced. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the score for the hard drive tests. As result, there is no overall score, but there are results in CPU, memory and graphics performance.
Total score: 3.1
Gaming graphics: 3.3
Primary hard disk: 5.3
These are respectable numbers for an ultralight with an ultra low voltage CPU, and are comparable to the Fujitsu LifeBook P8020’s benchmark numbers (the Fujitsu scores slightly higher as it has a higher speed CPU). MS Office 2007 applications, Windows Media Player, Adobe Photoshop and IE run smoothly on the Toshiba. We tested 3rd party business software on the Portege A600, and they ran reasonably fast though RIM’s BlackBerry Desktop software took about 12 minutes to install. Skype also runs smoothly.
The Toshiba Portege A600 has a built-in DVD SuperMulti drive with Labelflash supporting 11 formats. DVD and CDs play smoothly on the notebook. Movies look a bit milky on Toshiba’s display and the single speaker sounds harsh if you are used to notebooks with stereo speakers. Surprisingly the Toshiba Portege A600 plays games well even with some graphics demanding titles. We tested games like F.E.A.R. on the notebook, and they played very well.
The Toshiba Portege A600 has 3 USB v2.0 ports (2 on the left) and one of them is eSATA/USB combo with USB sleep and charge. VGA monitor out, DC in, headphone jack, mic jack and the volume control live on the left side of the notebook along with a cooling vent which gets hot when playing more demanding games. The optical drive is on the right side of the notebook, along with the ExpressCard slot (ExpressCard/34 and 54), SD card reader (SD and SDHC), Wi-Fi on/off switch (Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100AGN), 10/100/1000 Ethernet (Intel 82567V Gigabit) port and security lock slot. The built-in Wi-Fi has very good range thanks to the 802.11n and speed is good over Wi-Fi.
The Toshiba Portege A600 comes out of the factory like a blank canvas: it has Windows Vista Business Edition on the recovery partition and you can choose to install the 32-bit or 64-bit version when setting up the OS. We chose to install the 64-bit Vista Business Edition and it took at least a couple of hours to install the OS and set up the machine. Toshiba includes a recovery disk with Windows XP Professional SP 3 downgrade which should please fans of XP and corporate IT. Toshiba bundles its own utilities and some basic 3rd party software, and these include the Toshiba ConfigFree, Toshiba Disc Creator, Toshiba DVD Player, Toshiba Face Recognition and InterVideo WinDVD, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Sun Java Runtime and Microsoft Works 9. Like most notebooks today, the Toshiba A600 ships with a 60-day trial versions of Norton Internet Security 2008 and MS Office Pro 2007. There are also special software offers such as Intuit QuickBooks and Computrace LoJack for laptops.
Most of Toshiba’s utilities, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the finger print reader, worked well in our tests. But the face recognition software was problematic, especially in mid to low light settings where other notebooks we’ve reviewed by ASUS and Fujitsu had no problems.
The Toshiba Portege A600 comes with a beefy 6 cell Lithium Ion battery that’s 5800 mAh in capacity and a 100-240V, 45W AC adapter that’s extremely small and portable. The battery lasts about 4 hours doing regular work (MS Office, browsing the web, etc.) and 4 hours watching a DVD with the Balanced power setting active and Wi-Fi turned off. The Toshiba Portege A600 offers Vista’s Balanced, Power Saving and High Performance power management settings. The Balanced setting is good for running productivity applications but the screen is a bit dim for multimedia like movie playback and gaming. The notebook charges quite fast and deals with hibernation smoothly.
With the growing popularity of netbooks, casual laptop users who need to check their email and browse the Net will find the slower Atom processor machines running either Linux or Windows XP adequate for the job. But “full notebooks” are better for business users who need to run Vista, work on productivity tasks (Office, Photoshop, etc.), need more ports and expansion slots and require an optical drive. The Toshiba A600 fits the role well. It’s one of the cheapest 12-inch notebooks on the market and it has good enough performance running most business applications and multimedia. Though not equipped with the fastest mobile processor, the Toshiba has an attractive price and that means more now to businesses and individual users.
Pro: Small size though not ultra thin. Good performance running most applications and has good gaming power for a machine in this class. Downgradeable to Windows XP. Good Wi-Fi range and good battery life.
Con: Hard drive is too finicky about movement and seems slow despite the SATA interface. The face recognition software doesn’t work well. Display is just OK.
Display: 12.1” diagonal widescreen backlit LED display at 1280 x 800 native resolution (WXGA). Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD with 128MB-1340MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory.
Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion battery pack, 5800mAh. 45W AC adapter with auto sensing, 100-240V/50-60Hz.
Performance: Intel Core 2 Duo processor SU9300 model at 1.20GHz, 3MB L2 cache, 800MHz front side bus. 3GB memory (PC2-6400) DDR2 SDRAM, 5GB max.
Size: 11.3 x 8.8 x 1.2 inches. Weight: 3.22 lbs.
Drives: 160GB (5400 RPM) Serial ATA hard disk drive. DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) with Labelflash drive supporting 11 formats.
Webcam: 0.3MP webcam.
Audio: Built-in mono speaker, built in mic, sound volume control, mic input port and headphone out port.
Networking: Intel WiFi Link 5100AGN (802.11a/g/n) and 10/100/1000 gigabit Ethernet. RJ-45 LAN port. Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR.
Ports and Slots: 3 USB 2.0 ports, SD card reader, VGA monitor port, ExpressCard/54 slot and 3.5mm mic-in port. Also included a fingerprint reader and Infineon TPM.
Software: Windows Vista Business Edition (32-bit and 64-bit) Operating System. Windows XP included on disc. Microsoft Works 9, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Toshiba DVD Player and Disc Creator software, Ulead DVD MovieFactory and Google tools. Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer included. Also fingerprint and face recognition software for security. Recovery partition on the computer. Trial software includes: Microsoft Office Professional 2007 Edition (60-day trial) and Norton Internet Security 2008 (60-day trial).