Business travelers, for whom portability and endurance is critical, would do well with the Toshiba Portégé R600-ST520W. While pricey at $2,149, this notebook is thinner and lighter than many netbooks—even if it does cost five times as much. Additionally, the notebook squeezes in an optical drive and is ready for the future, too, with integrated WiMAX. Provided you can foot the bill, this is one light and stylish ultraportable.
Stylistically, the R600 differs little from the Toshiba Portégé R500, another impressively small and light ultraportable. At just 2.4 pounds, the R600 weighs less than most netbooks, even those with smaller 10-inch screens. Combined with its size (11.1 x 8.5 x 0.8 inches), the R600, even with its power brick, stows away very easily inside small messenger bags. However, even though it’s made out of a rather durable magnesium, the system feels relatively flimsy.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard extends the entire width of the chassis, making for a very comfortable typing experience. The keys offer good feedback but are fairly loud when pressed, creating a hollow sound, especially towards the center of the keyboard. Above and to the right is the Outdoor Display button, which makes it easier to see the display in sunlight.
The touchpad is a nice 2.8 x 1.6 inches. It had low friction but was a little jumpy. The silver buttons below, separated by a fingerprint reader, were nice and crisp.
Display and Audio
Like the R500, the 12.1-inch matte display had decent viewing angles horizontally, but we saw images degrade rapidly as we tilted the screen back. Sitting directly in front of the screen, the 1280 x 800-pixel resolution transreflective display—which minimizes outdoor glare—was bright and crisp. Skin tones in an episode of Heroes were subtly rendered, and yellows and oranges in a Hazmat suit practically jumped off the screen.
The R600 has only one tiny speaker above the keyboard; volume is controlled by an old-school wheel on the left side of the notebook. Not surprisingly, it sounded thin and small, but then again, entertainment is not the primary purpose of this notebook.
The 0.3-megapixel webcam provided very good visuals when chatting with a colleague over Skype. Colors were represented cleanly (a powder blue shirt didn’t get washed out), motion blur was minimal, and the microphone picked up sound well.
The R600 has two USB ports, plus VGA, Ethernet, headphone, mic, and ExpressCard/54 and SDHC Card slots.
An eSATA port doubles as a third USB port, and features Toshiba’s Sleep-and-Charge technology, which charges connected devices even when the system is turned off. Another nice feature of the R600 is its DVD reader—a rarity on a system this small, and only seen on other notebooks such as the Sony VAIO TT Series and ASUS U6V.
Powered by a 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 processor and 3GB of RAM, the R600 performed decently for an ultraportable, notching 2,232 on PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures Vista application performance. That’s about 700 points below the ultraportable average. However, we didn’t experience any lag when working in Microsoft Office, surfing the Web, and checking e-mail. The Lenovo ThinkPad X200s, which has a 1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L9400 processor and 2GB of RAM, scored 3,163 on PCMark Vantage.
Using Handbrake, we transcoded a 5-minute-and-5-second (114MB) MPEG4 file to AVI; the R600 took a lengthy 13:02. While almost twice as fast as the HP Pavilion dv2, this time is almost twice as slow as the $799 Gateway UC7807u, which has a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor. When repeating the transcoding while zipping a 4.97GB file in the background, the R600 took an even longer 22:23.
Graphics and Hard Drive
Unsurprisingly, the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU wasn’t impressive, garnering 596 on 3DMark06, 300 points below the ultraportable average. The system creaked along while playing Far Cry 2, eking out just 4.8 frames per second on autodetect (and a resolution of 640 x 480) and 3.2 fps with the settings and resolution maxed out. A virtual flight around Manhattan in Google Earth was choppy, and the system took its time rendering all the details in 3D buildings.
Not only is the 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive a bit skimpy (considering that netbooks have the same size drive), but its performance was lackluster. It booted Windows Vista Business in a sluggish 87 seconds, almost half a minute longer than the average. Its transfer rate of 16.9 MBps was about 3 MBps slower than a typical ultraportable, too.
Unlike the R500, which topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the R600 kept its cool while we were testing it, never getting uncomfortably hot.
Toshiba includes a number of security and convenience features designed to put an executive’s mind at ease. Aside from the fingerprint reader, the R600 packs in Trusted Platform Module (TPM v1.2), Toshiba ConfigFree, Toshiba Management Console, and Toshiba Security Assist.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The six-cell, 5800-mAH battery in the R600 lasted a long 6 hours and 24 minutes; that’s an hour and 10 minutes longer than the ultraportable average, but the ThinkPad X200s with a nine-cell battery lasted 10:43. Then again, Lenovo’s machine weighs nearly a pound more.
The R600’s Intel WiFi Link 5350AGN radio delivered throughput of 18.1 Mbps at 15 feet and 15.6 Mbps at 50 feet. Both scores are nearly identical to the ultraportable averages, and episodes of The Office streamed from Hulu smoothly. The system also comes with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, useful for executives who like to carry along a wireless mouse or a phone they’d like to use as a wireless modem.
New to the R600 is the ability to connect to the Clearwire’s WiMAX network; while this technology is only deployed in Baltimore and Portland, it’s good to know that the notebook is future-proofed for the next generation of wireless broadband.
The R600 we tested (R600-ST520W) is the company’s mid-price model. The base model, the R600-S4201, costs $2,099 and has all the same specs but without WiMAX capability. The top model, the R600-S4202 ($2,999), also leaves out WiMAX, but adds a 128GB SSD.
Software and Warranty
The R600 comes bundles with a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2007, as well as Google Picasa and Toshiba Disc Creator. Toshiba covers the system with a three-year warranty, and the battery is guaranteed for one year.
If your primary need is a secure and superslim notebook that can go the distance, the $2,149 Toshiba Portégé R600-ST520W has a lot to offer. Its 6.5-hour battery life and featherlight weight will certainly be appreciated on business trips. However, its performance is lackluster compared to other ultraportables, and the display is less than stellar. If you don’t need an optical drive, the 1-pound-heavier Lenovo ThinkPad X200s offers superior performance, a higher screen resolution, and four more hours of runtime, for nearly $500 less. But if you demand a headturning design and a DVD drive, this ultraportable is worth the splurge.