When Toshiba released the Portégé R500 in July 2007, the company billed it as the world’s lightest 12-inch notebook with an integrated optical drive. The tricked-out Portégé R500-S5007V is even lighter, and packs some welcome upgrades: a 128GB solid state drive, a transflective LED-backlit indoor/outdoor viewing display, and a Sleep and Charge USB port, for keeping mobile professionals productive on the go. The screen is still a bit dim indoors for our tastes—especially for a system that costs three grand—but you do get more than 5 hours of battery life in a strikingly slim design.
Measuring 11.1 x 8.5 x 0.8 inches and weighing just 2.2 pounds (2 ounces lighter than its predecessor), the R500 remains one of the thinnest, lightest machines in its class—it’s even lighter than a number of mini-notebooks, including the 10-inch MSI Wind. Photographs just don’t do the system justice; when one picks up the featherweight machine, it feels like an empty shell, not a fully-functional notebook.
We liked the responsive, spill-resistant keyboard, but we weren’t enamored by its flex. It did, however, offer plenty of space for comfortable touch-typing. Above the keyboard on the right is the Toshiba Assist button, which launches a window that helps users manage wireless connections, passwords, and other vital PC functions. Next to it is the Toshiba Outdoor Display Switch, which makes it easier to view in sunlight. We had very little problems reading Web sites outdoors.
Below the keyboard is a roomy touchpad and a fingerprint reader that resides between two mushy mouse buttons. The machine offers plenty of connectivity options: three USB 2.0 (one of which uses Sleep and Charge technology to power gadgets when the system is off), VGA, FireWire, Ethernet, headphone, microphone, and a SD Card reader. It should be noted that the R500 features a PC Card slot (not ExpressCard), so if you have an ExpressCard mobile broadband card, you may have to fork over extra cash for an adapter.
Display and Audio
A streaming video of a Heroes episode looked decent on the widescreen 12.1-inch (1280 x 800-pixel resolution) display. However, the viewing angles on the R500 are narrow, especially vertically. The sounds that came from the monaural speaker were adequate for the on-screen action, albeit a bit tinny.
When we popped in our There Will Be Blood DVD while sitting in a park outdoors, we were impressed with the transflective LED display’s ability to minimize glare and keep images viewable in direct sunlight. We could see the special coating used to enhance outdoor viewing, but it’s more than a fair trade-off to be able to work or play without a washed-out screen.
Performance and Heat
Intel’s 1.33-GHz Core 2 Duo U7700 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 128GB solid state drive produced a PCMark Vantage score of 2,263, which is nearly 600 points below the 2,845 ultraportable average. Despite the relatively low scores, we were still able to work within Microsoft Word, stream our favorite radio stations from Slacker, and instant message without a hint of lag.
The underside of the R500 got quite warm during testing. We measured temperatures in excess of 100 degrees—not a good thing for a system that will probably see a fair amount of time in your lap.
The integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics churned out a predictably pedestrian 3DMark03 score of 844, which, while 34 points higher than the earlier R500 we reviewed, is more than 600 points lower than the category average of 1,600. This subpar performance was also seen on 3DMark06 (which tests DirectX 9 3D graphics, CPU, and 3D features), on which the R500 produced a score of 147—far less than the HP EliteBook 2530p (902) and Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (929), which sport Intel’s new 4500MHD integrated graphics chipset.
Still, the R500 ran F.E.A.R. at 27 frames per second on autodetect mode (640 x 480). When we bumped the settings up to its native resolution (1024 x 768), the game stuttered along at an unplayable 1 fps. World of Warcraft proved a far more enjoyable experience; the R500 notched a rate of 38.1 fps at its native 1024 x 768-pixel resolution.
Solid State Drive
The R500 comes with a 128GB solid state drive that’s spacious enough for most users’ documents, spreadsheets, photos, videos, and music. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), the R500 copied and read files at a rate of 18.8 MBps, which is marginally faster than the 18.1 MBps ultraportable average. Using SiSoftware Sandra, the 128GB SSD achieved a read rate of 89.0 MBps, which puts it at the back of pack for SSDs we’ve tested—the Transcend SLC, the next closest, notched 108.8 MBps—but close to double that of mechanical hard drives. The system booted into Windows Vista Business (which can be downgraded to XP) in 1 minute and 3 seconds, which is on a par with the average for systems in this class.
Wireless and Battery Life
Wireless throughput from the 802.11a/g/n radio was strong, with above-average scores of 19.6 Mbps and 18.5 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. This translated into a smooth television viewing experience while streaming Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Hulu.com. We successfully connected a Motorola H780 Bluetooth headset and listened to tunes in our music collection (with only occasional breakup) as we walked about the office.
Mobile professionals will be able to get plenty of work done with the R500. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) the six-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 28 minutes, which is just 2 minutes short of the category average.
Software, Security, and Durability
The R500 comes preinstalled with Google Desktop, Google Picasa, InterVideo WinDVD, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Professional 2007, a 60-day trial of Norton 360 All-In-One, Ulead DVD MovieFactory, and a slew of Toshiba’s homegrown utilities. Toshiba safeguards the machine with multi-level password security, CompuTrace LoJack for Laptops, and TPM 1.2 circuitry. Toshiba’s EasyGuard technology offers shock absorbers for the LCD, magnesium alloy chassis, and a SSD (the latter also benefits from accelerometer protection). The system is covered with a three-year warranty and 24/7 tech support.
Priced at $2,999, the Toshiba Portégé R500-S5007V is a solid ultraportable, but we would recommend holding off investing in this machine. The newer Portégé R600-S4202, which we hope to review soon, comes with a faster 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor, improved graphics, more RAM, and an enhanced display for a more reasonable $2,099.