Introducing the Toshiba Tecra R850

Toshiba won't mind if we say that their previous business class notebooks looked...kind of cheap. They were bulky and unattractive, largely feeling like consumer notebooks with matte instead of glossy plastic. Yet when we visited with Toshiba to talk about their Tecra refresh, we were impressed, and Toshiba's reps were only too happy to put the new Tecras next to the old ones to demonstrate the stunning new weight loss plan the notebooks were put on. And the best part? While the Tecras have gotten a healthy refresh, their prices remain remarkably affordable. Is the 15.6" Tecra R850 the notebook you've been looking for?

I'm not sure even Toshiba was prepared for the kind of success the Portege R700 experienced. In many ways the design was a bit of a divergence from their usual fare, but it diverged in the right ways and hit a portable computing sweet spot for a lot of users. Toshiba's designers took the lessons of the R700 to heart and fashioned their new Tecra R840 and R850 notebooks after it, resulting in a pair of remarkably thin but still sturdy and classy-looking business notebooks. We have the 15.6" Tecra R850 on hand, and it offers a healthy amount of performance and value. Check it out:

Toshiba Tecra R850 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2620M
(2x2.7GHz + HTT, 3.4GHz Turbo, 32nm, 4MB L3, 35W, vPro Enabled)
Chipset Intel QM67
Memory 1x4GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6450M 1GB GDDR3
(160 Stream Processors, 600MHz/1.6GHz Core/Memory clocks, 64-bit memory bus)
Display 15.6-inch LED Matte 16:9 1366x768
(Toshiba TOS5091 Panel)
Hard Drive(s) Hitachi Travelstar Z7K320 320GB 7200-RPM SATA 3Gbps Hard Disk
Optical Drive DVD+-RW Combo Drive
Networking Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 802.11a/b/g/n (WiDi capable)
Bluetooth 3.0+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD audio
Stereo speakers
Combination headphone/microphone jack
Battery 6-Cell, 66Wh battery
Front Side -
Left Side AC adapter port
Exhaust vent
USB 3.0
Memory card reader
Right Side Combination headphone/microphone jack
2x USB 2.0
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port (sleep charge capable)
Optical drive
Ethernet jack
Kensington lock
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 14.9" x 9.9" x 0.82-1.19" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.29 lbs
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB 3.0
Fingerprint reader
Docking port
Warranty 3-year standard parts and labor warranty (1-year on battery)
Pricing Starts at $879
As configured $1,349

For starters, it took us a long time to get Intel's fastest mobile dual-core i7 in house last generation, but Toshiba makes it available right out of the gate. The Core i7-2620M is the fastest dual-core Sandy Bridge mobile processor on the market, with a 2.7GHz nominal clock speed able to turbo up to 3.2GHz on both cores and 3.4GHz on a single core. It also sports a full 4MB of L3 cache (mobile i5s only offer 3MB). In a move that seems to be fairly common with these business-class notebooks, Toshiba also only populates one of the memory channels with a single 4GB DIMM, leaving the second one free for a future upgrade.

Graphics duties are handled by the AMD Radeon HD 6450M, and unfortunately there's no hybrid graphics solution in place: the Tecra R850 runs on the 6450M all the time; that means no access to Intel's Quick Sync technology either. Toshiba also still inexplicably continues to opt out of AMD's mobile driver program, much to the detriment of their end users. As for the 6450M, it's a welcome upgrade from the tired Mobility Radeon HD 5470. It features 160 stream processors clocked at 600MHz and 1GB of GDDR3 strapped to a 64-bit memory bus, running at an effective 1.6GHz. This is still a decent upgrade from the Intel HD 3000, and Toshiba's decision to go with AMD is predicated largely upon EyeFinity, which the R850 supports.

Storage duties are handled by a Hitachi Z7K320 320GB, 7200-RPM hard drive, a welcome change of pace from Toshiba's habit of using their own dog slow mobile drives. The Z7K320 is a single-platter drive that tops out at just 7mm in height, and while the 320GB of capacity seems slight it should still be enough for most users. Toshiba also has a hard drive impact sensor built into the Tecra R850 that parks the head when motion is detected.

Rounding things out is a healthy connectivity suite featuring both USB 3.0 and eSATA, along with sleep USB charge capability and gigabit Ethernet. Toshiba even includes an ExpressCard/34 slot for future expansion, and the docking bay port on the bottom of the notebook is identical across the Portege R800 and Tecra R840, allowing for the same dock to be used for multiple notebooks.

Build Quality: Thin is In
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  • ScottHavens - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I stopped reading when I saw 15.6" and 1366x768. That resolution is borderline acceptable for a 12" screen; I'm typing this with a 1400x900 12" screen and still wouldn't mind it a bit higher res. Anything short of 1080p is laughable for a screen that size and an immediate won't-buy.
  • kmmatney - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I would say that 1280 x 800 is the minimum for a 15" screen. Having only 766 vertical pixels is a crap, especially with all this ribbon-menu nonsense.
  • TrackSmart - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I agree with everyone about the screen resolution and quality. Have you seen these 15.6" laptops? They are huge. Much wider than older 15" models (e.g. before 16:9 displays). Manufacturers should be going for 1680x1050 or similar resolutions and offer a higher quality screen as an upgrade for those who care. Part of the problem is that retail stores hide the screen resolution specifications. And forget about measures of screen quality. No information = no way for the non-tech savvy user to compare products. And that means no incentive for companies to give you something better.
  • Shinobi_III - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    My experience with Toshiba laptops has always been that while the chassis might feel real crappy, and has no "titanium trim" or branded speakers (that still sound bad)
    They always spent that lull money on the hardware quality, maybe not specs, but durability.

    All kinds of laptops stream through my work (I fix them for a living) and Toshibas virtually never have hardware failures, unless they've been pounded on..
  • Guspaz - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I'm an r700 owner, and a friend recently purchased an r830, so I've kept up a bit on Toshiba's latest offerings. From my experience, and this review, it seems that there are a few flaws that Toshiba should fix (and should have fixed) with these second-gen laptops:

    1) The fingerprint reader. It's annoying that it's between the two trackpad buttons. It would be nice if it were on the palm rest on the side like other vendors do. I use the trackpad a lot, I use the fingerprint reader occasionally. Why does it need to be right on the trackpad?

    2) Quad-core CPU option on larger sizes. I understand not putting a quad-core in the 830 or 840, but the 850 has no excuse. Quad-core parts don't significantly impact battery life, and the 850 clearly has thermal budget to spare. It'd be a nice upgrade if it were offered, but for some reason, it isn't.

    3) The discrete graphics in the r850 are a joke. If the discrete graphics are slower than the CPU's iGPU, what the heck is the point of the discrete graphics? At least Toshiba does give you the option here to not get the ATI chip.

    4) The screens. For the r700 and r830, the 1366x768 resolution isn't a huge issue. A bit low, but on a 13.3", it's still somewhat acceptable. But on a 14" or 15.6" notebook, it's really not. The review already largely touched on this, but shipping a 1366x768 15.6" display in these price ranges are not acceptable. A friend of mine was recently in the market for a ~15" dockable business notebook, and he did not purchase the r850 specifically because of the low screen resolution; his 15" Dell Latitude came with a 1680x1050 display instead, and much better quality to boot.

    The unfortunate thing is that the r800 series was Toshiba's chance to fix some of the flaws from the r700 series, and it looks like they decided not to.
  • DaveGirard - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    it'd be nice if you could include the MacBook Pros with discrete AMD instead of onboard graphics.
  • Nimiz99 - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I just wanted to mention that for a business-class notebook 3 screens is very nice...especially considering that for mine (DELL E6410), only two screens are possible. The problem is that one of the screens that "counts" towards the limit is the laptop screen itself. Ideally i'd like to have two 23" lcd's next to each other with the laptop screen serving for email/media. The fact that the Toshiba can do that is a huge plus.

    On an aside, I don't think I'd spend the money on a business class notebook, where external displays, where processor speed (for all those programs and Office), and where the build quality for 50%-90% travel will make much more of a difference, when I can buy a gaming-centric note-book that delivers on the GPU and screen quality that i'd demand for that SPECIFIC usage scenario.
  • HangFire - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    1366x768... sigh. I don't pay US$900 or more for 1366x768.

    All 15.6" laptops are big, and why not use the space for a number pad. I have no problem with that. But with the low screen resolution and poor gaming performance, you might as well buy the C655 HD3000 i3 version, which MicroCenter had on sale for Memorial Day weekend for $399.
  • Mxlasm - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I would at least mention Lenovo Thinkpads as a possible competitor. Not sure about their latest T5xx line, but in the past their business laptops always were of very high build quality, with very good keyboard and relatively light (and admittedly with a so-so scrren as well). Also usually configurable and lately reasonably priced as well.
  • Belard - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    These Toshibas don't compare to a ThinkPad T series, I'd even put them subpar to the L-Series (low-end) or even the Edge which is the "hip" modernized looking ThinkPad with island-type keyboard. But the Edge models are lower cost without the horse power.

    The only "feature" Toshiba has, is a numeric keypad... with a crappy keyboard.

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