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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  • JasonInofuentes - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    How much of an affect did it really have, I mean could you tell if you put an average screen side by side?
  • TrackSmart - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    As an owner of a Toshiba R705, which has similarly low contrast, I can tell you that the screen is noticeably more washed out than on a 3 year old Dell Inspiron sitting next to it. And it's noticeably worse than the acer netbook we have on hand. And compared to a decent desktop monitor, it becomes obvious that a huge swath of the color spectrum is missing. When I first got it, I kept tilting the screen forward and back, thinking it was washed out because of a less than optimal viewing angle. Nope. Just terrible contrast. At least the screen is plenty bright. That's the only good thing I can say about it.
  • Belard - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    Crappy keyboard, gloss... cheap screen, "business machine".

    Why bother with this? A ThinkPad has a real keyboard, no gloss. A better screen with optional higher rez display that is well worth the extra $50.

    T-Series starts at $800.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    While I won't disagree with the general idea, the T520 with similar specs to the review system comes to $2019, but Lenovo has a sale right now that brings the price down to just $1357. At that price, yes, I'd definitely go with the T520. I'd also take advantage of the option to upgrade to a 1080p LCD (and if you need a better than HD 3000 GPU, grab the Quadro NVS 4200M for another $150 added to the cost).

    However, the T520 dimensions are 14.68" x 9.65" x1.25-1.40" and weight is 5.57 lbs. So the Toshiba Tecra is slightly wider but .2 to .4" thinner and .3 lbs. lighter.

    I'd still lean towards the Lenovo; shame they won't send us anything for review these days.
  • Penti - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    The L-series should compete well with this model though! On the low end. Lacking the dedicated graphics then though. But this can also be had without. They also even support docking stations. With their low starting prices. So they should make some sense in business scenarios. Add $50 on the Lenovo L-520 and you also get the 1600x900 screen. Add another $50 if you like the 9-cell battery. However the Toshiba stands pretty well in this regard. So does Dell and HP. A 14" E5420 can be had for the same price with 3 year basic warranty and the 1600x900 screen. Where the Toshiba falls, is for my taste the screen. If you just want a 15" model with NVS 4200M you could grab the Dell E6520 for about 1200 dollars. For about same as this with 1080 screen. So you shouldn't need any special deals to match this. A T-520 or E6520 and HP 8560p matches just fine, but with the added bonus of coming with higher res screens.

    The 8560p even comes with a comparable GPU, the HD6470M, preconfigured option with 4GB DDR3, 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M, 320GB 7200, 15.6" 1600x900 anti-glare and HD6470M is $1299. Or about $1200 from resellers such as pcmall. Then with the i5-2540M. And the i7-2620M model is $1339.99 at newegg. So they are not the only game in town.
  • Penti - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    And of course if you just like a semi-gaming (or laptop with discrete graphics) but don't need any business features, there is lots of others. Even if you like higher res screens. You get quad-core notebooks with GT540 or there about for around 1000 dollars if you can handle the lousy 1080 screens.
  • Belard - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    I'd choose the L (Lame) Series over this Toshiba... The L-Series still has a good keyboard with a more generic layout... which is not as good as the oldschool ThinkPad layout that is found in the T series.

    Features quality of the L are not up to the level T and are priced about $200~300 cheaper.

    Anyways... JarredWalkton. Lenovo is always having some sort of sale. I bumped up the T520 with camera, 500GB HD and top end wireless package. and of course went with the 1600x900 screen. The price is $1444, which is $95 cheaper than the T-520 I configured against the Toshiba in this review.

    The Toshiba includes a 3yr warranty. Its a $100 more on the ThinkPad for a 3-year ONSITE parts and labor package which is a bargain.

    The current T520 doesn't have USB3.0 yet. (The 420s does)

    So for $95 more, get a serious NVIDIA NVS 4200M graphics (I like AMD).
    - Killer keyboard - I don't think anyone else is making normal keysboards.
    - Higher rez graphics and better screen
    - Spill resistant keyboard (has 2-3 channels to drain your beer)
    - Crash cage frame (take a ThinkPad apart, you'll see it - * L and Edges are not included)

    Looking at the photos of the Toshiba 850... its rather, generic looking... The HP Elite or Dell Latitudes are much better looking ThinkPad clones...
    (When Dell, HP and Toshiba add a tracking stick to their business notebooks and using heavy duty hinges - they are making ThinkPad-like notebooks)
  • wvh - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    Toshiba seems to be headed in the right direction, but 1366x768 on a 15-inch laptop? This is not a consumer-oriented netbook. I would never buy anything with a 1366x768 resolution, and it's hard to imagine my needs would be far different than those of any other serious geek. I'm not a fan, but it seems that so far only Apple can get the bare basics of screen/keyboard/trackpad right... If you screw one of those elementary in/out interfaces up and handicap basic usability, it really doesn't matter anymore what sort of i-something, amount of memory or usb666 ports you put in it.
  • Mumrik - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    "15.6-inch LED Matte 16:9 1366x768"

    That is disgusting...

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