Another one of those posts that I’ve really been meaning to do but other things have got in the way.
A little while back Toshiba loaned me a Tecra A8 to do an appraisal of for their TalkToshiba site. Incidentally, it’s a very good idea from Toshiba in terms of getting exposure and feedback from bloggers and if anyone else would like to send me something to trial, I’m more than happy, although things of a technical nature are preferred.
I will declare an interest. Up until then I had only ever actually purchased one laptop in my life and it was a Toshiba (Pentium MMX with 64Mb Ram if memory serves me correctly) and I loved it until the motherboard eventually gave up but I couldn’t complain, it had been everywhere with me and I’d used it constantly.
So with that in mind and fond memories I was looking forward to the Tecra. It was on paper a great spec. I nice little Dual Core Intel processor. A gig of ram, a 256mb ATI graphics card and I was up for putting it through its paces.
Well, it’s a laptop, it’s black and there’s not much more to say. I appreciate that Mac has done well in stylising it’s laptops and if that’s your cup of tea then good on you but the vast majority of laptops are black or grey slabs and that’s what the Tecra A8 is. That isn’t a criticism because, at least from my perspective it’s performance, what the machine can do and functionality that’s important.
With anticipation of playing around with a computer with a specification that blows all my other machines out of the water I eagerly booted it up, incidentally it came pre-installed with Windows XP. Now I am going to state that yes I do know there are much more accurate ways to bench test hardware but I thought a more layman’s perspective would be better because after all that’s what your end user notices so I decided to test performance through boot-up times/shut down times and graphics through games.
The first thing that struck me when I booted the machine was how slow it was. In terms of boot-up to usable desktop, my Celeron D 3.4Ghz with 256Mb of Ram outperformed it. It also only marginally outperformed my ancient Packard Bell laptop P3 800Mhz with 128Mb of Ram. However, once up and running it was decidedly faster and graphics wise was very good. I might note that the slowness of booting, because it really did under-perform could well have been due to a poorly installed OS because there really shouldn’t be any reason for the slowness I encountered.
With this in mind I decided to cross compare it with a Linux OS. My personal choice was Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn and the performance at boot time was staggering in comparison. It easily out-performed everything else I’ve got and despite ATI graphics cards sometimes being a bit of a pain on Linux due to unavailable proprietary drivers I had a 3D Beryl cube desktop up and running in minutes. It also performed well running games graphics wise even through Wine which is a Windows emulator for Linux. It did however have a problem rendering video while spinning the cube desktop which my other PC with a very old Nvidia card in has no problems doing. I will however put this down to the drivers and not the actual hardware.
All in all it was quite impressive. I personally liked the robust nature of the design, it felt strong and well built with good segmentation of hardware for upgrade and maintenance. I know it’s only a small touch but I really liked the volume switch which simply moved the volume up or down by pushing it one way or the other, none of this trying to scroll it round like mad. However I didn’t like the touchpad. Not out of any kind of unresponsiveness but more that the edged were raised by about 1.5mm above the pad and I kept hitting my finger on them and losing the cursors position.
Would I buy one?
Well, much as I really liked the build quality and I really appreciate well built things, I’d have to say no. The touchpad would drive me mad after a while and user functionality is very important to me. Although the model is discontinued I did look over the price range of what you get from Toshiba for your money and for an independent who has to buy things directly out of what he earns then I felt them to be a little pricey. I could get better spec for less money if I hunted around a bit but it’s obvious that I’m not the core focus of Toshiba.
I also couldn’t get the speakers working with Linux, headphones were fine, just no speaker sound. I’m sure I could have come up with a fix but I was too busy and after all it was just a loaned laptop, if it had been mine then I’d have put in the extra effort. This of course does highlight one important factor. Dell in many ways have stolen a march on other PC manufacturers in that they’ve started selling PC’s with Linux pre-installed. Not that I’d buy one because for some strange reason it costs more, but it does tell me as a Linux user that I could buy their machine and know my OS definitely works with all the hardware which is something I couldn’t be sure of with other makes.
Who’s this laptop for?
Well, it’s a workhorse. It’s not pretty but it’s well built and designed for people on the move. It’s a salesmans/company execs laptop and these are usually purchased in bulk by organisations or companies where price is not necessarily the determining factor. For that market it’s perfect but for the independent and Linux user such as myself, price factors and compatibility are of greater importance so unfortunately it wouldn’t be my first choice for a laptop.