A few weeks ago i stared looking for a new notebook. Until today I used a “sub-notebook” based on a modified MSI S262 bare-bone by the company transtec. This bare-bone was modified by transtec in that way that it has a better Linux support – therefore it was certified to work with SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). The device is not around 4 years old. What I liked at this device was the size of 13.3, the cheap prices for the batteries, the Linux support and the build quality. Not very good was the keyboard, the lack of a S-ATA controller (the device still used IDE/ P-ATA drives) and the time it was able to run on one battery (approximately 2 hours with the 4 cell [biggest battery available]).
So when I stared looking for a replacement I had the following requirements:
- minimum display resolution of 1280*768
- on normal usage it should run at least 4 hours per battery (biggest available)
- sub-notebook/ weight under 2 kilograms with battery
- working Linux support
- HDD replaceable (to be able to upgrade to an SSD)
- good keyboard – good sizes of keys, main keys shall be like on a normal keyboard, dedicated keys for INS, DEL, POS1, END, Page UP, Page Down, no bouncing
- good build quality
- no glare display
First of all I checked what the big vendors are offering in there premium laptop segment. Here I found several interesting devices. The Lenovo Thinkpad X201, the HP Elitebook 2540p, the Toshiba Portege R700, the Sony Vaio Z-Series as well as some Tablet-PCs like the Hp Elitebook 2740p. I dropped the idea of getting a Tablet-PC very quickly after checking the support by Linux. Basically the touch or PEN displays are working very well under Linux, but for the applications I’m interested in there is not real benefit of it. E.g. no common handwriting recognition.
After investigating to find out some more details of the devices I dropped the devices because of the following personal issues:
Lenovo X201: In spring of this year I was very close of buying a Thinkpad T410s. In the last minute I decided not to buy it because of the strange batteries Lenovo currently offers for their laptops. In reviews you can read that the battery lifetime Lenovo is specifying is much to high. Additionally a lot of users reported that the quality of the battery is not very good (less charging cycles, do need a long time to charge). In addition to the thinks you can read about the T410s the X201 specific point why I dropped it from my list was that it has a VGA-Port only. It does not offer HDMI neither Display-Port.
Sony Vaio Z-Series: Very nice devices! I dropped it because the do not build in standard SSDs. The have their own standard so no change to exchange to drive later on. And the second is simply the price. if you do not care about money and the option to upgrade the hard drive this is a very very nice sub-notebook.
Toshiba Portege R700: The price for a configuration like HP offers for the Elitebook 2540p was more expensive.
HP Elitebook 2540p: Very good device, but heavier than the other devices.
After looking around I found out that Toshiba is offering a consumer version of the Portege R700 which belongs to the Satellite-Series the R630 (in the US it is the Portege R705). At the beginning I thought that the device looks similar and has similar specifications, but must be different regarding build quality and features. In the end I found out that the differences are quite small related to the physical device! The devices Satellite R630/ Portege R705 and Portege R700 are similar related to the Body, Display, Keyboard and main internal devices, the differences are (compared to Portege R700):
- No PCI-Express slot
- No Docking port
- No finger print reader
- Fastest CPU Intel Core I5-460M
- No option of an UMTS/3G module
- 2 year Warranty
- Windows 7 Home Premium instead of Windows 7 Professional
- Price is around 50-60% of the Portege R700 depending a little bit to the configuration 😉
After reviewing this arguments I decided to order the Toshiba Satellite R630 14J which comes with an Intel Core I5-460M, 4 GB RAM, 320 GB hard drive and 9 cell high power battery.
Today, after waiting 4 business days, the device arrived. I opened the boxed immediately to see if reviews are true and yes they are. The physical device is pretty solid and feels very reliable like I would expect from the business Portege R700. In addition to the notebook there was not very much in the box. The other things I found were the power adapter, a quick start guide and a guide about what not to do with the notebook and its components. There was no manual or System CDs/DVDs in the box. So very unspectacular but appropriate to the size of the box (see my picture of the box with the Euro coins).
Some reviews and users reported that the fan can make some noise. What I can confirm is that in case the fan goes up to full power it is noisy, but than it blows out a lot of air. The few minutes I used the notebook under Windows 7 for registering the device at Toshiba and installing some windows updates the fan remained silent. When looking at the Toshiba website they are explaining that they invented for the Portege R700/ R705 and Satellite R630 a new ventilation system which shall be very efficient. I do not have any final result how efficient it is, but what is for sure it is very dynamic! You can try out in the BIOS how is sound when the ventilation system is going up to full power by going into the setup option for power management. If you turn on the option for maximum performance it looks like that the system is powering on the fan instantly to the maximum because of the lack of power management in the BIOS.
Typing on the keyboard is very good. At the beginning the island style keyboard needs a little bit of training but after 30 minutes it feels very easy to type on. What make the whole keyboard superb is the fact that the layout is very close to a normal keyboard. You get every key like INS, DEL, POS1 etc. as dedicated key. Except the keys INS, DEL, POS1… and the cursors keys every key is located like on a normal keyboard. And finally the size of keys like backspace, return, CTRL, ALT and L/R-SHIFT are like on a normal keyboard too!!
The display does what it should. There is no glare effect so reflection is quite low. The brightness looks OK. In case working in a office or normal sun light is should work fine. As soon as I tested it in bright sunlight I will post an update. The resolution of the screen of 1366×768 could be higher (Sony Vaio Z-series offers 1920*1080!) but for working with documents, surfing the web, calculation and some programming it is OK.
The configuration I ordered comes with the biggest battery, the 9 cell pack. The standard pack is 6 cell. Both battery packs end strait after the display. Instead increasing the size of the notebook horizontal when adding the 9 cell battery pack to the notebook, like at the Thinkpad X210 or some notebooks from Dell, the R630 is getting thicker under the screen, because the 9 cell battery looks a little bit like a bar of toblerone. If you use the 6 cell battery pack the R630/R700/R705 has a very smooth finish. If you use the 9 cell the laptop looks a little bit high but typing is quite comfortable.
The options to connect accessories to the Toshiba Satellite R630/ Portege R705 are limited. There are 2x USB, 1xUSB(powered)/eSATA combination, SD-Card reader, VGA, HDMI, headphone, microphone and LAN. So the device is not really a monster for connection a lot of accessories. But for using it a lot during traveling around (it is a sub-notebook!) I think is is very appropriate. To be realistic who carries a lot of accessories around when traveling a lot? In my case I could think about connecting my 3G-stick, DSLR camera and external disk drive at the same time to the notebook but for this scenario the 3 USB ports (1 eSATA) are enough. The decision from Toshiba to offer VGA and a HDMI port is in my opinion a good one. Still today you will find VGA at every video projector (GERMAN: Beamer *fg*) and HDMI can be used to connect to flat screens. When comparing to DisplayPort it maybe lacks for an digital output towards computer screens, but it saves you a lot of needed adapter (e.g. DisplayPort(mini DisplayPort) to VGA, DisplayPort(mini DisplayPort) to HDMI,…)
My experience with running software on the device is limited at the moment. Currently I am charging the battery and creating the Recovery DVDs. Afterwards I will look for updates of the system software and prepare the system for an test installation of OpenSUSE.
So far I am quite happy with the device. Next things to check out (and I will post a reports) are:
- Battery lifetime Windows 7 and OpenSUSE
- Linux OpenSUSE on Toshiba Satellite R630/ Portege R705
Toshiba is selling this device in Japan under the name dynabook R730. => http://dynabook.com/pc/catalog/dynabook/101005r730/index_j.htm