Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC – Our Full Review
by: Barry J. Doyle
Toshiba M4 Overview
You may recall Toshiba’s description of its R15 Tablet PC – “It’s a notebook when you need it to be, and a tablet when you want the comfort of paper and pen.” Now in boasting the new Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC, Toshiba has much more to say: “The Tecra M4 Tablet PC integrates the advanced features of a tablet with state-of-the-art notebook technology. …its every aspect is geared toward the optimal mobile experience. The Tecra M4 Tablet PC, our newest platform, is a serious convertible notebook for business professionals who won’t compromise the consistency, reliability and longevity of today’s business environment demands.”
Those are some strong claims Toshiba. Does the new Tecra M4 really stack up to its business class competition such as Fujitsu or IBM? Read on and we’ll share all the features, performance benchmarks and our unbiased observations of the M4 Tablet!
- OS – Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005
- Intel Pentium M Processor 730 (1.60GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 533MHz FSB)
- 14.0″ SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) display
- 60GB, 5400RPM Hard Drive
- 512MB 533MHz PC4200 DDR2 SDRAM
- DVD/CD-RW Multifunction drive
- 6-cell battery (4700mAh)
- Ports: RGB (monitor) port, TV-out (S-Video), 3 USB (2.0),
External Mic jack, Headphone jack, RJ-45 LAN port,
RJ-11 modem port, 240pin docking connector
- nVIDIA GeForce Go 6200 TE with 64MB DDR SDRAM
- Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g)
- Dimensions: 12.9- x 11.4- x 1.45-inch (f/r)
- Weight: 6.2 lbs.
Extra Features worth noting:
- Dedicated Graphics Chip
- Modular (removable) Optical Drive
- Shock Mounted (and protected) Hard Drive
- Port Replicator Slot
- Toshiba “ConfigFree” Software
M4 Design/Build Quality
In considering the “good, the bad and the ugly” of any model we review, let’s just get one issue (and it certainly isn’t “good”) out of the way. If you read our Tecra M4 First Look, you may recall that we had a terrible, horrible, disgraceful, unacceptable stuck RED pixel on our M4 display. Well, we went ahead and ordered a replacement. Within seconds of booting it up for the first time, we were shocked to notice a repeat of the same issue. That’s right, ANOTHER STUCK RED PIXEL in almost the same location on the display. Whoever (if anyone) is in charge of quality control for Toshiba’s displays needs a new pair of glasses. This is not exactly hard to miss. Oh by the way, can you tell how much I dislike dead pixels. Maybe this strong aversion is limited to just me and a few other users who actually look at their screens while they work? All I can say is that in my opinion, there is no excuse for such an obvious flaw to make it off the assembly line. There, now on with the review.
The #@$%! stuck pixel.
The Toshiba Tecra M4 looks almost identical to its Satellite R15 sibling. Although the M4 is a whole different machine under the hood, the exterior is the same build as the R15 with the exception that the palmrests and area surrounding the keyboard are unpainted black plastic. The R15 is painted silver in this area. So as we mentioned with the R15, the same is true with the M4:
The M4 feels solid and roadworthy. The hard drive is “shock mounted” to prevent data loss if the unit is bumped or dropped while it is powered on. The swiveling display hinge moves smoothly and feels sturdy enough to withstand repeat use. The display locks firmly in place when the M4 is in “tablet mode” and when the lid is closed with the screen facing inward (standard). There is no play in either position which makes the device feel stable to load in a case or “carry down the hall” to your next meeting.
The “swivel hinge” feels strong and solid.
Toshiba HDD Protection
With its black interior, the Tecra M4 has a bit more of a business-oriented appearance than the silver paint on the R15. The top of the unit is silver, which does indeed add a slick aesthetic appeal. The sides, front, rear and underside of the unit adds a nice dark contrast with its sturdy black plastic. Overall, the materials used for the exterior construction feel roadworthy. We give the M4 an “A” in exterior build quality.
Despite its “Sonoma” platform core, the M4 runs relatively cool. The fan is relatively quiet and overall the M4 is a pleasure to work with for extended periods of time. The high resolution 14.0″ SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) display is sufficiently lit and easy on the eyes.
The top exterior of the M4 has a sharp metallic silver look.
The Photo Tour
wi-fi switch, dual array mic (left and right sides), mic jack, headphone jack, volume dial, display release
USB port, VGA out, S-Video Out, modem jack, ethernet port, AC in
heat vent, Kensington lock, IR port, USB ports, SD card reader, firewire port, PCMCIA slot
pen slot, optical drive, programmable application button, switch lock
I absolutely love the spring loaded pen slot. The location is perfect to grab the pen in both “notebook” or “tablet” mode. The optical drive is modular and can be removed/upgraded. There is also a programmable application launch button. This button is customizable to launch applications via the included software utility. The switch lock next to the button will lock the button to avoid “accidental” presses.
A utility in the control panel is available to customize the application launch button
Unfortunately Toshiba opted for a SD card reader instead of the multi-card reader that other manufacturers are starting to offer. However, most any type of card reader can be added to the PCMCIA slot if needed. A big plus – thank goodness the heat exhaust (heat vent) is on the side instead of the bottom of the unit!
Underside: battery, hard disk access, RAM compartment, docking port
We easily pulled out the optical drive for this photo. Having a removable drive is beneficial in the case that you want to upgrade to a DVD burner or to replace a broken drive without sending in the whole machine.
In “tablet mode”
slide power switch, Windows Task Manager button, screen rotation button, toggle/navigation stick
The Tecra M4 features a SXGA+ (1400 x 1050 pixel resolution) electromagnetic touchscreen. The display is sufficiently bright and evenly lit. The screen surface is slightly textured to allow for good traction with the pen and a nice feel overall.
The display is functional for outdoor use. We did find that the screen faired much better in a shady area rather than in direct sunlight. The glare outdoors is minimized due to the textured surface of the touchscreen.
Although the screen is only viewable “head-on” in an outdoor environment, it is certainly functional.
The graphics chipset in the Tecra M4 is absolutely outstanding. Toshiba did not skimp with the nVIDIA GeForce Go 6200 TE with 64MB DDR SDRAM . This chip flew through Doom 3 set at “medium” with all the eye candy turned on. Um, I didn’t have much time to fully test Doom 3 with benchmarks because um… Oh yeah – that’s right! I was really “busy” writing news for the site. However, the M4 pushes the envelope to the maximum 60 FPS during the majority of gameplay.
The M4 incorporates “SRS TruSurround XT” technology. Despite the fancy name, the speakers produce average quality sound (for a notebook) and acceptable volume. Overall I would rate the sound as above the quality of the average notebook. Watching a DVD is tolerable, but for real tone and depth for music playback, only external speakers will do justice.
The M4 features “dual array” built-in microphones. A nice software extra SoundMAX from Andrea Electronics is included to control voice input and filtering options. Dictation and voice recognition is noticably accurate.
The SoundMAX utility is a nice little extra.
Keyboard / TouchPad / Pen
The M4 keyboard is responsive and quiet. The keys are spread out properly, There is absolutely no flex, so that typing is near that of desktop experience. The touchpad allows horizontal and vertical scrolling and has a tactile surface for a good feel on the fingertip. Similar to the design found on the HP TC4200, the left and right click buttons are doubled up. Rubberized duplicate buttons are located above the touch area and a “finger mouse pointer stick” is located in the lower center of the keyboard for those ThinkPad transplants who might miss it. The touchpad driver delivers smooth scrolling that works fine in Firefox (there have been issues with many laptop models being problematic with the current version of this browser). Each of the “mouse buttons” has a molded curvature making them a pleasure to use. The mouse buttons both deliver a solid “click”, and both the left and right buttons are equally responsive when pressed.
The M4 includes a Wacom electromagnetic pen which thankfully does not require batteries. The placement of the pen’s “right click” button is perfect so that it doesn’t get in the way of regular writing. The pen is housed in a spring loaded slot on the right side of the M4 which makes it easy to access without turning the unit around or upside down. With a “push” of the button on the top of the pen, it pops right out of the slot and is ready for use.
Notice the extra mouse buttons in a rubber housing, and the pointing stick (blue) located in the lower center of the keyboard.
Processor and Performance
Our M4 review model is powered by the Intel Pentium M 730 (1.6GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB). The performance of this Sonoma-based architecture combined with a 5400RPM hard drive and the new PCI Express architecture makes the M4 a speedy machine that will challenge the performance of the majority of today’s desktops.
We used SuperPI to calculate the number Pi to 2 Million digits in this raw number crunching benchmark. This open source benchmark application allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated from 16 Thousand to 32 Million. The benchmark, which uses 19 iterations in the test, was set to 2 Million digits.
Comparison of tablet/notebook models using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC (1.6GHz Sonoma Pentium M)||1m 50s|
|Toshiba R15 Tablet PC (1.6GHz Dothan PM)||2m 8s|
|ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC (1.5GHz Alviso LV PM)||2m 3s|
|Fujitsu ST5000 (1.1GHz Dothan PM)||2m 37s|
|HP tc4200 (1.73GHz Alviso PM)||1m 51s|
We used Futuremark’s PCMark ’04 benchmarking softare to measure the M4’s performance in various tasks.
Performance Benchmarks for the Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC (1.6GHz) compared to the Satellite R15 (1.60GHz) notebook (simulating multiple computing tasks):
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores||Toshiba Tecra M4 (1.6GHz)||Toshiba Satellite R15 (1.6GHz)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.09 MB/s||3.08 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||23.35 MB/s||23.84 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||20.47 MB/s||20.39 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||9.48 MPixels/s||9.49 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1793.66 MB/s||1602.26 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||2.42 KB/s||2.42 KB/s|
|File Decryption||46.81 MB/s||47.32 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2150.92 KB/s||2186.68 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||4.7 Pages/s||4.73 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||44.35 FPS||42.84 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||150.06 FPS||N/A|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||1004.72 FPS||N/A|
|3DMark ’03 Score||2939||N/A|
Regardless of the faster front side bus of the Tecra M4 to the R15 (533MHz vs. 400MHz), the majority of simulated daily computing tasks run with minimal difference in performance. In the Super Pi benchmark comparison, the Tecra’s Sonoma-based CPU beat the R15 by a considerable 18 seconds.
Using “HD Tune” we tested the 40GB, 5400RPM hard disk performance.
Most importantly, notice that the average data tranfer rate is 26.6 MB per second. Secondly, the access time score of 18.5 milliseconds.
Heat & Fan
A pleasant surprise is the cool and quiet operation of the M4. During the majority of computing tasks, the fan runs steadily, yet close to “whisper quiet”. Heat dissipation from the heat vent (again during most computing tasks) is minimal, and the base and palm rests remain relatively cool. Should the M4 be pushed to its limits with processor intensive application (i.e. 3D gaming), then the fan will definitely increase its speed, the noise level increases and the unit can become a bit warm. This is to be expected as the hardware (CPU, graphics process and hard drive) gets pushed to the ceiling of demand.
The M4 comes with integrated Bluetooth (alleluia) and Intel’s Pro Wireless b/g card. The reception in the M4 is adequate and we experienced no interruptions in our wi-fi connections. Toshiba includes a IR port which can come in handy for those users who have PDA’s from the 90’s (LOL) or to allow IR cell phone connectivity.
Toshiba includes its exceptional “ConfigFree” software package. This utility is perfect to ease connectivity frustration for wi-fi newbies, to empower WAR drivers deviants and also to help “seasoned” users to track hotspots that are available within range.
I love checking out all the available access points at work with the Toshiba ConfigFree Utility!
The 6-cell 4700 mAh battery provides around 2.5 hours of “real world” use with the wireless services enabled and the screen set to about 75% brightness. The “TOSHIBA Power Saver” utility allows you to tweak the CPU, cooling, and brightness settings to push out even more time per charge. For daily computing tasks such as word processing or web browsing there is no problem with limiting the processor to “Level 1” which keeps the clock speed floating around 798MHz.
The table below illustrates the restults of the Tecra’s battery using the Battery Eater Pro benchmark utility in “Classic Mode” (stressing all of the M4 hardware components to the highest level).
|OS||Windows XP Service Pack 2|
|CPU Manufacturer||Intel Corporation|
|CPU Model||Intel(R) Pentium(R) M processor 1.60GHz|
|CPU Extensions||| MMX | SSE2 | Enchanted SpeedStep|
CPU Cache Info
|Level 1 Instructions||32|
|Level 1 Data||32|
|Level 2 Data||2048|
System RAM info
|Memory slots||2 ( 1: 256Mb; 2: 256Mb; )|
Display Device Info
|Adapter||NVIDIA GeForce Go 6200 TE 64M / 6600 TE 128M|
|OpenGL render device||GeForce Go 6600 TE/6200 TE/PCI/SSE2|
|OpenGL driver version||1.5.3|
|Vertex shader version||3.0|
|Pixel shader version||3.0|
Hard Disk Drive Info
|S.M.A.R.T.||Supported and Enabled|
|HDD Model||FUJITSU MHT2040BH|
Main Battery Info
|Temperature||Termal Control Not Present|
|Full Charged Capacity||49086mWh|
|Force charge support||Not Supported|
|Force discharge support||Not Supported|
|Pi calculations||71408 Cycles|
|HDD readwrite||7437 Mb|
|Fames Rendered||571698 Frames|
|Discharge rate (maximum)||4294936830 mWh|
|Discharge rate (average)||4251625426 mWh|
Service and Support
The Toshiba M4 is backed by a 1 Year Limited Warranty for parts and labor (standard). Extended plans are available directly through Toshiba on their website. There is toll-free technical support available by calling the “Toshiba Global Support Centre” at 1-800-457-7777. I called the number at 8:54 p.m. (MST) on a Sunday night. I went from the recording to an actual human being in less than 2 minutes. By 8:56 I was well on my way to explaining to the representative that I was just calling to time them for our review. She was very courteous and professional.
Toshiba also offers it’s “Ask IRIS Online” support. That is IRIS (Instant Response Information Service). However if your computer is on the fritz, getting online might just be a bit of a problem!
Just another “extra” worth mentioning. The Toshiba HWSetup software utility can make it easy to troubleshoot odd issues on your own. Some settings with this unique utility can be changed without otherwise having to go into the system BIOS.
Did I mention that I HATE dead/stuck pixels – especially bright red ones in the center of the bleeping screen? Perhaps it was a bad coincidence that we got two units in a row plagued with the same problem. After getting past that issue, it is safe to say that the M4 is one powerful Tablet PC that was designed with careful thought and consideration for the end-user experience. With the excellent software utilities, a full arsenal of wireless services, the high resolution display and dedicated graphics, the M4 offers an outstanding combination of features. The only concern that might be a deal breaker for business users is the lack of biometric security. There are USB alternatives that can be purchased separately for those users carrying valuable corporate and personal data (or the secret plans to build the next Death Star). Overall, the M4 is best suited as a powerful notebook and Tablet PC that can easily function as an “only” computer. This machine is perfect for a business user who doesn’t travel a lot (the 14″ screen is a tad snug on the airplane tray) and college students who wish to take notes in class by day and bang out a couple hours of Doom 3 or Half Life 2 by night.