Tecra M4 - Back in Action and better than ever.

Discussion in 'Toshiba' started by thatcomicsguy, Sep 10, 2012.

  1. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    I LOVE the high expectations which the iPad generation of tablets has created in the public. I knew it was coming, but now that it's upon us, I still find myself blinking with surprise. With all the flashy new tablets today, nobody but a screwball artist would hanker after a 6 lb old and, by today's standards, slow machine, (though entirely fine for Photoshop and all the art demands I place upon it). It means you can buy Tablet PCs from last decade for a song.

    How much is a song worth?

    Well, I just picked up from eBay a really sweet Tecra M4 for only $30. THIRTY BUCKS! It came with a gig of ram, a nearly un-touched battery which might as well be brand new, and cosmetically it's next to pristine. A grandma must have kept it in her temperature-controlled garage for the last eight years!

    I picked it up as a spare-parts machine in case my desk-mounted workhorse ever blew a gasket. That hasn't happened, so I figured, why not press this new one into active service?

    So I dropped in a spare hard drive and now I've got a fully functional M4 to backpack down to the coffee house with. I've ordered another gig of RAM just to round it out, but even on its existing memory, it performs perfectly for most of the tasks I run on it.

    And good lord, 14" of high-resolution screen space? It feels GOOD! Very comfy to work on. Built for the size of my hands. No more squinting and leaning into the work. Just sit back and draw. Ahhh.

    Over the last three years (!!) I've learned the ways and tolerances of this particular machine, and the over-heating problem is only an issue if you engage the GPU in a significant way, which means without the hardware hack all I'd want to do on it is draw, not watch videos and such, but drawing is all I'll need this for, so who cares? I suspect I'll still hack it when I find a free afternoon and some spare 10 ohm resistors, largely because I love to tinker and because I'd want to quiet down the main fan which is anything but silent. But even so, in the coffee shop I can't hear it over the ambient noise even when it's just me and the cute server in the place on a slow afternoon. The air conditioner is more loud.

    Anyway, I'm just posting to say that a 14" digital portable drawing board is just about the greatest thing since my 12" digital portable drawing board, but. . , better. What a fantastic machine! It feels like a proper, full-on sketch book.

    Here's the very first sketch I did on the thing to test it out, (Miyazaki inspired; my fall-back position when not thinking while drawing.)

    adventure prompt.jpg

    So I'd like to extend a big thank-you to Apple and every other manufacturer and their slick new tablets. I've spent more money on markers and paper in the last couple of months than I did on this device. For those very few in the know, it's a golden age for artists who want to go digital.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2015
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  2. Shogmaster

    Shogmaster Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    You know, I kinda went overboard with that myself.

    Right now, I have 3 working Tablet PCs I got for cheap in various states on EBay (2 Toshiba M750s and one Fujitsu T4215). That's on top of two units I use everyday (HP 2740p and Fujitsu T902). I got all those M750s and T4215 for way less than $100 each. I got the M750s all buttoned up, hardware wise, But I just don't have the time to button them up software wise. The T4215 is actually 2 machines, which combined would make one good machine. No time to do that either.

    It's just that if I see a really good deal on a used Tablet PC under $100 on Ebay, I can't pass it up!

    I think I have to join a Ebay Used Tablet PC Anonymous or something...
     
  3. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    I hear you. Other people cruise Facebook. I spend my down time looking through eBay listings.

    I rarely buy stuff, though. Only when I have decided I actually need something and a deal is too good to pass up, (and when there is no danger of scooping a system out from the hands of another buyer who probably needs it more than me. This particular purchase was from an off-lease collection of 10 systems, none of which were selling, so I didn't feel like I was being disruptive).

    Also, I just put together and sent another Tablet PC as a gift to another artist who expressed a need for one. That feels right when it feels right.

    I'm thinking of building another Tecra M4 table for my local library where I've taught a bunch of cartooning classes to kids. It might be cool to have a digital drawing board available in the computer lab. Their resources are thin, and a Cintiq is well out of their price range. But I'm not convinced it's entirely a good idea.

    I like to refrain from teaching digital when I work with kids. There's a LOT to be gained from spending 10 years learning first with pencil and paper. --The example I use is that of learning proportions in drawing. In a digital medium, if something is too big or small in your drawing, you just select and re-size, which is a great time-saver for an artist whose skills are already in place. For a kid, however, just learning how to draw, having to go through the pain of choosing which to erase, the perfectly rendered drawing of the best horse s/he's ever drawn OR the also perfect drawing of the guy standing next to the horse, in order to make them both the right size for each other makes your brain burn and hurt. This discomfort indicates the kid is growing new synaptic pathways and thus skills which are useful in far more areas than just simple drawing.

    Digital takes that pain away, which means less synaptic growth.

    I fact, I like to keep my hands in the physical world on a regular basis because of this sort of thing. I try to spend a day every week drawing and coloring on paper for this reason. Gotta stay sharp!
     
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  4. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Just a quick update.

    I've been working with this machine now for a couple of weeks, and I have to report that I am amazed by how much I'm loving it. It's essentially the same reaction I had with my desk machine when I replaced the Portege M200 with this same model. It's like suddenly getting a full breath of air without realizing that I'd been constrained for so long. It's surprising that two little inches can make such a difference.

    14" 4:3 is really the right size for these devices.

    I'm using the machine either on a table top with a book to prop it up into drafting board position, or better yet, I find myself reclining in a comfy sofa in the coffee shop with the M4 in portrait position resting on my crossed knee. That was a surprise, but it only makes sense in retrospect. Portrait with the M4 in my lap has much the same feel, same position and dimensions, as the big old sketch books I'd sit with for hours when I was a kid.

    --Now, the M4 doesn't have the best viewing angle by a long shot, but when you're directly in front of the screen, it's not a problem at all, not even in portrait mode. This was surprising to me, but happily accepted. I just got to work without thinking about it again. Even the pen calibration was okay. Cool.

    At its physical dimensions, I find that there is screen enough to draw on comfortably without having to lean and squint into the machine. I am using Photoshop with the tool bars mostly off while leaning heavily on the AHK Photoshop bar (Discussed here), doing comic-pages, which are tall themselves and work well in portrait mode.

    My body and hands work best at a certain size, and there's no getting around that. For me a 12" screen falls just beneath that comfort range. 14" is very nearly perfect, much more comfortable, (I suspect that a 15"-16" screen would be exactly the right size for me, but I've never tried one so I don't know).

    The drawback to the Tecra remains the over-heating issue, and I've not modified this particular machine yet, (still waiting for some resistors to arrive in the mail), so it starts to crap out when you do GPU heavy work. MangaLabo apparently makes use of the GPU (when using the vector tool), and it causes the Tecra to over-heat and stutter/freeze up a bit, so I won't be able to use it until I perform the fan hack. You really do need the fan on the GPU to turn on once in a while. --It's an astonishing fail for this whole product line to have managed to find its way from the factory floor with half its cooling system disconnected.

    But beyond that. . . I just can't get over how much of a difference a large tablet makes.

    ASUS, apparently, is saying they plan to put out a 14" Transformer, and I sincerely hope they manage to pull that together, (and that it offers stylus input). --Though even that screen would be in HD format, which frankly, is a terrible, terrible size; essentially the same screen as the M4 minus a whole inch along the bottom and only a half inch extra along the side, (in landscape). Are they trying to drive artists around the bend?

    Whatever.

    Now, check out Sony's "Tap 20". Imagine that thing if it had a stylus! (Though 5.7 Kg is ain't exactly light.)

    I hold out hope for modern, big portable digital drawing solutions, but for now the Tecra M4, dinosaur that it is, was pretty much the last hurah, the best of the best, in terms of size.
     
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  5. cmenice

    cmenice Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Hey Mark,

    What about the Fujitsu t901 ? That seems a close fit with modern hardware.

    13.3 inch screen
    16:10 ratio
    Optional discrete gpu

    I've seen some go for around 600 on eBay.

    Sent from my Galaxy Note
     
  6. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    The Fujitsu t901, comes oh-so-close, (and to be fair, I've never had the pleasure of trying one out in person), but I just can't get excited when the screen resolution is 1280 x 800.

    800 is simply too, too small. The Tecra M4 offers 1050 pixels on the same axis, and boy, do I use them!

    The upcoming 13.3" Fujitsu, (the one Stoneseeker is champing at the bit for) sounds far more impressive, and I hope to give it a try when it comes out. It may well topple the M4 from the mountain if the screen has the right stuff.
     
  7. cmenice

    cmenice Scribbler - Standard Member

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    I had a t901 and yes the screen Res was poor. Too small really.

    I just got the T902 which is quite a bit better.

    Screen resolution of 1600x900, which means 16:9 ratio. Most here are bucking against that ratio, but I'm finding it fine.

    There are a lot of impressions on the t902 in the Fujitsu forum.

    Sent from my Galaxy Note
     
  8. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    A friend of mine sent me a small pack of resistors upon my request, (10 and 22 ohms - Such hard things to find these days! You can't just go to your local Radio Shack anymore for basic electronics hobbyist items. My friend ordered a big random pack of resistors from an internet seller and picked out the ones I needed.)

    Anyway, I just last night performed surgery on the Tecra M4 and it was a clean, quick job which took about half an hour from sealed unit to hacked sealed unit with all my tools put away. --Knowing what I was doing before going in, having done it before, made it far less messy and a great deal easier than the first time.

    I didn't bother chopping any of the plastic out as I did with my desk machine; that first time out was filled with experimentation and over-kill. The air-flow architecture seems to work fine the way it shipped so long as you don't plug the vents when you're using the machine.

    Also, I didn't mess with the main CPU fan, which actually works well despite its being a bit noisy. In my older machine, I wired it to run at a constant medium speed with an external jumper switch that I can manually trip when the temperature is climbing too high, such as when I'm watching a YouTube video and the CPU is being pushed hard. On my new machine, I decided to leave the fan's auto-control to its own devices since it does the job and because in the public places where I'll be using this thing, the ambient background noise is such that the Tecra's fan noise isn't at all noticeable. In a studio environment, I'd want it quieter, though.

    The otherwise dormant GPU fan, (the main problem with this model), I wired with 32 Ohms of resistance, connecting one of its leads to a nearby ground point and the other to the 5 Volt power on a USB port. It now runs forever, almost silently, at a medium speed and keeps things under control. I'm not sure I'd want to run 3D games and such on it, but for basic art programs like ArtRage, it's perfect.

    Now I have a fully functional, heat-stable and generally awesome 14" Tablet PC. --Which as I have pointed out before, (because it's just such a ridiculous/fun thing to be able to claim, and I apologize if it is becoming tiresome to hear), is the largest-screened Tablet PC ever made available to the consumer market. Cool beans!

    Also. . .

    If anybody out there would like to perform this hack but cannot find the resistors necessary, let me know. I've got a small number of them left over and I'd be happy to mail some to you if you're serious about doing the hack on your own Tecra M4.

    Cheers!
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2012
  9. meddy

    meddy Pen Pal - Newbie

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    well i did the fan hack when i got mine a wile ago now. crashed catastrophically a few times from over heating, but that was more because the ambient room temp was rather high (see: runaway fan heater) oh such pretty colours appear when it dose but the screeching not so.

    though in normal operating conditions the problem was the gpu just blew its lovely hot air (47~59C) directly at the innocent north bridge and the cpu now this tended to get rather upset and hot after a wile (around 75~90C according to speed fan) and the cpu fan would finally kick in at 100%. god awful noises them two fans at 100%.

    so the other day i decided to do some ducting inside the case. the idea was to channel all the gpu air directly at the cpu fan area or out the lovely hole next to the gpu. well that was the idea, now as i mainly use the tablet in portrait mode and up in the air, i just taped a piece of plastic opposite from the heat sync at an angle so it mostly blew out the hole or sideways into the adjacent area (ram and wifi) and wow was it effective keeps below 60C (heavy load) now (depending on ambient temp) idles around 45C and cpu is about the same. and it now doesn't mind being flat on fabric now =) instead of going nuts in temp if you did

    i will try the ducting idea when i get time but this is working quite well at the moment. next option is another micro flat fan and cutting another hole in the case. i don't have the luxury of the slim bay being empty as the 2nd battery lives there (bargain at £5 new :D )



    other than that its wonderful except on windows 7 32bit currently with the newer wacom drivers lots of programs mess up the driver for the pen making it imposable to use until you either reboot or exit the program =/ (vlc, psp9, all versions of photoshop i have, sai, and a few others all do it)



    meddy
     
  10. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Yeah, the interior architecture of the M4 leaves much to be desired.

    I'd not considered redirecting air flow in that way; I always figured that the air from the GPU fan blowing over the CPU would add extra cooling power, but sending it directly to the main heat sink and its vent kinda makes sense.

    I tried installing more evolved versions of Windows on my circa 2005 machines, (both the M4 as well as a Portege M200 and M400), but found that all of them worked best on the OS they were designed around; WinXP.

    I found the pen would tend to stutter now and again in Photoshop for reasons I could never divine when using Windows 7, and Ubuntu just didn't have the drivers or art software available. Also, WinXP is a very small OS, fits neatly into the drive and available RAM. So that's where I decided to stay. "Why fix what ain't broke?"

    The only big change I made was to replace the old hard drives with SSDs. This made a world of difference, increasing speed dramatically and making the Photoshop scratchdisk far less irritating on big jobs.

    Anyway, it's good to hear that there's another M4 out there in active service! For 2D jobs demanding medium range power, they're really great machines once you get them up and running properly.

    I just finished creating and laying out a 208 page black & white graphic novel on mine with zero hardware hassles. It's at press right now.

    Cheers!
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2013
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