Tecra M7 Review (part 1)

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  1. jritter

    jritter Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Toshiba Tecra M7 Review
    Introduction / Reasoning
    I am fascinated by the tablet-hybrid idea. As an instructor in an engineering field, using the tablet as a white board in conjunction with a projector is a great way to share 2D sketches and ideas. Additionally, it is great exposure for my students who see first hand the benefits of note taking and collaboration directly with a tablet.
    My first real tablet experience was the Compaq TC1000 with a 1ghz Crusoe processor and 512Mb of ram. The slate chassis of this tablet certainly had its benefits - It was lightweight, had descent battery life (with properly tweaked settings) and that’s about where the benefits stopped. The TC1000 relied on a battery powered pen, was slow to respond to inking and often needed recalibration. I could realistically run one to two applications with out painstaking delays. It also had this nasty habit of dying during the switch from tablet mode to Laptop mode if it is done too quickly or without suspending it first. This tablet was still in service up to the end of this school year (with TPC 05 installed) Over the past year I have been on the verge of ordering a replacement tablet for the ol’ TC1000. I needed a tablet with least 64MB dedicated video for CAD which narrowed the list quickly. I looked at Acer, Toshiba and HP. I narrowed down to buy the M4 but heard about the Core Duo. So I waited… Along came the m400.. Great design, no video. Finally, rumors of the M7’s release are out on the net. The day Toshiba posts the M7 on their website I place my order.
    Packaging
    contents.jpg
    What’s in the box?
    Typical laptop box . The only CD in the box was winDVD creator. The typical quick start guide and Toshiba accessory pamphlet, and the M7 usage guide

    Construction
    Look/Feel
    I was concerned about the construction of this tablet as it would be traveling quite often. I live relatively close to my work so biking two or three times a week is not uncommon. Coincidentally the laptop chassis colors match nicely with my Logitech Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and unlike my previous laptops, the M7 does not creak or flex at all when picked up near an edge. It seems to be well constructed for a “mid” level hybrid.
    Screen hinge
    hinge.jpg
    The hinge is sturdy and solid. Rest points between the base and the screen keep it from wobbling. Toshiba included a windowed arrow that points the direction of the screen. In portrait mode the arrow is pointing the other direction. Moving the laptop does not cause the screen to wobble or shake
    Layout
    The layout of the M7 is almost identical to the R25. One external difference is the media buttons have been replaced with 2 programmable buttons. Perhaps more useful, but oversized just the same. The bezel around the screen looks as if they have left room for a larger screen but this may just be support for the digitizer. Toshiba got it right by placing USB ports on three sides.
    I am not sure why most notebook manufacturers still insist on adding a phone port to laptops. Apple got it right awhile ago when the “modem” became an accessory. Likewise with the RGB port. DVI -> RGB adapters are a great thing. I don’t want to buy a port replicator to get DVI. The headphone/mic jack and volume controls on the front of the base are convenient. I was surprised to see that the volume control is a click wheel. Pressing the control in enables mute.

    Specifications
    •Processor - Intel® Core™ Duo Processor T2600 (2.16GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 667MHz FSB)
    •RAM - 2 GB PC5300 DDR2 667MHz SDRAM (1024MBx1)
    •Display - 14.1" WXGA+ (1440 x 900) w/ High Brightness and Wide View Angle
    •Graphics Card - NVIDIA® Quadro® NVS 110M (128MB of dedicated)(256mb total)
    •Hard Drive - 80GB HDD (7200rpm, Serial-ATA)
    •Optical - DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer)
    •Intel® PRO/Wireless 3945ABG (802.11a/b/g)
    •Bluetooth (v.2.0) + EDR
    Tecra M7 Product page
    [URL='http://cdgenp01.csd.toshiba.com/content/product/pdf_files/detailed_specs/tecra_M7-ST4013.pdf]Tecra M7 detail specifications (PDF)[/URL]

    Physical dimensions
    The physical dimensions of the M7 are on the spec sheet. As far as how it actually feels – It is big for a tablet, relatively normal for a laptop. It is roughly the same thickness as the HP Evo n610, but lighter. My previous tablet, an HP tc1000, was miniscule in size. But in terms of power, the extra size of the M7 is worth it, and comparing these two devices is like comparing Kool-Aid to Redbull.
    n610c.jpg
    side-by-side n610c and tecra M7
    Bios
    The bios is enabled just like the m400 – Press <esc> key immediately after powering on the device. The BIOS has only two pages and none of the default settings really need to be changed, with one exception. From the factory, the TPM module is disabled. Enabling it will find a new device and additional setup in the OS. TPM is not mandatory, but it is supposed to add a higher level of security and certificate protection.
    To boot from other devices press the <F2> key. Many options are available to boot. However there is a fixed boot order in the BIOS and the TBios. It’s not entirely a “choose your ideal boot”. For example you can have a boot order of "CD-ROM, LAN, HDD, FDD, USB" but there is no boot order for something more common like "CD-ROM, HDD, FDD, USB, LAN".

    CPU-z
    CPU-z reports a 65nm chip and 1.95 voltage. On the memory page, the M7 is capable of running dual channel ram go for 2 sticks of the same if you can. Two sticks of 512 is better than 1 stick of 1GB (that is unless you plan on going to 2GB soon). Memory prices are so low it almost seems like a no-brainer to go for the 2GB

    Software
    First impressions? Took nearly 25 minutes from the first time I pressed the “on” button to reach a usable interface. I immediately made recovery dvds - 4 of them. Turns out the most important one is the last one which is a drivers/Toshiba software disc . (When I did the clean install on the new hard drive, the TPM drivers and software were not Toshiba’s download site, but they were on that last dvd &#61514;)
    Uninstalled
    AOL
    Yahoo
    Sonic Record
    Various Toshiba “utilities” (config free, mic echo, sonic recorder, and a few others)
    Installed
    Inventor 11 professional
    Photoshop CS2
    Office 2007 beta 2
    OneNote 2007 beta
    Firefox
    Winamp
    Guild wars
    Oblivion
    Sketchbook pro2

    Screen Size / Resolution (1440 x 900)
    Office 2007 / Ribbon
    Many readers are concerned about the “gimmickyness” of widescreen displays. The early widescreens sporting 1280x 800 may cause an issue with the ribbon in office 2007 but the display on the M7 has plenty of real estate as you can see in this screen shot.
    word07.jpg
    Yes the extra 150 pixels would be nice, but the shape of the M7 plays to portability much better than the m4.
    Auto CAD/ Inventor 11
    Autodesk Inventor 11 pro loaded up in less than 45 seconds. A minor assembly took about the same to load up after that. With AA set to 4x and inventor set to OpenGL mode, the part assembly rendering was beautiful. Additionally, in wide screen mode there was plenty of room for the work area and the toolbar on the left.
    Dual Display resolutions
    Toshiba includes a handy Hot key for Presentation /dual mode displays. Many of my colleagues use laptops and PowerPoint everyday but never take advantage of the dual display or presenter view. Toshiba makes it really easy to go from clone mode to expanded mode.

    Benchmarks
    PCMark05: 3753
    3Dmark05: 1505
    Super Pi: 1M-34sec; 2M-1:21sec; 4M-2:52sec
    (will run more in part 2)

    Portability / Real world use
    The M7 when used as a tablet is wonderful in landscape mode. The DPI is great. Screen angle is large. I recommend using the Clear Type tuner for best results but all ink lines and handwriting look smooth. Using the M7 in portrait mode takes some getting used to. The screen is very long, but compared to the m4, the chassis is narrow enough to sit cradled in the arm comfortably. In this position the weight of the tablet is noticeable but not terrible. I could hold it like that comfortably enough to jot down a few notes or make a presentation via maxivista. The pen ink is responsive- there is very little noticeable inking delay in OneNote and sketchbook. The default pen is a bit rough however and I had to press fairly hard to get the eraser to kick in. The screen is somewhere between shiny and matte. Outside in the shade the screen is very usable, in the direct sunlight is not so usable. Indoors, the screen is bright enough that it can be turned down a couple clicks and still be bright.
    Gaming
    oblivion.jpg
    The M7 currently has a choice of an integrated Intel GMA 950 or the nvidia NVS110m. The NVS has 128mb of dedicated ram plus it can use an additional 128mb of system ram for a total of 256mb. What does that mean? Larger textures really, slightly better performance with photos and things and maybe a little better gaming performance. Oblivion did load on the M7. On medium settings (1440x900, medium textures) frame rates fell below 10 FPS. On lower widescreen resolutions and small textures FPS stayed between 15-20 FPS. I don’t find that very playable, but it works for a quick fix. Guild Wars and WOW loaded up nicely. In small areas FPS hovered above 30 but in larger more populated area frame rates fell to 15-30 with medium-high settings and native resolution. If you are a hard core gamer, get a desktop or an Alienware /XPS machine , not a tablet. If you play one of the older games or need an occasional fix, the M7 is quite capable.
    Battery Life
    Under normal use (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 50% screen, optical drive power off) the M7 lasted about 2 hours 30 minutes. There is room to stretch that even more by disabling the radios and enabling the Toshiba Power utility to max battery which essentially locks the CPU and GPU at lowest settings instead of floating
    Temperature / Noise
    The fan is constantly running, even under long-life mode, but it is so quiet its hardly noticeable. The bottom did get warm but nothing compared to some other laptops I have used. The laptop can sit in a lap or on the arm as a tablet without too much discomfort from excessive heat.
    Wireless / Bluetooth
    Toshiba warns that using the Bluetooth and the wireless at the same time can cause problems. So far I have not noticed any major errors between the two devices. Pressing <fn+F8> will toggle between the different wireless modes. There is also a switch on the front panel to kill the wireless as well.
    Using Toshibas Bluetooth stack it was relatively easy to install Bluetooth devices. With very little effort the M7 found and connected to the Logitech mouse, keyboard and PDA phone.
    Fingerprint scanner
    As I mentioned earlier, the TPM module, by default, was disabled in the bios. I think the fingerprint scanner is a very nice touch on a tablet. It is very nice not having to ink or TIP passwords. The Scanner is located on the bezel of the screen so it can be awkward to try and get a good scan. To compensate for this, I scanned my thumb and forefinger. When I am using the M7 in laptop mode it is relatively easy to slide my thumb pass the sensor. In Tablet mode, the forefinger proved to be an easy scan.
    Tablet/Ink performance
    It is definitely recommended to update the default driver with wacom’s latest driver. It appears to be more responsive to pressure and movement. The M7 is pressure sensitive for those arts people that were wondering. Of course for you non-art people, it makes for real pretty notes and signatures ;)

    Conclusion
    Pros
    Surprisingly decent quality. Solid screen, solid chassis
    DPI and screen size
    Key click and response of keyboard.
    Programmable buttons
    Horse power

    Cons
    Wide enough chassis to do standard layout keyboard (without the number pad)
    Could have added smaller and more programmable buttons.
    Pen sticks a little too much when inserting or removing from holder
    Recovery dvds ( I understand not shipping them to corporate users, but at least make it a check out option like winDVD creator was)
    Large bezel border
    Rough touchpad
    Touchy memory. (It took two trips to the computer store to find ram that would run nicely in dual channel mode)
    Modem port
    No onboard DVI
    warm but tolerable

    Part 2:
    Vista Ultimate build Stress tests
    Video authoring / audio conversion
    DVD encoding
    Halflife2 / Counterstrike Source

    If there is something I missed for those that are still curious, feel free to PM or post what you would like to see... I'm not ready to take it apart to see if in fact the cpu is drop in or not -Someday :) (and there will of course be pictures)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2015
  2. jritter

    jritter Pen Pal - Newbie

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    More pictures that didn't make the original cut

    cpuload.jpg decoderring.jpg gw.jpg pcmark05.jpg
     
  3. cutie4032

    cutie4032 Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Thanks for the great review... it was very thorough and this helps a lot in my decision.

    BTW, the pics of word is really great... def clears up a lot of questions on how the widescreen would work with that.

    My only question is, in your opinion, whether you think the weight is too much to carry from class to class and maybe to work for a 5'1'' female... any thoughts on how you feel the weight is are welcome, especially since you can compare it to your older, smaller tablet.

    btw, can't wait for the partII!!!
     
  4. BrianFL426

    BrianFL426 Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Thats what i wanted to know, mostly the graphics handling, thanks. So how is battery life for you? you get that slice?

    and cutie, the m7 weighs the same as a high school calculus book (the one I had), the school system really made us carry a lot on out backs so if you're used to it I don't see a problem with it.
     
  5. BenjaminRies

    BenjaminRies Scribbler - Standard Member

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    BrianFL makes a good point. I'd also suggest that, while the M7 hovers around 6 lbs, most laptops in the 90's were heavier (7 lbs and up). It isn't like 5'1" women were unable to carry laptops until the ultraportable came along :)

    Get a good laptop backpack. It will make a world of difference compared to weighing down one shoulder and contorting your frame all day.
     
  6. jritter

    jritter Pen Pal - Newbie

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    going to wait on the slice and port replicator. when you register with Toshiba, they give you a 15% discount on accessories. so far battery life is around 2:30-2:45 hours continuous use (with wifi and Digitizer working away).

    here is a side by side comparison. the Calc book is actually a bit heavier than the tablet
    IMG_2290 (Small).JPG
    for Reference, the tablet is 13.5 in tall by roughly 10.5 inches wide. the calc book is 10.5 in tall and 9in wide, but a quarter inch thicker and approximately a half pound heavier.
     
  7. cutie4032

    cutie4032 Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Wow thanks for the comparison... it def puts things into perspective. i think i prob will go for the R20 or M7 if i can afford it.
    I don't know about the backpack.. i know it is more practical, but i'm still waiting for some fashionable AND reasonably priced laptop backpacks for females, so for now ill have an uneven frame all day (not much diff from way back in hs) ;)

    Oh and i realized last night how much more useful the 14" widescreen can be... after seeing your photos of word, I realized how easy it would be to put onenote and msword side to side and be able to type papers from your notes and see both easily and at the same time. Perfect! Try that with a tiny 12" XGA :p
     
  8. quirked

    quirked Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Thanks for the excellent review.

    You wrote:

    Touchy memory. (It took two trips to the computer store to find ram that would run nicely in dual channel mode)

    Can you expand on that a bit more? What were the problems/solutions?
     
  9. jritter

    jritter Pen Pal - Newbie

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    My fisrt batch of ram from newegg was el'cheapo gigaram. One of the sticks kept causing lockups and was probably the cause of my initial bluescreen. I went to the local store, replaced the one bad stick with patriot, it still didn't like it. So went back again and picked up another (patriot) and it worked fine with the matched pair of patriot ram. No problems so far with this pair. I think its just a crapshoot with ram sometimes, especially when trying to get dual channel pairs.
    I did orginally get the 533mhz ram with my order and replaced it with the 667mhz 2gb upgrades. The bios automatically takes care of speeds so nothing to configure there.
     
  10. BenjaminRies

    BenjaminRies Scribbler - Standard Member

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