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Toshiba Tecra A11-S3540 Review
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Date: Jun 08, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction and Specifications

 

Toshiba's Tecra Series of laptops have traditionally been marketed as high-performance business laptops, designed to be capable of handling demanding tasks. Earlier this year, Toshiba announced the Tecra A11. The new Tecra A11 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor and features a 10-key numeric keypad. Designed as a desktop replacement, the Tecra A11 offers the new 2010 Intel Core processor family and a high-resolution widescreen 15.6-inch display. Some models also offer NVIDIA NVS 2100M graphics.

 

Because the Tecra Series targets business users, Toshiba has included additional security features such as a fingerprint reader with the A11. Toshiba's Tecra line also offers EasyGuard Technology which provides for added protection from shocks and spills and enhanced data security. As part of the EasyGuard Technology, Toshiba has gone to great lengths to help protect the system by including a more durable display, a keyboard that helps guard against damages from spills, and advanced encryption technologies.

Carl Pinto, vice president of product development, Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., Digital Products Division talks about what the Tecra A11 has to offer: "Our customers are looking for slimmer and lighter designs for portability, textured finishes for durability, and the latest technologies for full-featured performance.”

We had the top-of-the-line Tecra A11-S3540 in house for testing. This model runs on the Intel Core i7-620M processor and has NVIDIA NVS 2100M graphics. In addition to these features, our test model had a fingerprint reader and an eSATA/USB Sleep-and-Charge Combo Port that lets you power your smartphone or other gadget even when the laptop is turned off.

In the following pages, we'll walk you through the design and features of the Tecra A11-S3540 and then we'll run the notebook through a number of benchmark tests to see how its performance compares to several other laptops in its class.

Toshiba Tecra A11-S3540 Notebook
Specifications & Features

 

Operating System
Genuine Windows XP Professional, SP3
Recovery media for Genuine Windows 7 Professional

Processor and Chipset
Intel Core i7-620M processor
2.66 GHz (3.33 GHz with Turbo Boost Technology), 4MB Cache
Mobile Intel QM57 Express Chipset

Graphics
NVIDIA NVS 2100M with 512MB DDR3 discrete graphics memory, plus up to 1228MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory using NVIDIA TurboCache technology
Total Available Graphics memory 1740MB

Memory
Configured with 4GB DDR3 1066MHz (max 8GB)
2 main memory slots, both slots may be occupied

Storage Drive
320GB (7200 RPM) Serial ATA hard disk drive

Fixed Optical Disk Drive
DVD SuperMulti drive supporting 11 formats
Maximum speed and compatibility: CD-ROM (24x), CD-R (24x), CD-RW (24x), DVD-ROM (8x), DVD-R (Single Layer, (8x)), DVD-R (Double Layer, (6x)), DVD-RW (6x), DVD+R (Single Layer, (8x)), DVD+R (Double Layer, (6x)), DVD+RW (8x), DVDRAM (5x)

Display
15.6” diagonal widescreen TFT LED backlit display at 1600 x 900 native resolution (HD+)
Native support for 720p content
16:9 aspect ratio

Sound
Built-in stereo speakers

Input Devices
Standard US keyboard with 10-key numeric pad
TouchPad pointing device
TouchPad Enable/Disable
Media Control Buttons: TOSHIBA eco Utility button, Volume Down, Volume Up, Presentation button

Communications
Webcam and microphone
Modem
Intel 82577LC Gigabit Ethernet Connection (10/100/1000 Ethernet)
Intel 802.11a/g/n10
Bluetooth version 2.1 plus Enhanced Data Rate (EDR)

Expandability
ExpressCard slot (ExpressCard/34 and ExpressCard/54)
Memory Card Reader (Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Mini SD Card, Micro SD Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Multi Media Card [shared slot])

Ports
Video:
RGB (monitor) output
Mini DisplayPort
Audio:
Microphone input port
Headphone output port
Data:
Serial port
2 x USB v2.0
1 x USB v2.0 with Sleep and Charge (left side)
1 x eSATA/USB combo port with Sleep and Charge
RJ-45 LAN port
RJ-11 modem port
Docking connector
Security:
Fingerprint Reader
Slot for Security Lock

Physical Description
Textured Finish in Charcoal Black
Dimensions (W x D x H ): 14.7” x 9.86” x 1.31”/1.48”
Weight: Starting at 5.63 lbs., depending upon configuration

Battery
6 cell (55 Wh) Lithium Ion battery pack
Dimensions (W x H x D): 8.11” x 1.78” x 0.79”
Weight: starting at 0.72 lbs.
Battery Life Rating (measured by MobileMark Productivity 2007) Included 6 cell battery: 3 hours, 7 minutes

Power Supply
75W (15V x 5A) Auto-sensing 100-240V/50-60Hz AC Adapter
Dimensions (W x H x D): 4.96” x 1.18” x 1.97”
Weight: starting at 0.79 lbs.

Toshiba EasyGuard
Protect & Fix
Toshiba PC Health Monitor
TOSHIBA HDD protection (3D Accelerometer)
TOSHIBA Shock Protection System
HALT Tested Design
LCD Cover pressure Resistant Design
Hinge Design Enhancement
Polyurethane (PU) Coated Palm Rest
Spill Resistant Keyboard
TOSHIBA PC Diagnostic Tool
Secure
Multiple-Level Password Utilities
Fingerprint Reader (includes software for password and identity management)
AuthenTec EntréPad TrueSuite
Infineon TPM Software Professional Package
Trusted Platform Module v1.2
TOSHIBA Secure Digital Token Utility
Reinforced Security Cable Lock Slot
Execute Disable Bit
Connect
Diversity Antenna
TOSHIBA ConfigFree
Voice-over-IP Ready Design
TOSHIBA Bluetooth Stack
Wireless Communication On/Off Switch
Optimize
Toshiba Disc Creator
TOSHIBA Device Access Control
TOSHIBA Power Management Extension
TOSHIBA Password Utilities
TOSHIBA Recovery Media Creator
TOSHIBA eco Utility
TOSHIBA Assist
TOSHIBA USB Sleep and Charge
TOSHIBA Zooming Utility
FN Shortcut Keys

Software
Toshiba Software and Utilities
Electronic User’s Guide
Bluetooth Stack for Windows by Toshiba
TOSHIBA Recovery Media Creator
TOSHIBA ConfigFree
TOSHIBA Disc Creator
Hard Disc Drive (HDD) Recovery
TOSHIBA DVD Player
TOSHIBA Power-saving eco utility
TOSHIBA Face Recognition
TOSHIBA PC Health Monitor
Third-party Software
Microsoft Windows Media Player
Microsoft Office Live Essentials including Photo Gallery, Messenger, Mail and Writer.
Microsoft Silverlight
Internet Explorer 7
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Google Toolbar
Skype
Trial Software
Norton Internet Security 2010 (30-day trial subscription)
Microsoft Office Ready with Microsoft Office Professional 2007 Edition, 60-day trial
Special Offers
Toshiba Online Backup
Intuit Quickbooks Financial Center
AutoDesk AutoCAD certified. Certification includes AutoCAD, AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD LT and Civil 3D products. (software not included)
AutoDesk Inventor 2011 certified (software not included)

 

The Tecra A11-S3540 has an MSRP of $1,349 with a three-year limited warranty. Other models in the Tecra A11 series start at $879. Of course, these lesser models don't have all of the same high-performance features of the A11-S3540. To help you compare, the A11-S3510, which is the lowest priced A11 model at $879, comes with an Intel Core i3-330M processor, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD, 2GB DDR3 1066MHz memory, and a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive. Other Tecra A11 models are available as well that fit somewhere in the middle of these two systems.

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Design & Build Quality

One of the things we immediately noticed about the Tecra A11-S3540 was its textured finish in charcoal black. Considering this notebook primarily targets business users, we think this finish was a wise choice on Toshiba's part—Business users who want an understated design will definitely appreciate the finish on the A11. In addition, this finish doesn't tend to attract fingerprints like other high gloss finishes we've seen on some of Toshiba's Satellite models such as the Toshiba Satellite T135D-S1324.

Click to enlarge

 

On the front edge of the system, you'll find speakers, various system indicator lights, a memory card reader, wireless antenna on/off switch, and a wireless indicator light. The back side of the notebook has the notebook's security lock slot, RGB (monitor) port, a serial port, AC adapter jack, modem port, and a network port.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

You'll find the A11's optical drive (pull-out tray type), two USB ports, and the headphone and microphone jacks on the right side of the machine. The left side has a USB Sleep-and-Charge port, an eSATA/USB Sleep-and-Charge Combo port, cooling vent, mini display port, and ExpressCard slot.

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Click to enlarge

 

Upon opening the lid, you'll see the same textured finish as on the outside of the notebook. With the exception of a couple of stickers, it's a pretty clean slate. Near the power button, you'll notice the following Media Control buttons: TOSHIBA eco Utility, Presentation, and Volume Down/Up controls.

The TouchPad has a smooth finish with a defined edge and two silver buttons beneath. Between these mouse buttons, you'll find the A11's fingerprint sensor. The keyboard is nice and roomy with a pretty standard layout and matte keys that won't attract fingerprints. Anyone who regularly uses his laptop for data entry will also appreciate the roomy 10-key numeric keypad.

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The 15.6-inch widescreen LED backlit display has a matte finish which helps to eliminate glare. The screen supports 720p content and has a native resolution of 1600 x 900. The notebook opens and closes smoothly, though the hinges offer enough resistance that the notebook often lifted slightly from the desk if you attempt to open it with one hand. Above the display, you’ll find the system’s webcam.

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Software and Accessories

It seems that the majority of notebooks today are not shipping with any "extras." The Tecra A11 ships with the typical items you'd expect: a 6-cell lithium ion battery, an AC power cord, and an AC power brick. Unlike other systems, the A11 also comes with recovery media, which is something we don't see very often anymore. Part of the reason for the inclusion of recovery media is that the A11 ships with Windows XP preinstalled. The recovery discs let you upgrade the system to Windows 7, with the option to choose either 32-bit or 64-bit. You'll also find information about Toshiba's three-year limited warranty, a Resource Guide, Quick Start guide, and an accessories catalog in the box.

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Given that the Tecra A11 targets business users and many businesses are traditionally slow at adopting new operating systems, it makes sense that Windows XP is an option on the A11. However, we appreciate that the A11 also ships with media for Windows 7 so you're not buying a new machine with outdated software. In order to give the A11 a fair comparison against many of today's other notebooks, we recovered the system to Windows 7. The whole process took a fair amount of time, but it wasn't any more difficult or time consuming than any other full-recovery or full OS install process. When recovering the system to Windows 7, you'll see an option to choose the 32-bit or 64-bit version of the OS.

Click to enlarge

 

As far as software is concerned, the A11 ships with quite few preinstalled programs. We're not a big fan of bloatware, so we would have preferred that Toshiba left these programs as optional items that could be installed from a CD or USB drive rather than preinstalled on the hard drive. With the exception of the Norton trial software, most of the software doesn't nag you right away when the machine boots. To be fair, it's also worth pointing out that some of the preinstalled programs are ones you may install anyway, such as Acrobat Reader and a media player.

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User Experience

Our overall experience with the Toshiba Tecra A11-S3540 was good. We felt that the machine was pretty responsive and seemed to handle multitasking just fine. At the same time, if you look at the Windows Experience rating, some of the scores are a bit lower than we would have hoped for, particularly when it comes to graphics. We were also somewhat disappointed in the notebook's battery life, but we'll discuss this more later.

The Tecra A11's keyboard was very comfortable to use; it felt sturdy and spacious. Even the 10-key numeric pad felt pretty roomy. Because of the way Toshiba laid out the TouchPad, you'll definitely notice if you mouse off of the surface. In addition, the mouse buttons below were easy to press and provide shallow feedback. They produce a clicking noise when pressed. Since we pointed out the Tecra A11's finish doesn't attract fingerprints, we must also mention the mouse buttons are the exception. These chrome buttons will show fingerprints. Overall, we were very satisfied with both the keyboard and TouchPad on the A11.


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The Tecra A11 is not a thin-and-light model by any means, but it's not the biggest beast we've seen either. The machine measures approximately 1.48 inches at its thickest point and weighs about 6 pounds.

As far as ports and connectivity are concerned, Toshiba offers a good number of connectivity options for the A11 including a Serial port, LAN and modem ports, USB ports, a combination eSATA/USB port, Mini DisplayPort, Bluetooth 2.1, and more.

In terms of multimedia playback, the A11 performed remarkably. Both 720p and 1080p videos were smooth and sharp. It's even possible to play some games on the A11, though performance won't begin to compare with a more serious gaming machine. The A11's display was crisp and sharp, and we appreciated the matte display that helps to eliminate glare.

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Test Setup & 3DMark06

HotHardware's Test Systems
Covering the bases

 

Toshiba Tecra A11-S3540

Intel Core i7-620M
(2.66GHz)

4GB DDR3

512MB NVIDIA NVS 2100M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive,
7,200 RPM SATA

Tested with Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)

15.6” LED backlit display (native 1600 x 900)

Samsung R580

Intel Core i5-430M
(2.27GHz)

4GB DDR3

512MB NVIDIA GT 310M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive
5,400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Home Premium (32-bit)

15.6" LED backlit display
(native 1366x768)

Lenovo ThinkPad T410

Intel Core i5-540M
(2.53GHz)

4GB DDR3

512MB NVIDIA NVS 3100M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive
7,200 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Professional (64-bit)

14.1" LED backlit display
(native 1440x900)

Dell Studio XPS 16

Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
(2.4GHz)

4GB DDR3

1GB ATI Mobility Radeon 4670

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive
7,200 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1 (64-bit)

16.0" Full HD RGB LED display
(native 1920x1080)


 

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06

 

 

To begin our benchmark testing, we’ll measure CPU performance using Futuremark 3DMark06's CPU performance module. 3DMark06's test is useful for comparing performance between similarly equipped systems. This multi-threaded, "gaming related" DirectX metric consists of different 3D scenes that are generated with software and hardware GPU renderers, which is also dependant on the host CPU's performance. In these tests, calculations that are normally reserved for a 3D accelerator are sent to the central processor. 3DMark06's GPU rendering tests utilize a mix of SM2.0, SM3.0, and HDR techniques and effects.

 

As we would expect, the Tecra A11 with its Core i7 processor outperformed the Core i5 processor in the Samsung and Lenovo test machines.

 

Toshiba Tecra A11-S3540 3DMark06 CPU Score

 

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Futuremark PCMark Vantage

Our next round of benchmarks involves Futuremark’s latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including HDTV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to take advantage of the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.

 

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

 

The Tecra A11 handled all of the components in the PCMark Vantage suite very well. In fact, it scored the highest or second highest score on every component of the test. In the areas of the test where the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 outscored the Tecra A11, it wasn't by much.

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SiSoftware SANDRA and Multimedia Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).

 

Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

 


CPU Arithmetic Test; Click to enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click to enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click to enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click to enlarge

 

The Tecra A11 performed about as well as we would expect in the Sandra benchmarks. Although the system wasn't the strongest performer here in terms of raw scores, it performed well especially for a business machine. These scores show there is some power underneath the hood of the A11, and in real-world use, the A11 held up to these expectations.


To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included two screenshots of the 1080p clip from prior test rigs to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from rival systems.

 


720p WMVHD; Click to enlarge


1080p; Click to enlarge


1080p on Lenovo ThinkPad T410; Click to enlarge

1080p on Samsung 15.6" R580; Click to enlarge

 

As we might expect based on the scores we've seen thus far, the Tecra A11 had no problem with multimedia playback. Loading and playing 720p and 1080p content was easy and the machine did not feel taxed.

 

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Gaming Benchmarks

Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

 

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and for comparison with machines that are able to play at higher resolutions with larger screens, we'll provide you with a link to our chart from the Asus G51J review.


 

 

As the Windows Experience score hints at, the Tecra A11 isn't the best at gaming performance. The machine can handle Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, but its performance doesn't begin to compare with a more serious gaming rig.

 

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Battery Performance

To complete our testing, we ran Battery Eater Pro to get a feel for the Tecra A11's battery performance. According to Toshiba, the Tecra A11 should get approximately 3 hours and 7 minutes of runtime from the included 6 cell lithium ion battery based on the MobileMark Productivity 2007 benchmark. Here at HotHardware, we've been using BatteryEater Pro's Real World Scenario to test battery life in various machines, which is much more strenuous than MobileMark Productivity 2007. During the test, the screen brightness was set to 60%, Wi-Fi was enabled, and all other applications were closed.

 

 

 

Needless to say, with just 1 hour and 23 minutes of runtime, we were disappointed in the Tecra A11's battery life. Business users certainly need to be able to work without power, and this is one area where the A11 fell short. The machine performs well thanks to its Core i7 processor, but it also sucks power fairly quickly. Other comparison systems such as the Lenovo's ThinkPad T410 had much better battery life with just under 3 hours of runtime, but this machine also had a 9-cell extended battery. Of course, it's quite possible you could extend the runtime of the A11 by either upgrading the battery or by using the machine lightly.

We wouldn't call the A11's battery performance a deal-breaker. After all, performance is important and you can always buy a spare battery if you find that you regularly need some extra juice to get through the day.

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Summary and Conclusion

The Tecra A11 held its own in many of the benchmark tests. It also handled multimedia with ease. Even though this is a business notebook, there's no denying that Toshiba has put some powerful components underneath the hood, including an Intel Core i7-620M processor and a NVIDIA NVS 2100M GPU with 512MB DDR3 discrete graphics memory.

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Considering these specs, however, we would have expected the A11 to perform slightly better in our gaming benchmark tests. We were also a bit disappointed in the battery life of the A11, though it's only reasonable to expect that such a powerful machine will gulp, not sip, power. At the end of the day, the A11 is a great machine for business users who are looking for some power and portability but who are willing to be near a power outlet or purchase a spare battery.

 

Recognizing business users want a good looking system that's not too flashy, Toshiba did a nice job with the A11's textured case. We also appreciated the A11's sturdy design, roomy keyboard, and multi-touch TouchPad.

As we mentioned earlier, the A11-S3540 we tested is the top model in the A11 lineup. As a result, you not only get the most power and performance, but you also get a higher price tag. For users who want an A11 but don't have $1,349 to spend for the top model, keep in mind there are other A11 models that may suit your needs and budget. Also, keep in mind the A11 comes with a limited three-year warranty whereas some of Toshiba's competitors ship their laptops with only a one-year limited warranty.

     
  • Intel Core i7-620M processor
  • Roomy keyboard
  • Matte display
  • Textured case
  • Plenty of ports
  • 3-year limited warranty
  • Lackluster battery life
  • Somewhat disappointing gaming performance, though still playable

 



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