|Introduction & Specifications|
We're going to let you in on a little secret, and while you're free to pass it on, understand that nobody will ever believe you. In fact, if you do share this secret, you might suffer a barrage of insults, and depending on your stature, could even end up with a wedgie. You've been warned. Are you ready? Here goes: Many Windows users, even die hard ones, have a secret lust for Apple's MacBook Air. Yup, we said it, and now we'll give you a moment to clean the coffee off your monitor and keyboard.
Few Windows users will ever admit it, but the MacBook Air is a finely crafted laptop from a physical design standpoint. It's exceptionally thin, extremely lightweight, and terrifically styled. We can say this because it's our job to check any biases at the door before showing up to work, and if we're being totally honest, then there it is. So what is there for Windows users these days? Up until recently, there really were not many equivalent solutions, but with the introduction of Intel's Ultrabook form factor, suddenly it's a whole new ball game.
Toshiba's Portégé R835-P330 is one of just a handful Ultrabooks currently available and is part of a new breed of laptops intended to blend ultra-portability with performance. Thin, lightweight, and well equipped, the Ultrabook form factor is the direction the Windows laptop market is headed, but first manufacturers have to get a grip on price. Early Ultrabook models have struggled to stay below the $1,000 ceiling Intel has encouraged them to stay under.
Toshiba's Z835-P330 gets there, and with room to spare. It's available at Best Buy for $800, and we've seen it on sale for as low as $700. It's the least expensive Ultrabook model currently available, and unlike Acer's Aspire S3, which is another lower-priced Ultrabook, Toshiba's model sports a dedicated 128GB solid state drive for storage chores (the Aspire S3 features a 320GB HDD + 20GB SSD). It also has a backlit keyboard, 13.3-inch LED backlit display, USB 3.0 support, and even a GbE LAN port.
How is it that Toshiba can offer a seemingly full featured Ultrabook for less scratch than the competition? That's a great question, and is one of many we'll be answering on the following pages. But first, a little teaser from Toshiba...
If you look closely at the spec sheet, you'll see part of the reason why Toshiba is able to sell the Z835-P330 for several hundred dollars less than a grand. It starts with the Core i3-2367M processor, a definite downgrade compared to the Core i5 and i7 processors found in nearly every other Ultrabook. We were also suspect of the SATA 3Gbps solid state drive, and for good reason. We looked up the specs online (PDF), and according to Toshiba, the SG2 series is only rated for 180MB/s read and 50MB/s write speeds, and while those are average (as opposed to peak) ratings, the SSD is a far cry from the performance oriented SATA 6Gbps model tucked into the Asus Zenbook lineup (we reviewed here).
Elsewhere things look decidedly better. The Z835-P330 is a 13.3-inch Ultrabook with a large capacity battery, a USB 3.0 port, Sleep and Charge capabilities, an Ethernet LAN port, and an extremely thin frame that weighs a mere 2.47 pounds.
|Software & First Boot|
Ultrabooks are one of the rare cases where a smaller bundle is not only acceptable, but perhaps even desirable. After all, these systems are all about compact portability, and the more you have to lug around, the less portable it becomes. Unpacking we the Z835-P330, we found the main unit (always a good thing), power adapter, quick start guide, user manual, warranty documentation, a 15 percent off coupon for Toshiba laptop accessories and service plans, a $10 eMusic card, and various trialware paperwork (Norton and MS Office).
We're always thrilled to see a clean desktop when first booting up an OEM system, and outside of a Best Buy link, Toshiba's home screen is pristine. It was also interesting to see Google's Chrome browser come pre-installed alongside Microsoft's obligatory Internet Explorer. Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2012 also comes installed as an optional 30-day trial.
Booting into Windows from a powered off state took 32 seconds. Shutting down took 10 seconds.
In place of a bunch of trialware, Toshiba opted to install a bunch of its own software and utilities instead. There's quite a few, though they're unobtrusive and only a couple load at startup. One of the utilities is the Toshiba Bulletin Board, which is like a customized mini homepage to help you keep track of appointments, plan vacations, and various other tasks.
Of more utility, at least if you're a bookworm, is Toshiba's Book Place. It's an eBook reader powered by Blio. It's an eBook reader for Windows and Android that supports sounds, color, video, a "ReadAloud" feature, integrated Web search, hyperlinks, text-to-speech capabilities, exportable notes, and more.
|Design & Layout|
To really appreciate the Z835-P330, you need to get up close and personal with it. There aren't any wild designs or flashy LEDs to draw your attention to it, just a solid mix of metal and plastic in a frame that's so thin you'll wonder how Toshiba managed to cram any hardware at all inside of it. Dimensions check in at 0.33-0.63 (H) x 12.4 (W) x 8.94 (D) inches, roughly on par with the MacBook Air, but about a half a pound lighter at 2.47 pounds versus 2.96 pounds. It's also less of a tapered design than the MacBook Air or Asus ZenBook.
It's hard to see in pictures, but there's a subtle brushed aluminum motif going on with the silver lid and extending to the wrist rest inside. Chrome colored hinges and Toshiba's logo sitting smack dab in the middle accent an overall attractive machine. When closed, the Z835-P330 feels well built and sturdy despite its lightweight design, though there's a hint of flex if you press down on the lid that will make you leery about tossing around your backpack with this Ultrabook tucked inside.
As for the hardware, we covered the main bits on the previous page, but if you require more processing oomph, Toshiba also offers a couple of better spec'd configurations, including the Z830-S8301 (Core i5 2557M processor, 4GB DDR3 memory, 128GB SSD) and Z830-S8302 (Core i7 2677M, 6GB DDR3 memory, 1238GB SSD). The big difference is the processor:
While the body feels tight and sturdy, the little bit of flex we noticed in the lid becomes a whole lot of elasticity when we open it up. The screen is easily bendable to the point where you'll feel like the world's strongest man (or woman) simply by gripping each side and flexing it back and forth. Otherwise, the hinges do a good job of keeping the limp screen in place.
Typing on the Z835-P330 takes a little getting used to. The keys are a little smaller than we would like, and this is especially noticeable on the spacebar. Our thumbs naturally want to sit below the slimmed down spacebar, which is an annoyance until you adapt to the layout. The click action is fair, which is to say it's neither spectacular nor crummy.
Below the keyboard is a two-button touchpad with multi-touch support. It supports gestures like pinch, swipe, rotate, and scroll. There's also a button just above to disable the trackpad altogether.
Another high point is the inclusion of a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port, a feature not found on Acer's Aspire S3, which is currently the only other 13.3-inch Ultrabook that competes with the Z835-P330 in price. For those who do a lot of file transfers, especially large size files, this could very well be a deciding factor between the two models. Also visible on the right-hand side is a security lock slot.
Over on the left side of the Z835-P330 is a microphone jack, headphone jack, and a full size SD card slot, all positioned towards the back.
Most of the I/O ports are found on the rear of Toshiba's Ultrabook. From left to right you'll find a GbE LAN port, USB 2.0 port, USB 2.0 port with Sleep and Charge capabilities, full size HDMI output, DC-in, and a VGA port. There's also a cooling vent on the back where hot air is actively pushed out by an internal fan. There's an audible whir associated with the fan, though it's not obnoxiously loud or whiny.
|SiSoft SANDRA, ATTO, & Cinebench|
|We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2011 suite (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth and Physical Disk Performance). All of the scores reported below were taken with the Toshiba Ultrabook running at its default settings with full performance mode enabled and the notebook plugged into the AC adapter.
SANDRA CPU Arithmetic and Multimedia Performance
SANDRA Memory and Physical Disk Performance
SANDRA's synthetic benchmarks reveal what you're giving up in performance in exchange for money saved. The numbers are lower across the board compared to the better equipped Asus Zenbook. The Toshiba systems gives up a little bit of memory bandwidth, a fair amount of CPU performance, and a whole lot of solid state drive muscle.
On its own, the Z835-P330 isn't exactly a slouch, and it still benefits from Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture, DDR3-1333 memory, and an SSD, albeit a subdued one. Just temper your expectations of winning any benchmarking records.
Toshiba Portégé Z835-P330 and Asus Zenbook SSD Performance Comparison with ATTO
We were so impressed with the SSD performance numbers with our first round of ultrabooks that hit the lab, that we had to double check with ATTO to make sure everything was on the level. Here's how it shook out:
Asus Zenbook UX21
We ran the Z835-P330 through the same test and here's how that one shook out:
Toshiba Portégé Z835-P330
That's quite a difference, and while we're not trying to beat a dead horse, the simple fact is Toshiba made some performance cutbacks in order to scale back the price tag on its entry-level model, and this is the result of that. Where the Zenbook's SSD tops out at over 550MB/s read and 500MB/s write speeds, Toshiba's SG2 SSD stopped short of 200MB/s read and 55MB/s write speeds. At 200MB/s, read throughput is decidedly better than any standard notebook hard drive on the market but at 55MB/s, write throughput is on par or perhaps a little slower than some 7200RPM drives.
Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on the company's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.
We're less concerned with how the Z835-P330 fares in Cinebench simply because you're not going to do much 3D rendering, CAD design, or other professional-level work chores on this machine. It does give us another point of comparison, however, which is why we include it. Overall, the Z835-P330 put up respectable numbers for a system that lacks a dedicated GPU, with part of the credit owed to Intel's improved graphics drivers and integrated graphics core technology.
|PCMark Vantage & PCMark 7|
|Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark suite,
recently released this spring. It has updated application performance
measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment. It combines 25
individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video
manipulation, Web browsing, and gaming.
The PCMark 7 score is interesting and a bit of an odd duck. Compared to the Zenbook with its faster processor and silly-fast SSD, the Z835-P330 limps way behind. However, it runs neck-and-neck, and even outpaces a handful of systems with stronger components and discrete level graphics. The reason? It's Toshiba's SSD, which even though it's a entry-level drive, is still faster than a mechanical hard drive with spinning platters.
Next up, we ran our test systems through Futuremark’s previous generation total-system performance evaluation tool, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Since we have a large database of scores for this test, we felt it would be good to give you additional reference points to compare to.
We see more of the same in PCMark Vantage, an older version of Futuremark's system benchmark. The only reason we list the Alienware desktop replacement machine in this group, is that the Asus Zenbook is already off the charts, so what's the harm? Be careful not to get the wrong idea though. If you look closely, you'll find the Z835-P330 outpacing a handful of well-equipped notebooks, though the scores obviously favor systems with solid state storage.
|Far Cry 2 & Left 4 Dead 2 -- Gaming Performance|
|Ultrabooks aren't really built for gaming, but you know what they say about all work and no play. Even though the Z835-P330 is rocking integrated graphics, we ran a couple of low level game tests to see what it's capable of.
No surprises here. The Z835-P330 did manage double digits in our Far Cry 2 benchmark run, but was still well short of playable on High Quality settings at 1280x720. A faster processor would have given framerates a boost, but wouldn't have been a game changer, so to speak. If Far Cry 2 is your time killer of choice, you'll have to dial back the eye candy and/or drop the screen resolution.
Left 4 Dead 2, though it has reasonably good visuals, is a bit easier on the graphics subsystem. This was a game engine that the Asus UX21 Zenbook could handle a bit better as well. Let's see how Toshiba's ultralight fairs.
Things are a bit better in Left 4 Dead 2, even on the Z835-P330's native resolution. We managed playable framerates that were mostly smooth, and that's with High Quality settings and 4xAF.
|Let's face it, if you're shopping an Ultrabook, you're less concerned with gaming performance and more interested in what kind of battery life you can squeeze out of these featherweight systems. This is perhaps the most important metric, at least for some, and what we have below is one example of a worst case scenario.
We set the screen brightness to 50 percent and then let BatteryEater Pro do its thing. With a constant workload, the Z835-P330 musters just shy of 3 hours of run time, which again is a worst case metric. If you're primarily surfing the Web and firing off emails, you can expect the battery to last at least an hour longer, if not more, depending on how you use your system.
We should also point out that even though the Z835-P330 virtually tied the Zenbook in battery performance, the Z835-P330 can claim a minor technical victory here due to its larger screen size. The Zenbook we benched had an a 11.6-inch screen, whereas Toshiba's Ultrabook is sporting a 13.3-inch display, which is going to put a bigger drain on the battery. Credit here goes to Toshiba's 8-cell battery.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: Unlike the Asus Zenbook, Toshiba's Portégé Z835-P330 didn't knock our socks off with surprising performance, objectively or subjectively. Its benchmark scores were good overall, but were clearly tempered by the Core i3 processor with its lack of Turbo Boost, and entry-level at best, SSD. At the same time, this is still a system built around Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture, and 4GB of DDR3-1333 memory keeps the system from dragging its feet. It's not a gaming laptop (but you knew that) and subjectively it felt more like a system equipped with a fast hard drive rather than an SSD, but overall it's a good performing ultralight notebook at a reasonable price.
The Toshiba Portégé Z835-P330 is the least expensive Ultrabook on the market right now. It's street price is several hundred dollars less than the Asus Zenbook, and it's even cheaper than the Acer Aspire S3, which doesn't have a dedicated solid state drive (it uses a 320GB HDD and 20GB SSD) or USB 3.0 port. The Z835-P330 has both, along with several other value added features, such as a 13.3-inch display, GbE LAN port, full size HDMI port, and a backlit keyboard. It's extremely light at just 2.47 pounds and boasts good battery life, especially considering its screen size.
These are all nice things to have, but in order to include them on the Z835-P330, Toshiba had to rob Peter to pay Paul a little bit, so to speak. Whereas most Ultrabooks are built around a Core i5 or Core i7 processor, Toshiba downgraded its entry-level model with a slower clocked Core i3 processor that lacks Turbo Boost, which is a double whammy on performance. The SATA 3Gbps solid state drive doesn't pick up the slack, and the flimsy screen is a little concerning. Even the keyboard is a plus/minus affair -- we love the backlight, but aren't enamored with the tight layout or so-so tactility.
It sounds like we're being bipolar, but that's what the Z835-P330 invites to nit-picking folks like us. All things considered, we think it's a fair deal for the price, though if you have the extra cash to spend, you should look at one of Toshiba's higher end models in the Z835 lineup or the Asus Zenbook, which lacks a backlit keyboard but sports faster hardware and better build quality. Then again, in the 13.3-inch Ultrabook arena, this new Toshiba machine is a price leader by a long shot.