Review: Toshiba's new Portege laptop sports 500GB SSD

Weighing just 2.46 pounds, it's aimed squarely at business execs

When a light-weight box arrived on my desk recently from Toshiba Corp., I immediately figured I had a new solid-state disk (SSD) drive to review. In fact, it was an SSD -- a whopping 500GB drive wrapped in a laptop that tipped the scales at a mere 2.46 pounds.

At only 0.77-in thick, Toshiba's new Portege R600-ST4203 business notebook is the thinnest and lightest PC laptop available today. Toshiba bills it as "the ultimate ultralight notebook." Measuring 11.1 inches by 8.5 inches, it bests Apple's MacBook Air in weight, doesn't skimp on ports, and has an internal optical drive. (If you get the Portege without the optical drive, it weighs just 1.72 pounds.)

Toshiba's ultraportable Portege 600 notebook
Toshiba's ultraportable Portege 600 notebook

The Portege R600, which runs 64-bit Windows Vista, comes in a silver finish, has a docking connector for when you land back in the office and is powered by a 1.4GHz Intel Centrino 2 Duo Core chip. It has 3GB of DDR2 SDRAM and uses a mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD with 128MB-1340MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory.

Best of all it can ordered with the aforementioned 500GB SSD. Toshiba's previous model, the Portege R500 Notebook, featured a 64GB SSD, so this drive is leaps and bounds beyond that one in terms of capacity. But all that space will cost you an extra $1,400.

There's a wide array of ports, including a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, an RGB video output port, an audio port, a microphone input port, a headphone jack, two USB ports (placed conveniently on either side), an ExpressCard Slot and an eSATA/USB combo port that charges external gadgets while the computer is in sleep mode. It's a nice little feature for those who travel and may want to charge a cell phone or other hand-held device from the laptop. However, if you read the fine print on the specification sheet, you'll see that not all external devices, even if they're USB-power enabled, will charge from the system in sleep mode. You may have to plug the laptop in for some devices.

A transreflective screen

One cool feature is a new wide-screen 12.1-inch indoor/outdoor transreflective side-lit LED screen. Transreflective means that the screen reflects and transmits ambient light. A button just below the right hand side of the monitor shuts off the backlight and allows the light of the sun to power the display reflectively. I tried this, and it works remarkably well. I was able to clearly see the screen with no sun glare whatsoever. Overall, the 1280-by-800-pixel resolution is excellent. A webcam and microphone are built into screen bezel.

A look at Portege's ports
A look at Portege's ports

With an ultra-thin, six-cell, removable lithium-ion battery that will last up to 7.5 hours, Toshiba says the Portege uses up to 50% less power in idle mode than earlier models. The battery life is attributed not only to the low-power SSD drive but to the transreflective screen, which also uses very little power. And it has a spill-resistant keyboard, which basically gives you a few extra minutes to drain and dry the laptop after unexpected spills.

The amenities don't come cheap. The 500GB SSD model of the Portege R600 retails for $3,499, though you can get a low-end version with a basic 160GB hard disk drive for $2,099. So basically, you're paying a lot of money for the drive -- but what a drive it is. Being a systems company, Toshiba brings its own proprietary technology to bear in creating an SSD that includes a proprietary controller, firmware, circuit board and multi-level cell flash memory chips.

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