Just last summer, Toshiba's Portege R500 was the first laptop with a 128GB SSD. A year later, Toshiba's Portege R600 is the world's first 512GB SSD lappie. So for this one moment, Toshiba is on the top of the world.
Design Note: The R600 has been out for several months, we just tested their updated system with the mega SSD. So if you've read about the build before, you can skip down to our section on performance.
For $US3,500 (as tested with 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400, 3GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Intel 4500MHD graphics, DVD burner, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi n), the Portege may be a bit of a disappointment right out of the box. Yes, it's ridiculously light, starting at 2.46lbs, but that weight comes at a cost of feel. It's plastic, and no amount of metal paint can get around that. But luckily the plastic is fairly smudge-proof and part of a "shock absorbing design" complete with "spill resistant" keyboard. In other words, the system may be more durable than a Macbook, especially with so few moving parts.
The 12.1-inch screen is technically WXGA (widescreen) resolution, though something about the system's shape makes it look more vertical, like a 4:3 screen of yore. This is a minor point, of course, and its non-glossy screen gets just bright enough to use indoors by a window. In full-out sunlight, you can one-button switch the system into "transreflective" mode, essentially using the sun to brighten the screen. High brightness (in standard mode) is still the brightest setting, even under direct sunlight, but the transreflective setting probably uses a lot less power.
Extras, from the effective fingerprint scanner to the eSATA and SD ports, do a lot to sweeten the deal on the small, utilitarian system. And in this era, it's straight up shocking to see an optical bay pop out of a system that's just .77 inches thick.
Performance The R600 runs Vista very fluidly, especially given its stature. Firefox, Windows Media Player, HD content streamed from the web—none of it will leave you waiting. But given the system's Intel 4500MHD GPU, don't get any fantasies of gaming.
Many will expect the computer to boot nearly instantly given the SSD—I've heard this expectation a number of times—but the still takes about a minute to fully load. The bottleneck here is simply not the hard drive.
How does the R600 compare to other light systems like the Macbook Air or Lenovo X301? Just as you'd expect from the specs on paper, it's faster than the X301 and slower than the Air. That is...until you check out the SSD.
Fast! This isn't some bargain basement drive that Toshiba shoved in a laptop for bragging rights. I mean, a 512GB SSD is clearly for bragging rights, but it's Toshiba's biggest and fastest drive made in-house—way nicer than we see competition from Lenovo and Apple (which we believe to both use earlier gen, Samsung drives).
But what does this speed chart mean in real life? Copying a 700MB file on my Macbook Pro (with a 320GB, 7200 RPM hard drive) took 35 seconds. On the R600, that same copy may have legitimately cracked the 8 second barrier. I'd like to say that I never took the speed for granted, but I totally started taking the speed for granted. Superman doesn't bow down and thank the sun every time he avoids traffic by flying over Metropolis, so why should I be any different?
Toshiba's 6-cell battery is rated internally at 7 hours, 32 minutes. I found that it offers 3 hours and 35 minutes of MPEG4 playback (screen maxed bright, Wi-Fi on, Bluetooth off, performance settings normal). Our test is rigorous, and it's pretty common for laptops to only get about 50% of their rated battery life in our real world use simulation. Of course, the computer could probably eek out another 30 minutes to an hour with less taxing processes and a dimmer screen.
I Might Buy One...In 2011 The key to remember, of course, is that the 128GB R500 ran $US3,000 just a year ago. Now, their 512GB R600 is $US3,500. Even with the price bump on their top tier system, Toshiba has the right idea here: Push the envelope and force the market to adapt. Keep topping the sundae with cherries and someone will be hungry enough to buy it (meanwhile those of us who aren't will have plenty of dropped cherries to munch on).
Still, I don't know that I'd recommend this fully stuffed R600 with full gusto. It's simply not as beautiful as premium, small-form laptops like the Dell Adamo or Apple's Macbook Air (side by side above), and the prices of flash storage will certainly come down (and quickly at that). But I'm glad Toshiba made the thing because, frankly, somebody needed to load a laptop with a legitimately beastly SSD first.
The Huge SSD Is Fast
Under 3lbs, Less than an Inch Thick
Substantial ports and extras
For $US3,500, It Feels a Bit Like a Pontiac