Techno Dabbler

Trying out new technology.

Friday

11

August 2006

My New Toshiba Tecra M3

by Alexandre Denault, on PC, Review, Hardware

My New Toshiba Tecra M3

When I decided I was going back to school, I knew I needed a new laptop. My 14″ IBook was horribly underpowered. In addition, I couldn’t use my laptop on several projects because the software I was using simply did not exist on MacOs X.

Choosing a new laptop was a difficult challenge. My requirements were high and my budget was pretty low. Before I bought I laptop, I would have to fit the following requirements:

The laptop should be light, under 5 pounds is possible. I mostly move around BMW-style (which is short for Bus, Metro and Walking). My first Dell laptop was a 7 pounder and it killed my back.
The laptop should be reasonably light. I do a lot of OpenGL development, especially when working on Mammoth or Minueto. This means the laptop must have some kind of ATI or NVidia card.
The laptop should not cost more than 1,500 CAD, with tax. That’s a pretty harsh requirements, but its the budget I had.

It was a stroke of luck that brought me to the McGill Computer Store. In the pass, I’ve avoided the store because of its expensive prices. However, the Toshiba Tecra M3, which was the top item in the store, had exactly all the characteristics I was looking for, at an incredible price.

I was immediately suspicious. How could a 5 pound laptop equipped with a Geforce Go card be only 1,299 CAD? The numerous review I found on the net were unanimous on two problems with the machine:

The fans in the computer are very loud. One customer says he returned his laptop a couple of days after buying it before the fan noise to loud.
The computer can get very hot. Most people claimed that they could not use the laptop on their lap.
One of the reason I am writing this article is in the hopes of better explaining these problems. Most of the reviews I read were very discouraging. I’ve own this laptop for 3 months and I am truly happy that I bought it.

To understand the problems discussed on the M3, you must understand the Geforce Go 6200TE chip installed on the laptop. By desktop standards, this chip is fairly week and does not generate a lot of heat. By laptop standards however, this chip is a heat monster. Thus the need for powerful fans to evacuate the hot air.

When typing text or writing code on my M3, I rarely hear the fan. The laptop is cool enough to keep on my lap (which is the case, as I am writing this article). However, if I switch my computer into 3D mode (running GuildWars or my OpenGL programs), then the computer becomes quite a bit louder. It also becomes incredibly hot. This is a normal reaction of the computer trying to evacuate the heat generated by the 3D chip. In other words, the laptop only becomes hot and noisy if you use the 3D chip.

The machine itself is very sturdy. The keyboard is a good size and very responsive. The laptop features both touchpoint and trackpad controls. I often alternate between the two without problems. The M3 is very light, and can become even lighter if you swap out the CD drive. Battery life is very impressive, unless using the 3D chip (which is perfectly normal).

I tried installing Linux Ubuntu on the laptop. Everything worked out of the box (even the wireless), except for the accelerated Nvidia drivers. I tried various techniques to install them, but with no success.

I think the Toshiba Tecra M3 laptop is a fantastic machine. It solid, fast and not too expensive. If you don’t mind the heat and the noise while using the 3D chip, then its a perfect laptop for you.

Alexandre Denault
Alexandre Denault

Veteran software developer and holds a PhD in Computer Science. Avid computer enthusiast (geek) who has been dabbling with technology ever since his Dad brought home an 8086 computer.

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