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6/96 Reviews: Toshiba Tecra 720CDT

Complete listing of June 1996 reviews

Book's Story: Super Screen and 133 Speed

By Jim Forbes

Toshiba didn't make its mark as one of the premier notebook manufacturers by waiting in the wings. The company earned stripes by getting new technologies to market early, as evidenced by its Tecra line of high-end portables. I tested a preproduction copy of the newest Tecra--the 720CDT--which uses a special version of Intel's 133MHz Pentium.

There's nothing dainty about the Tecra 720CDT. The machine has a commanding presence with dimensions of 2.3 by 11.8 by 9.1 inches and a total travel weight of about eight pounds. But the 720CDT wasn't designed to be slipped into a slim Gucci briefcase. This is a serious piece of portable computing equipment that will fill the bill on the desktop as well as on the road.

The unit's no-nonsense configuration includes a 1.2-gigabyte Toshiba hard disk, a 6X internal CD-ROM drive, an external floppy drive and 16MB of RAM. It also has Sound Blaster-compatible 16-bit stereo audio with a pair of internal speakers, and a full array of external connections that includes a docking station port. One of the 720CDT's pleasant surprises is its built-in 28.8Kb-per-second modem, which leaves the PCMCIA slots available for other peripherals.

But the odds are that before you can appreciate what the 720CDT has inside, your eye will be caught by its large, 12.1-inch screen. The display is nothing short of stunning. If you use a notebook for presentations or to massage big spreadsheets, you'll love its maximum resolution of 1024x768. The 720CDT uses a Chips and Technology 65550 PCI video adapter and a Plug-and-Play driver.

The 720CDT enhances its usefulness as a presentation platform with an outstanding audio subsystem and its 6X CD-ROM drive. Like the Tecra 700, the 720CDT lets you slip either the floppy drive or the CD-ROM drive into a bay that's accessible at the front of the unit. But Toshiba goes a step beyond and provides an external case that can house either of these drives so that they can be used simultaneously. This is a very convenient feature that helps make this portable a true desktop replacement.

The 720CDT is also a pleasure to use, with its comfortable keyboard and integrated AccuPoint pointing device. The pointer's buttons are located on the notebook's palm rest. The system controls-power, display brightness and so forth-are within easy reach. The front-mounted status indicators for hard-drive and CD-ROM access, and for battery and AC power, are a little hard to see, somewhat obscured by your right hand when it's resting on the keyboard.

The notebook's lithium ion battery pack provided about 1.8 hours of juice when I ran it through its paces without paying much attention to power conservation. When I invoked stringent power management, the battery held out for nearly three hours. Toshiba includes a nifty utility that lets you see at a glance how much power the battery has left. For a high-powered system with such a large display, battery life was very good.

If you're concerned about durability, the 720CDT's rugged construction should put your mind at ease. It's built like a tank, with all components that you may want to upgrade or change-hard drive, CD-ROM, floppy drive, RAM and battery-easily accessible. The machine's 32-bit PCI architecture is another great benefit, as it lets you take advantage of industry-standard PCI peripherals when connected to a docking station. Of course, the heavy-duty construction and slew of built-in features add to the notebook's size and weight. But a high-end portable like this is destined to spend as much-if not more-time on an office desk as on an airplane tray table.

Tested with WINDOWS Magazine's Wintune benchmarks, the Tecra 720CDT demonstrated performance that was, for the most part, equal to that of the four preproduction 133MHz notebooks we reviewed last month (Portable Pop). Its processor rating of 244MIPS falls just shy of the top score among the other machines, and it clocked a middle-of-the-pack 2.6MB per second on the uncached disk throughput test. The 720CDT's video performance was disappointing, though, and it contributed to somewhat leisurely strolls through our Word 7.0 and Excel 7.0 macro-based application tests. However, I tested a very early incarnation of this new notebook, and the video performance is likely to be improved by the time the product is ready for shipment.

The Tecra 720CDT joins the ranks of high-end-make that highest-end-portable computers, currently occupied by only a handful of other notebooks. It can handle virtually any business app and could provide a comfortable home for Windows NT, too.

Info File
Toshiba Tecra 720CDT
$7,499 (street)
Pros: Display; audio; upgradability
Cons: Video performance; status indicators
Toshiba America Information Systems
800-999-4273, 714-583-3000
WinMag Box Score: 4.0
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