Portege R500 Is an Ultralight Heavyweight

Toshiba's SSD-equipped Portege R500 packs solid performance into a slim 1.72-pound chassis without skimping on peripheral expansion options.

Chic, fashionable and distressingly underweight-if there is a supermodel of notebook PCs, the Toshiba Portege R500-S5003 is it.

Weighing in at a mere 1.72 pounds, with a slight footprint of 11.1 inches wide by 8.5 inches deep by .77 inches thick, the R500 model I tested is certainly very travel-friendly, and the unit's shock-resistant sold state hard drive and tough roll-cage chassis add up to durability that belies its feathery form factor.

At a price of $2,699, the R500-S5003 doesn't come cheap, but it compares well with the similarly SSD-equipped Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo ThinkPad X300, both of which significantly outweigh the R500 at 3 pounds. However, where the Portege R500 I tested tops out at 2GB of RAM (the unit I tested shipped with 1GB), the X300 scales upward to 4GB. For its part, the MacBook Air offers a 13-inch display, compared to the 12.1-inch display that graces the Portege R500.

With that said, if there's another notebook computer out there that delivers a full-sized computing experience in a package as light as Toshiba's R500, I've yet to see it.

Toshiba offers a rather broad assortment of configurations that enable administrators to tweak the R500 to their needs, such as by adding an optical drive (which adds weight) or stepping down from an SSD to a traditional spinning hard drive (which adds weight and reduces cost).

What's more, while the model I tested shipped with Windows XP, Toshiba does offer configurations of the R500 that ship with Vista. For more on the various R500 configurations that Toshiba offers, see here on the Toshiba site.

R500 in the lab

When I tested the performance of the 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo-powered Portege R500-S5003 with Version 6.1 of the PassMark Performance Test, the notebook received an overall score of 314.1, which falls in line with similarly equipped notebooks I've tested.

The R500 boasts a 12.1-inch anti-reflective LED-backlit display which pairs with the unit's Intel GMA 950 graphics adapter to deliver a maximum resolution of 1280 by 800. According to Toshiba, the unit's LED-backlit display delivers reduced power consumption (up to one-third less than traditional fluorescent backlight), along with greater resistance to impacts and vibration.

What the LED-backlighting did not do-at least in my tests-was deliver a level of picture quality surpassing what I've come to expect from traditional notebook displays. In fact, I found the R500's matte-finished screen somewhat limited in terms of viewing angles. While standing above and to one side of the display, I found it difficult to read, which makes it a poor fit for group presentations (albeit, perhaps, a good fit for working discreetly on an airplane).

Click here for a slide show walk-through of the Toshiba Portege R500-S5003.

The laptop's 85-key keyboard is nicely sized, with responsive keys and plenty of wrist space. The R500's pointer device, a touch-pad that sits the below the keyboard, delivered a satisfactory touch response, but I found that the space between the keyboard and the touch-pad device was a bit too small. As a result, I found my thumbs brushing consistently against the pad, which at times proved rather irksome.

The R500 offers network connectivity through an Intel 4965GN 802.11a/g/n wireless adapter, a built-in Gigabit Ethernet adapter and a Bluetooth wireless adapter.

I was satisfied with the assortment of expansion ports that stud the R500, which include microphone input and headphone output ports, an RGB output port, a Secure Digital card slot, a PCMCIA slot, and three USB ports. In addition, the R500 boasts an S-Video port, which makes it easy to connect the machine to a TV as an external display.

The unit I tested shipped with a three-cell lithium ion battery, from which Toshiba promises 4 four hours of battery life-in my tests of the R500, this battery life claim held up fairly well. Toshiba also offers a six-cell extended battery that's available for purchase as an accessory.

Also on the power management front, I found the S5003 on par with other notebooks. I tested this a couple of different ways.

I tested the R500's suspend and hibernation capabilities and found that the system took about 15 seconds to go into standby mode, and only 2 seconds to wake up and re-establish connectivity to our wireless test network. Powering down the machine into hibernation mode averaged 15 seconds, with another 15 seconds to wake up from hibernation.

eWEEK Labs Technical Analyst Tiffany Maleshefski can be reached at tmaleshefski@eweek.com, or through her blog here.