Toshiba R600 Review

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Step in the way-back machine while I review a remarkable laptop from 2009 that in many ways can go toe-to-toe with the latest Ultrabook.

Toshiba’s R500 and R600 are the lightest laptops to include an optical drive. The R600, reviewed here, is the 2009 follow-up to the 2007 R500. Like the second generation MacBook Air, it is practically identical to it’s preceding model, with subtle internal refinements being the only changes. This 12.1” machine has a 1280×800 transflective display, an optical drive, full VGA and ethernet ports, an SD slot, a proper trackpad with two actual buttons, three USB ports, a dock connector, finger print reader, eSATA, Firewire, a PC Card slot, and about five hours of battery life. All in under 2.5lbs. Think about that for a few minutes and then look up everything that’s available new today.

The R600 is a remarkable machine and a welcome addition to my unofficial computer museum. It isn’t that flashy, it has occasional flaws and can’t compete with a MacBook Air in the looks department, but the feature:weight ratio is simply unrivalled. Disassembling the machine is a study in repair-ability and purely functional design. If Apple champions stylish consumer design, this laptop is the other extreme. Both it and the original MacBook Air represent pinnacles of design, albeit with completely different guiding principles.

The R600 is quite thin despite the full sized ports mentioned above. It is barely thicker than the ethernet port adorning the right hand side of the laptop. The full-sized keyboard thankfully predates the island keyboard that is the contemporary style. The layout of the US keyboard model is practically perfect. The six row keyboard is high-quality. The trackpad, while a bit on the small side, is perfectly functional and work as expected, which is more than you can say for many new laptops with large, poorly implemented trackpads with software buttons.

When it launched, the R600 was expensive. Particularly when configured with the optional 128GB SSD. Prices reached $3000. This one was a couple of hundred dollars on ebay, which is all they fetch now. Mine had the traditional platter drive which I have replaced with a third-party SSD. Despite the small size and light weight of the R600, components are quite standard, and adding a drive was a snap. Ultrabooks look great, but I miss the expandability of machines of this vintage.

The laptop is a bit fragile and despite the SSD is noticeably slow. That said, battery life is decent, as is the typing experience, and in a pinch I can use it to get all of my work done. (Give me a terminal, Remote Desktop, an X11 server, and an X2Go client and I can connect to just about anything.)

The R600 isn’t that fast but you won’t find a lighter laptop with an optical drive. Mine is running Ubuntu 12.04, which it does so flawlessly. I’ll be taking it with me on all business trips. It’s relatively worthless, doesn’t look like much, but can handle just about anything I’m likely to throw at it. In short, it’s a perfect travel companion. What more could I need?

GoSaBe Blog - Jan 1, 2015 | Hardware, Linux