A New Laptop: Toshiba Portege R835-P50x

I’ve been having a lot of issues with my ACER-1420P laptop that I got from attending a Microsoft conference back in 2009 (yes, some conferences have better swag than others). In the last few weeks it started to freeze up completely, right in the middle of writing, requiring a reboot.  The audio card had self destructed a few months ago, and the USB plug I’d replaced it with was making a ‘Zurp-Zurp’ sound every 30 seconds or so. Since I only use this laptop for writing, and listening to music while I write is pretty much essential, I knew it was time to replace it.

My main requirements were:

  1. 13.3 inch screen – I’ve found this to be the best size to write on
  2. Sub 4 pound weight. I carry this thing with me everywhere, and you can really feel the difference between 3.5 lbs and 5 lbs after while.
  3. Fast boot up. Sitting on the train and waiting 5 minutes for a laptop to boot is unacceptable
  4. Windows compatible. Yes, I could have considered a Mac, but I’ve been on Windows for 15 years, and all the software I have is Windows for the other two computers in the house.  I also do a lot of work for Microsoft, so carrying a Mac onto the Redmond campus… not well received.
  5. Good battery life.  More than 4-5 hours with light load.
  6. Under $800. I’m trying to keep my writing expenses down until, you know, I actually sell something.

I looked around at a few different manufacturers with Dell, Toshiba and Acer being the main ones. I was split for a long time between the Dell Vostro V-130 and the Acer Timeline X series.

Dell’s models looked nice until I put together the package I wanted.  Then the price climbed above my threshold.

I seriously considered the ACER timeline, but it got mixed reviews, and the fact that I had an ACER that lasted just 18 months bothered me a bit. Once bitten, twice shy.  I have  another Toshiba laptop that is still going strong after 3 years which my wife uses it now for her work.

I kept hearing good things about the Toshiba Portege, but until I saw the deal at Best Buy on this particular model, I hadn’t really considered it due to price. But the R835-P50x, which is an exclusive model for Best Buy, seems to be a heck of a deal.  After waffling back and forth for a few days (and one more laptop crash while writing on the train), I went out and bought one.  I’ve only had it two days, but here are my initial impressions.

  1. This thing is super light. At 3.2 pounds, it makes my 3.9 lb Acer look like an anvil.
  2. It’s pretty fast.  Starting up MS Word takes a second or two, compare to 10-15 seconds on the Acer.
  3. Boot-up is still average, but I think Toshiba puts so much crapware on it that starts up when the computer fires up, that it’s a wonder it starts at all.  I’ve been slowly removing the non-essentials. Eventually, I may put an SSD (Solid State Drive) into it to speed this up even more. Time, on the train, is money.
  4. Don’t go to Best Buy if you don’t know exactly what you want. The sales people there weren’t out of high school yet and none of them knew what an SSD was, and they were clearly making things up as they went. 
  5. When I put my MS Office CD into the drive, the slight distortion in the CD caused the drive to shake enough that the computer hard drive went into lockdown state three or four times while it was in my lap.  It got a little better when I set it on a table for the rest of the install. Another reason to perhaps get an SSD.
  6. The keyboard is a little odd and is taking me a while to get used to.  The space bar is tiny, and the gaps between keys are pretty big.  But the most difficult adjustment is how far back the keys are from the front edge of the unit, due to the oversized mouse pad. I find this pretty annoying, as I sit in a recliner to write, and rest the heels of my hands on the edge of the computer. With other models, this anchored the laptop down and kept it steady.  On this one, it tends to move it around with each keystroke. It feels like I have to reach really far to get to the top row of letters.  It’s really pretty uncomfortable. I hope it gets better as I get used to it. It may be a deal breaker.
  7. The back side of the screen (the top of the laptop when closed), is very flexible. A few ounces of pressure distort it very easily. With my old Acer, this was never a concern. This is probably where they attempted to save the most weight on this unit. I will have to be very careful not to set anything on top of this one for fear of cracking the screen.
  8. I haven’t used it enough yet to get an appraisal of the battery life or the heat on the underside after a long use. I hear this laptop has very good battery life, so I’m not too concerned there.
  9. If you run Windows, and you don’t use Live Mesh, you really should. It takes just a minute to install, and backs up up to 5GB of data to the Internet (for free), and then syncs that data back to all of your computers. This allows me to switch PC’s very easily, and when I get a new PC, it takes me only a minute or two to be up and running with all my old files.  I don’t put music files in there (those I copied across my network the old fashioned way), but Live Mesh is amazing for day to day use.

At this point, my number one issue is the keyboard format, but I assume I will get used to that. I use at least three different types of keyboards every day, and so far, that hasn’t killed me.  My preference is my Logitech Keyboard on my home PC, and I really wish every device I used had this look and feel.

Okay, so now I have a new laptop, and I’m healed up from my surgery, and back to riding the train on an almost daily basis.  No more excuses for not getting this next novel done by mid-June!

One Comment on “A New Laptop: Toshiba Portege R835-P50x

  1. I bought one new in the box off of craigslist for $450. I absolutely love it. It’s very fast and has enough horsepower to run Virtualbox on it.

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