capsule review

Toshiba Tecra M3-S331

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Toshiba Tecra M3-S331 Notebook

    PCWorld Rating

    Dual pointing devices and an optical drive that swaps for a second battery are the highlights.

Toshiba Tecra M3-S331
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

Let's start with the good news about the Toshiba Tecra M3: When you don't need the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination optical drive, you can swap it out for a plastic module to pare the laptop's weight to a svelte 4.6 pounds. This boxy black-and-silver unit with a 14.1-inch screen is well equipped for its size, including the new ExpressCard slot, an SD Card slot, and a good keyboard that produces pleasantly muffled clicks. A quick-launch button automatically switches to an external monitor, a handy feature for presenters.

But too many small annoyances would make me pass on this $1799 machine. I like a laptop, no matter how lightweight, to feel like a brick house, and the M3's magnesium alloy case felt slightly creaky to me when I handled it. Also, a memory upgrade would be no fun with this unit. I didn't mind removing the battery, multiple screws, and upper casing to reach the two RAM slots beneath the keyboard, but making it all fit back together again was a challenge, especially the flimsy plastic strip above the function keys. Fortunately, the hard drive is a snap to reach beneath a panel on the bottom that's held in by one screw. You can further expand the M3 with Toshiba's $130 Advanced Port Replicator, which snaps onto the bottom of the unit.

The M3 is no multimedia machine, lacking dedicated music and DVD buttons. Plus, the built-in stereo speakers rasp slightly at their highest volume. On the positive front, the Wi-Fi switch on the front of the case is a nice touch, and I liked the modular bay's ability to take a second hard drive or second battery. Having an older printer, I also appreciated the inclusion of a parallel port. In addition, the M3 comes with Microsoft Works 8.

The 1.73-GHz Pentium M 740-equipped M3 proved to be an average performer in our battery and speed tests, lasting almost 3.5 hours on one charge and earning a WorldBench 5 score of 77. (An average of eight 1.7-GHz/600-MHz-equipped laptops earned a score of 78.) As for instructions, the laptop is nicely documented with printed materials and a detailed Acrobat manual on the hard drive.

A less-than-solid-feeling case and hard-to-reach RAM slots mar this Toshiba Tecra M3-S331, an otherwise nicely equipped, lightweight laptop.

Toshiba Tecra M3-S331


WorldBench 5 score of 77, 1.73-GHz Pentium M 740 processor, 512MB of DDR2-533 SDRAM, Windows XP Professional, 14.1-inch screen, 60GB hard drive, DVD-ROM and CD-RW combo drive, built-in V.92 modem and gigabit ethernet, touchpad and eraserhead pointing devices, 6.1-pound weight (including AC adapter). Three-year parts and labor warranty, free 24-hour toll-free support.
$1799
800/867-4422
www.toshiba.com

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Dual pointing devices and an optical drive that swaps for a second battery are the highlights.

    Pros

    • Keyboard is easy to use

    Cons

    • Difficult to upgrade
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