We recently took Toshiba’s high-end Z830 Ultrabook out for a spin and have come away impressed with the performance and overall form factor. It's one of the few Ultrabooks to give us really good battery life, which was a huge bonus. We have a slightly more ‘budget-friendly’ version of the notebook called the U840 here, featuring Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge. Let’s see if it can manage to outperform the existing Sandy Bridge-based Ultrabooks.
Design and Build
The U840 is not as slim or light as its higher-end brethren but manages to be portable enough. The tapering edges give it a wedge-like design and at 1.5 kg, it's not terribly uncomfortable to carry around in your backpack. The U840 uses a mix of aluminium and plastic for the chassis, which gives it a very good build; in fact, we like it a lot better than the Z830, which felt a bit too flimsy. There is also much lesser flex in the lid and rest of the body, which is good.
We have a good set of connectors: HDMI, USB 3.0 (x1) and USB 2.0 (x2), microphone and headphone jack, SD card reader and a LAN jack as well. The status lights are placed up front so you can’t really miss them. The lid has the ability to fold all the way back to about 170 degrees so you can adjust it as you want.
HDMI and USB 3.0 onboard
The chiclet keyboard is backlit so you can work even in low-light conditions. The letters on the keys are backlit very well too, but the issue here is with the keys themselves – they are simply terrible. The tactile feedback is pretty poor and typing doesn’t really give you as much assurance as it should. It also seems like the plastic mould holding the keys is prone to damage as the unit we received had a ‘V’ key that was damaged. The trackpad is fairly wide and works well, but the mouse buttons are terribly hard to press. Also, if you’re charging the notebook, the trackpad stops responding due to the electricity which manages to travel through the entire aluminium body. This could be a unit fault or a design flaw, so you might want to check this part out before buying. Overall, the U840 has a very stylish and modern design and is built quite well too. However, the poor keyboard and trackpad issues could be deal breakers.
Under the hood, the U840 has been refreshed with Intel’s Ivy Bridge. The CPU is a Core i5-3317U running at 1.7 GHz, but with a Turbo frequency of 2.6GHz. While the core speed may seem a bit low, it actually packs quite some punch as we’ll see in the benchmarks. You get a single 4GB RAM stick with one free slot so you can expand it to 8GB. For storage, we have a 500 GB primary hard drive and a 32 GB SSD for caching. The 14-inch LED backlit screen is adequately bright and at 1366 x 768, it’s not very sharp but is enough for this size. The U840 doesn’t come with a discrete card but the new onboard HD 4000 Intel graphics is plenty for HD video decoding and casual gaming.
Keyboard could have been a lot better
Toshiba includes a bunch of software for managing battery life and taking a backup of your data. They’ve also pre-configured an Eco mode which scales down the CPU speed and other resources that may use up the battery in case you’re travelling.
Throughout the tests, the U840 trails behind Toshiba’s Z830, which has a same speed Sandy Bridge CPU. In Cinebench R11.5, the GPU performance is clearly better than the previous HD 3000 graphics. It also fares a bit better in video encoding as well. Overall, Ivy Bridge doesn’t really make a significant impact in Ultrabooks as far as raw CPU performance is concerned. The graphics department, on the other hand, has received a good boost.
Not a huge performance jump over Sandy Bridge
The U840 is very comfortable to use on your lap even for long hours of usage. It doesn't get terribly hot, just warm near the vents area. The speakers are surprisingly loud as well. The sound is not very full or warm but it can easily fill up a small room. The keyboard remains a bit of a concern. While the backlighting works fine, the keys themselves don’t have very good feedback. The trackpad is also not the best we’ve seen as the mouse buttons are terribly uncomfortable. And then there’s the issue where you can’t use the trackpad while charging.
Even backlighting throughout the keys
In Battery Eater Pro, we managed to get a really good battery life of 2 hours and 40 minutes, which easily translates to a good six to seven hours of real world usage. The smaller 22 nm fabrication really helps in this case.
Verdict and Price in India
The Toshiba U840 is priced Rs. 53,500, which makes it quite an expensive purchase. If it were somewhere close to 40K, then I could have recommended it, but we have the issue with the keyboard and trackpad which is a big let down. The U840 had the potential to be a very good candidate for an Ultrabook but the high price and a few issues in critical areas together prove to be a damper. I’d say, give this one a miss.
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