Toshiba Tecra M40

While Apple is content to win the world over with style (and sell millions of their funky gadgets while doing it — gadgets that are propping up their sales while sales of their computers flounder), everyone else is left to try and catch up.

Sony is a close second with some beautiful looking machinery like the VAIO series, and some of the NEC Versa series incorporate some thought to how they’ll look on your desk, but Toshiba are usually bringing up the rear.

Whether they consider themselves out of the race when it comes to style or they just don’t have any, there’s not much about the M40 series that will make you fall in love at first sight.

The huge, clunky font they use for the letters and figures on they keyboard are something straight out of Soviet-era propaganda, and everything else has been designed with minimalism and extreme simplicity in mind, aspects that aren’t disadvantages as much as conspicuous in their absence.

Everything is square, blocky and not at all warm or inviting, from the tiny fly-eye speakers to the solidly rectangular track pad and buttons. And while not necessarily a flaw in design, an inordinate amount of real estate on the keyboard has been devoted to six tiny buttons that bring up a web browser and control Windows Media Player (and not just any media player, Windows Media Player — if you prefer iTunes they’re a complete waste and one wonders if Bill & Co aren’t getting a kickback from Toshiba for every one sold).

As such, there’s a lot of stuff jammed where you don’t want it — the Windows and contextual menu keys are at the top right (very hard to get used to) and the arrows and buttons for home, page up and down etc are unceremoniously shunted to the edge of the machine.

But depending on your requirements, none of that’s bad news. Maybe you’ll buy a nice macrame hanging if you want something pretty to look at, while your laptop is a coldly functional productivity tool.

If that’s the case, you could do a lot worse than the M40. During testing on graphic design projects, it cranked through large image file manipulation with gusto, leaving most desktop PCs in the office in the dust. Even with the 533MHz chip — much smaller than plenty of others on today’s market — it’s like greased lightning with the biggest of projects.

It’s partly because of the inclusion of the new generation of Intel’s Centrino, the Sonoma chipset, a piece of technology with an apparently high standard of engineering.

A huge bonus is the glassy screen, dubbed CSV (Clear Super View, Toshiba’s answer to NEC’s Diamond View), which will give your documents and work a new lease on life. The speakers are certainly adequate, but could do with a little more oomph, particularly for gaming.

Because you’ll get a lot out of the M40 if you’re a gamer. The other biggie in the M40 is the 6600 nVidia graphics chip, whose dedicated 128Mb holds up to most any punishment you’ll dish out.

It’s a no-nonsense, no frills machine that holds no promises about being something it isn’t, the battery lasts a respectable but standard three hours and you get all the usual utilities and connection ports for anything you care to plug in or hook up.

A last word though; whenever you buy a laptop, be aware the manufacturer will have a battery of their own software, and not just hello messages. Often they install control panels that override the ones you’re used to in Windows, and Toshiba seem to have gone a little overboard with it in the M40. It’s a learning curve you don’t need when you want to hit the ground running.

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