Originally written October 2012, this page is updated in December 2012 based on several months of continuous use.
The Toshiba Z830 continues the Toshiba tradition of pioneering light reliable portable computing. With the introduction of the almost identical Z930, the Z830 was on sale at spectacular discounts and was the best buy in mid 2012.
Dell, HP, and others tried to keep up with the Toshiba but miss with every attempt. In 2008 Apple released the Macbook Air to complete against Toshiba lightweight notebooks from 2002. The Macbook Air was one millimetre thinner that the
equivalent Toshiba but was missing a whole lot of important things and you had to carry a case full of adaptors making the overall package a boat anchor compared to the Toshiba. Apple have also struggled to provide reliability and, given Apple's focus on extreme profits, they are unlikely to struggle up past Dell this year. Only Asus and Samsung produce real alternatives to the Toshiba.
Samsung Series 9
The Samsung Series 9 is the most interesting because there is a 15" screen option. Unfortunately Samsung used the infuriating Apple stupidity of non standard connector sizes for everything, leaving you with an apple load of connectors to lug around.
People using the Samsung on the road produce a wide range of comments. trainers hate carrying all the special connectors to make the Samsung compatible with wired networks, projectors, and everything else. Some sales people like the styling of the Samsung. No one mentioned a reason to buy the Samsung based on features. Some people purchased the Samsung because it was on sale at a big discount, compared to the Toshiba. The reliability of the current Samsung range appears to be average, placing it along side Dell and above Apple.
The Asus alternative has a higher resolution screen but it is only the same size and you end up having to increase the font size, removing the advantage of the higher resolution. If you do need to see more content on the screen, look at the 15" version of the Samsung series 9.
Asus and Toshiba offer larger SSDs in some models. Both have SSDs faster than average but not much faster, certainly nowhere near the speed of the fastest SSD but the fastest SSDs cost more than the price I paid for the Z830.
In Australia, the Toshiba Z830 sells as a Satellite version with a one year guarantee and a Portégé version with a three year guarantee and a price increase of 10%~20%. Given the reliability of Toshibas and the cheap price of the Satellite Z830 during the clearance period, the Satellite works out at half the price of the Portégé. I am happy to buy the cheaper model and replace it next year when SSDs are far cheaper.
Replacing Windows with Linux effectively screws your chances of getting support from the manufacturer which makes the three year guarantee worthless. You could backup Windows to a USB device then restore Windows when you need support. Iit is all too much work. Just buy the cheap model, use it with Windows for a couple of weeks to ensure it works, then switch to Linux and enjoy the hardware.
After several months use, I am thinking of an upgrade to a larger SSD because two of my projects are larger than 128 GB. The problem is I cannot fit both of them on a 256 GB SSD. I could put them on external SSDs through the USB 3.0 port. There is only one USB 3.0 port. I could use a 512 GB SSD but they are still way more expensive than two 256 GB SSDs. The search goes on for a decent 512 GB SSD at a reasonable price.
What will break your computer? The value of the guarantee varies based on the danger. If you buy something cheap, like an Apple or Dell, they will break and you need a guarantee. Few Toshibas break before you break them. Knocking a computer off a desk is common and magnetic disks break if switched on. SSD does not break until after the screen breaks. Neither is covered by your guarantee. The next danger is theft followed by someone stepping on your notebook when you use it on the floor. The next risks vary by use. You drop the device while boarding a boat. My Toshiba is currently exposed to sand flying in the breeze that has now kicked up to wind. The Toshiba has survived, on several occasions, the first raindrops from a storm. My computer is unlikely to reach old age.
The battery will wear out after the guarantee period. The screen might break from wear and tear, something not covered by the guarantee. The main advantage of a good guarantee, for me, is the work the manufacturers put into not having to fix things during the guarantee period. Unfortunately some manufacturers are happy to let lots of machines break because the replacement parts will be cheaper by then. Toshiba is one of the manufacturers demonstrating a commitment to not having claims during the guarantee period.
The screen is 13.3" and has a glossy finish on my machine. Some Z830s are sold with a matte screen to stop reflections. I prefer the gloss screen to the matte screen. Outdoors the gloss produces horrible reflections and the matte screen looks foggy. The real solution is a coated screen the same as used on reading glasses and good photographic lenses.
There are notebooks with larger screens and I ran into problems trying to use them on the train. The 13" size fits the space on the worst train and aeroplane seats. There are notebooks with the same size screen at higher resolution and I cannot see any difference for the work I do. For high resolution image editing, I use a larger screen when I am back home.
I am updating this page at the beach sitting in the shade of the surf lifesaver tower. The screen is almost a grey blob, not easily readable. The bright sky is reflected on the screen at every angle. I am wearing a white shirt and that reflects as much as the sky. I suggest for outdoor use, wear a black shirt and position the screen to reflect your shirt.
Many people complain about the Z830 fan noise. Most people do not notice. Everybody has a different result. Here are things you can look at depending on your circumstances.
- Power settings. Your operating system has one power setting for battery use and a different power setting when connected to mains power. Check them. Try turning the settings down from speed to power conservation. This fixes the problem for some people. The processor and fan always work full blast when watching a video.
- BIOS update. Some people with early models have had less noise after a BIOS update. BIOS updates do nothing for other users.
- Wire in a resistor. Yes, modify your machine and make the warranty invalid. This approach is common for really cheap desktop computer cooling fans. I do not recommend this approach for anything.
- Add vibration suppression. Fans vibrate. If you mount them on rubber, the vibration is not transferred to the case. You make the warranty invalid.
- Add heat conduction. You can add metal, copper or aluminium, to transfer the heat from the CPU to the case. You make the warranty invalid and you may produce a hotspot where the heat hits the case.
- Buy the more expensive model. There are some Z830s fitted with an i7 processor instead of an i5. The faster processor may have enough grunt to perform the required work without the fan working full blast.
- Buy a Z930. The newer Ivy Bridge processor might be able to perform your workload without switching the fan to full blast.
- Delete software. Yeah, delete all the rubbish you do not use. Some of them are running in the background chewing up power, making the processor hot and the fan noisy.
In some countries, some models of the Z830 are named Z835.
The Z830 uses an Intel Sandy Bridge processor. The Z930 uses an Ivy Bridge processor. There might be tiny differences in the power used by the processors but it does not show up in the battery life tests because we are at the beginning of the Ivy bridge development stage when it is really not much difference from Sandy Bridge. You will see future Ivy Bridge processors using less power. Most of the power is used backlighting the LCD screen and the only cure is to switch to OLED.
Screen brightness control
The screen brightness controls do not work in Ubuntu 12.4. There are published alterations you can make but they involve the 1950s DOS/Linux/Teletype/command line rubbish. The screen brightness problem is not worth the pain of using the command line.
On my machine, using Ubuntu 12.04 updated with the latest changes, the screen brightness control works after a reboot if running on battery. The control fails after a suspend/resume and many other occasions. The system does remember the last successful setting. I can reboot before going to the beach and push the brightness up to the limit then reboot afterwards to push the brightness back down for extra battery life.
If you want to take risks, you could read www.linlap.com/toshiba_portege_z830-10f.
The Z830 feels heavy because I have used Z830s and similar light Toshiba notebooks for almost forever. Occasionally I pick up a Macbook Air and remember how light the Toshiba is compared to the alternatives. You get used to using the Z830 then someone hands you a Macbook and you almost fall forward on your face from all the weight.
Do you want practical weight comparisons? The other day I carried a thick larger format paperback novel to read on the train and the novel weighed more than the Z830. A decent bag of fruit, lunch, and a bottle of water weigh more than the Z830. When you switch to a Z830, your notebook is no longer the heaviest item in your backpack.
The power supply becomes a serious weight consideration. My Z830 rarely runs out of power during the day. Sometimes it runs out when I am teaching at night or forget to plug the Z830 in for a charge the night before. The Z830 is so light that the power supply becomes a noticeable addition. Instead of lugging a power supply to work, I will buy a second power supply and leave it at work.
The thin lid seems flimsy but I have not found a broken Z830 screen. The magnesium case keeps the screen safer than the thin plastic cases on most other notebooks.
You cannot lay the screen flat on a desktop because there are cable sockets in the back of the machine. If there was a major design rewrite, I would suggest moving the cable connections to the side of the machine. You could then lay the screen flat on the desk.
The reflection off the screen's gloss finish is the worse visual problem and is not a big problem in winter when I am indoors. Will be more of a problem in a couple of months when I am down at the beach.
The wireless is fast when connected to a good 802.11n wireless network. You get 150 Megabit per second performance or about 15 Megabytes per second, slightly faster than the average ADSL connection. The problem is dropout. The metal case obviously blocks some of the transmission and reception. You get maximum speed for several seconds then several seconds timeout while the network handles a dropout. I use the machine wired when in the office.
As a comparison, I tried something that is one minute on wired and it wasted 36 minutes on wireless. The transmission situation was perfect with a short line of site distance between the notebook and the wireless router. The test was late at night when there is little interference from wireless phones, microwave ovens, and everything else. if you convert direct from Gigabit wired to 150 Megabit wireless, the one minute test should take 6 minutes and 40 seconds. That means 29 minutes when the machine was sitting there doing nothing outside of waiting for errors to time out.
A carbon fibre would be far better for wireless. I might experiment with an external antenna when on the road.
The second biggest problem
The 128 Gigabyte SSD is ok for me using Linux when working on one project. The SSD is too small for a decent size project or a reasonable set of photographs.
A few years with a high resolution camera and genuine RAW files, not that JPEG rubbish you get from cheap cameras, gives you terabytes of files. I have a 500 GB USB3 drive I purchased for photographs but it is almost too small so I put it aside and started looking for a terabyte drive. The 500 GB drive is demoted to a backup drive for the 128 GB SSD. Backup through the USB 3 port to the external disk is a reasonable speed when the backups are less than 10 GB. I will eventually get something faster for larger backups.
My largest recent project is slightly larger that the 128 GB SSD in the standard Z830. There is an expensive top end Z830 with a 256 GB SSD. If I was still working on the larger project, I would have spent the extra money for the 256 GB Z830 or purchased the Asus with 256 GB. What I might do with the cheaper Z830 is wait until after Christmas and buy 256 GB SSD as an upgrade.
The biggest problem
The fan noise goes to crazy levels when connected to mains power. I may experiment with power settings to reduce the noise. I might try one of the fan modifications. It is really not a problem when running on battery and the simple solution might be to run the machine on mains power with the same settings as used for battery power.
The fan noise is full on when using Ubuntu Linux and connected to mains power. There is no power control in Linux. There is a really primitive application that pretends to be power control but does not let you set anything useful. Ubuntu also randomly switches the machine to full power settings when running on battery power. Linux users may be forced to use a different brand, something unfortunate given the number of problems with Linux and some of the chips used in other brands.
I found a strange situation where the fan switches off. I plugged the Z830 into mains power, connected an external monitor to the VGA port, and ran the machine for a while with lid up then I shut the lid. The fan switched off when I shut the lid. Somehow the power management code changed it's mind about power usage. When I plugged in the external monitor, both LCD screens were active and you would expect the Z830 to run at full power. I then used FN-F5 to switch off the Z830 display but that did not activate low power mode for the fan. Closing the lid switched off something extra, the Z830 went into low power mode, and the fan switched off.