Utilitarian in design, the Toshiba Portégé S100 is unlikely to turn heads in the same way an Alienware or PowerBook might. Toshiba seems to have forgone any eye-catching styling in favour of a stern, reliable chassis. The Intel Pentium M 750 1.86GHz processor is a workhorse when it comes to conventional office applications, but games will inevitably tax what is primarily a home-office machine. The built-in DVD drive makes it suitable for watching DVDs on a train, yet many will find the absence of a widescreen display infuriating -- not to mention the sheer footprint of the laptop. Jetsetters in particular may want to look elsewhere -- at 319 by 268mm it's almost impossible to fit this onto a fold-down tray in economy class.
The Portégé S100 may not be fantastic to behold, but it does include the essentials: a 60GB hard-disk drive, a 14-inch non-glare LCD and a VGA-out port. We couldn't be more happy that Toshiba hasn't fallen for the glossy LCD fad. The non-glare LCD makes this laptop a delight to use in brightly lit offices and outdoors. Given the recent spate of distractingly glossy LCD screens on some laptops, such as the slightly more expensive Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook P7010, the S100's matte screen is reason enough to consider it over the competition.
Most of the S100 feels extremely solid to the touch. Two USB ports on the rear make it simple to add an external keyboard and mouse for stationary work, and there's an SD card slot that will accept the memory cards from some digital cameras and phones. There's also an unpowered (four-pin) FireWire port that will connect to almost any MiniDV camcorder and transfer footage.
Less impressively, the S100's LCD panel will flex an alarming 10mm off axis when pressure is applied at either end, but this seems to have little effect on the picture and may not be doing the panel any long-term damage. Still, we would have preferred a more solid frame to the screen and this is certainly more movement than we've seen on many laptops. As for the screen catch on the S100, it's a simple, non-magnetic, thick piece of plastic and looks like it would be difficult to snap off. Metal may have been a better choice here, but only time will tell.
The keyboard on the S100 is intelligently laid out -- all the keys are close to normal size, except for the function and cursor keys, which have been squashed to around one third of the size of all the others. The space bar may be slightly short for some tastes (65mm long) and it looks like some of this length has been sacrificed for some relatively obscure keys (the backslash/pipe key and another key with that odd ¬ symbol on it). Most laptop users will be used to compromises like this, but it seems a waste to have sacrificed some of the space bar for such rarely used symbols, which could have been implemented elsewhere.
The touchpad is prosaic, but well placed and proportioned. Two buttons and no scroll wheel make the system easy to understand, with no fiddly parts to catch your fingers on.
Pre-installed with Windows XP Professional Edition, the Portégé S100 is ready to run Microsoft Office (purchased separately) straight out of the box. The DVD Multi-Drive will write DVDs at 2.4x and read them at 8x. While these are not overwhelming speeds, for a portable machine they are fair, and certainly good enough for the kind of tasks a 1.86GHz Pentium M will allow. There is potential for the S100 to be used as a basic video-editing suite on the move, burning your finished results to DVD.
The use of an unpowered four-pin FireWire port (rather than a powered six-pin port) means that any external FireWire devices you attach to the S100 will need their own power supplies. This isn't an issue with camcorders, which can run off their internal batteries, but it is frustrating if you're using an external hard drive that connects via FireWire. You'll need to carry a separate power adaptor for it, rather than powering it from the laptop.
Travellers will benefit from the 56k modem built into the S100, and the 10/100 Ethernet port. There is also an 802.11a/g Wi-Fi card fixed onto the Centrino motherboard that the S100 uses, so you can connect the machine to the Internet whenever a wireless node is nearby.
Our review system was supplied with 512MB of RAM, and this seemed adequate for office tasks, movie watching and amateur Photoshop work. Power users may want to increase this to the maximum addressable amount, 2GB.
The Toshiba Portégé S100 compared favourably to other 1.86GHz Pentium M machines we've tested. Its 5400RPM SATA hard disk was fast enough to cope with video capture, so it should be fine for simple editing tasks in the field. Less demanding applications, like the Microsoft Office suite, ran like a gingerbread man on the lam from Drury Lane -- very fast. These new Centrino processors are far and beyond what you'd need for word processing and spreadsheet work, so you can be confident that home-office use won't tax this laptop.
Older games can be installed and played on the S100 as a welcome distraction from the mundane world of home-office applications, but the Centrino range do not make plausible gaming platforms for anything released in the last year or so. This is not to slight the S100 though, as it's a very capable machine despite its conservative looks. If you're looking for a straightforward, no-nonsense laptop, this is a solid, though unadventurous, choice.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide