Toshiba's original R500 had so many headline features when it launched in mid-2007 that its marketing department didn't know where to start. It was "the world's thinnest laptop with an optical drive", "the world's lightest 12in notebook" and one of the first to offer solid-state storage.

Oh, how times have changed. Sony's TZ series has been updated, Apple's MacBook Air recently slid out of its envelope and the traditionally niche ultraportable market has suddenly taken centre-stage in the laptop world. So Tosh's waif has been powered up, renamed the R500-11Z and sent back into battle.

Built for New Windows

The R500-11Z has the now standard Core 2 Duo and 2GB of RAM required to keep New Windows going at a cracking rate, but first impressions of the laptop are that it's not exactly cutting-edge in look and feel.

For the same outlay you can pick up a MacBook Air or any of the staggeringly cute Sony Vaios, so the R500's rather boring design immediately positions it as the sensible choice for people who aren't swayed by things like logos or polished cases. But at the same time you feel rather embarrassed about its lack of swish, modern looks.

Still, you shouldn't dismiss the R500 just because it hasn't got a backlit keyboard or a brushed metal logo embedded in a carbon fibre plinth. It's powerful. And it's light. The Core 2 Duo U7700 clocks a whopping 1.33GHz – impressive for such a tiny machine – but weighs but a mere 1.08kg.

Powerful innards

It seems impossible that such a light machine can run so fast and operate Vista Business in such a rock-solid fashion. The R500 may be a bit plasticky on the outside, but what Toshiba saves on fancy aluminium exteriors it invests in top-spec internals.

Tosh has done a sensational job of squeezing in all the connections you'll need. The R500's a member of the exclusive Three USB Connectors Club, for starters. It also has a VGA out and Ethernet, with an SD card reader, Type II PC Card expansion port and FireWire – plus a vast 160GB hard drive.

The 12in, 1280x800 screen gains an inch over the Air and the equally compact Asus U2E, but is slightly disappointing. Viewing angles aren't great – in a poorly lit room you'll be bobbing your head round like you're watching TV through a dirty window – and it doesn't have the dazzling brightness, clarity and sharpness of its rivals.


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Hot chips

It also runs very, very hot. There's a vent right next to where your left hand sits, so you'll be constantly fanning your fingers to cool them down. You can also feel the base burning through your trousers – in this sense, at least, it's the hottest ultraportable around.

Which may or may not be a selling point. It'd certainly be nice to snuggle up in bed with on a cold winter's night, but we'd worry about heavy use in hot weather and what effect that might have on the machine's powerful internals.  

If you don't have to have the most fashionable laptop around, tend to holiday in Iceland rather than Italy and can live with the slightly cheaper finish, the R500-11Z is a good choice. It's powerful and the lightest in its class, which is, after all, the whole idea of the ultraportable. But it just feels a little too much like an old, beige PC in the stylish new world of the mini laptop.


Stuff says... 

Toshiba Portege R500-11Z review

If the R500's design and screen had received as much love as its innards, it would have been the perfect ultraportable