- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2008

COLUMN:

Why spend about $1,800 on a notebook computer when you can get a perfectly good portable for half the price - or even less?

In the case of the $1,766 Toughbook CF-52 from Panasonic, the answers are equally obvious: You would spend that money because you want, or need, a really rugged computer that runs Microsoft Windows and doesn’t really need a carrying case.

The Toughbook’s built-in handle is, oddly, a rather attractive feature. While it makes what you’re carrying a bit more obvious, it also says to the world that this is no sissified portable, that it can handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or a drop from the corner of a table to the floor.

This is a rugged computer, although not necessarily “ruggedized” in the strictest sense of the term.



It’ll take plenty of hard knocks, but I wouldn’t tout it as the Sherman tank of computers. It is what it is: a very sturdy, rugged machine.

Along with the handle, it’s nice that just about every port on the computer is behind a rubber gasket cover. These don’t provide an airtight seal, but they will keep nominal amounts of dirt, dust and even moisture at bay. The keyboard isn’t sealed, but I expect it would hold up to a fair amount of punishment as well.

As with other products reviewed here, none of Toughbook’s material machismo would be worth much if there weren’t solid performance behind the exterior.

The computer sports a 15.4-inch display, the keyboard is comfortable, and Microsoft Windows XP is, well, not Windows Vista.

My test unit came with a DVD-ROM drive, as well as a SecureDigital (STET), or SD, card slot. The card reader read one memory card and balked at another. Go figure.

In normal operation, it’s possible to expect between 4 and 5 hours of battery life, which is very good, considering the overhead this computer must exact: a relatively good-sized display, the optical drive and the 120 gigabyte hard disc drive.

\I enjoyed typing on the keyboard and viewing the screen; neither is a minor item when considering a portable. The keyboard has the kind of tactile feel familiar to users of IBM-branded portables. The screen is crisp.

In testing the Toughbook CF-52, I used relatively standard software: the OpenOffice applications suite and the Firefox Web browser. All worked well, and there were no compatibility issues when using Firefox to access Adobe’s online Buzzword word processing system.

While the Toughbook won’t in any way be confused with a fashion-conscious micronotebook, it has its own rough-hewn attraction. Carry this into a boardroom, and they’ll know you mean business.

I didn’t see any real deficiencies in the CF-52. The supplied 2 gigabytes of RAM is enough for many users, although I’d personally prefer 4 GB. The 120 GB hard disc drive could be larger, but the drive is easily removable and, presumably, can be replaced or upgraded.

Whether you’re trying to create an image or, more likely, protect your computer and the data it holds, the Toughbook is, I believe, a product worth the price tag. I’m told Panasonic may soon upgrade some of the specs for this machine, so it would be wise to check carefully before buying.

By Mark Kellner

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