Panasonic CF-M31 challenges Toshiba Libretto

With the introduction of its 2.2-pound CF-M31 subnotebook computer running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95, Panasonic Personal Computer Co. has launched an attack on Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.'s popular Libretto, which is now in its third generation of development. The CF-M31 from Panasonic, however, offers a larger display, more memory capacity (80M) and a slightly lighter form factor than the latest Libretto.

One of the best features of the new Panasonic system is its 8.4-inch thin film transistor display, which provides users with 800-by-600-pixels-per-inch resolution and more than 65,536 colors. It also ships with 1.1M of video memory— slightly less than the newest Libretto. Although the trackball pointing device and palm rest provide for comfortable ease of use, the 84-key keyboard is still a little too small for fast, easy typing— a problem the Libretto also suffers from. Users can connect a standard 104-key external keyboard to the CF-M31 using Panasonic's port replicator.

Our evaluation unit shipped with 16M of EDO RAM, a 1.6G hard drive, two Type II or one Type III PC Card slots, a port for connecting an external floppy disk drive, a microphone port, a stereo output jack, 16-bit sound support via a single mono speaker and an infrared port for communicating with desktop systems or other peripherals. However, with a 120 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium processor with MMX, the CF-M31 does not offer a lot of horsepower.

We put the CF-M31 through its paces on Business Applications Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/32 performance benchmark, where it posted a score of 74— 54 points less than the average SYSmark/32 score for the 166 MHz Pentium desktop systems we tested two years ago [Government Best Buys, Aug. 5, 1996]. When we tested the unit with 32M of RAM, its BAPCO SYSmark/32 score rose eight points to 82.

We also threw this unit on our BAPCO battery tester. Using the standard battery, the CF-M31 ran for 2 hours, 24 minutes and 56 seconds, producing a final Battmark score of 137 and successfully finishing 3.07 loops of the Battmark benchmark scripts. If you want the battery to last longer, Panasonic has an add-on battery that is roughly twice the size of the standard battery. We were unable to test this addition because you cannot have the bigger battery and the port replicator connected at the same time. (For us to run the battery tester, the port replicator was required.)

The CF-M31 certainly provides users with advantages over the Libretto in terms of memory expandability and screen size. But the larger screen means you cannot stick the CF-M31 in your pocket like you can the Libretto.

Overall, the CF-M31 is not a bad alternative to weightier notebooks, but it needs a little more punch in the processing department before users can run demanding applications.

*****

AT A GLANCE

Panasonic's CF-M31Panasonic Personal Computer Co.(800) 662-3537www.panasonic.com/ruggedpc

Price and Availability: Available on Government Technology Services Inc.'s National Institutes of Health Electronic Computer Store II contract for $1,934. For more information, call (800) 999-4874 or visit www.gtsi.com.

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