Ruggedized notebook packs power

If you need a notebook that can take a licking and keep on ticking, consider Panasonic Personal Computer Co.'s Toughbook 27. The latest in a line of high-quality ruggedized notebooks, the Toughbook 27 adds features and performance to an already solid product.

Housed in a casing that can take a lot of abuse, the Toughbook 27 comes with a 266 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium processor, a 4G hard drive, 2M of video memory and a $4,332 price. While it is a little slower and weighs a little more than top-of-the-line conventional notebooks, government users who require a sturdy package should consider this model. In the end, it scored a respectable 7.70 on our scale of 1 to 10.

Panasonic representatives say the Toughbook 27 is not the successor to the Toughbook 25, but it is hard not to compare the two. The most unusual aspect of the Toughbook 27 is that it is available with wireless communications options for an extra $1,199; however, our evaluation unit was not equipped with this capability. Other than that, the Toughbook 27 looks just like the Toughbook 25 but with an upgraded CPU, larger hard drive, more video memory and a lower price.

To measure performance, we used Business Applications Performance Corp.'s (BAPCO) SYSmark/98 1.0 benchmark test. Because this was the first time we ran this benchmark on a 266 MHz Pentium notebook, it was hard to interpret the score. However, the Toughbook 27's score of 74 seems reasonable considering the average SYSmark/98 score of 113 for seven 300 MHz Pentium II notebooks that we compared in December.

On BAPCO's SYSmark/32 For Battery Life 1.0 test, the Toughbook 27 scored a 174, running a total of two hours and 50 minutes, completing 3.98 loops. This score is somewhat lower than the average of 192 for the last 266 MHz Pentium notebooks we tested.

Our user panel awarded the Toughbook 27 a very good score for screen quality and keyboard/mouse quality, although it should be noted that the Delete key is located on the bottom right. The single, monaural speaker earned a satisfactory score for its tinny quality.

The Toughbook 27 earned a good score for system design, but its weight of 9 pounds, 12.3 ounces was a little high. This unit features a magnesium-alloy cabinet, a shock-mounted hard drive enclosed in a removable stainless steel case, and a water- and spill-resistant keyboard and touchpad. Its display is mounted in an anti-torsion, water-resistant magnesium frame and is protected by an overlay panel. We also liked the brightness of the display, which was easy to view even under fluorescent lights. The unit is expandable to a 6.4G hard drive and an impressive 160M of EDO RAM.

Even though the Toughbook 27 does not include a quick-start guide or tutorial, its setup/ease of use score was good. It comes with a First Aid CD that contains drivers, DMI management and system utilities. It also includes software for creating rescue disks, a handwriting program and an online reference manual.

The system's features include one Universal Serial Bus port, an infrared port, a multibay that can accept more than two types of peripherals, a 24X CD-ROM drive, 2M of video memory and a lithium-ion battery.

The printed manual that comes with the Toughbook 27 is somewhat skimpy, but the useful, thorough online reference manual makes up for the printed manual's shortcomings. The printed version does not contain a glossary or index, but it does include a very good trouble-shooting section, complete with a list of error codes. An illustrated CD-ROM manual with its own trouble-shooting section also is included.

Negligible hold times and knowledgeable technicians earned the Toughbook 27 a good score for technical support.

While the Toughbook 27's General Services Administration price of $4,332 (available through Government Technology Services Inc.) may seem high at first glance, it represents a savings over the Toughbook 25's July price of $5,199, and that was for a slower processor, a smaller hard drive and slightly less video memory.

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