Rugged goes mini in Toughbook 33

Looking for an alternative to those hefty laptop computers and messy day planners? Better yet, how about an alternative that can stand some abuse? Panasonic used a light touch in developing its solution, the new ruggedized mini-notebook, Toughbook 33.

This little notebook weighs 2.6 pounds with its standard battery (and just 3 pounds, 10.9 ounces with the floppy drive and AC adapter), but it's packed with tons of goodies. The Toughbook 33 also incorporates Panasonic's trademark rugged features - a magnesium-alloy case and a gel-mounted hard drive - so it can withstand some bumps and bouncing. Despite its small size, it offers all the ports available on most full-sized notebooks, including a Universal Serial Bus and an infrared port.

Measuring 8.9 inches long, 6.8 inches wide and 1.5 inches high, it comes with a 266 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium processor with MMX technology, a 4G hard drive and 32M of EDO RAM, expandable to 98M. It also comes with an 8.4-inch Day-brite ARX TFT active-matrix color LCD display and 2M of video memory.

The Toughbook 33 comes preloaded with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95. Windows 98 is not available (Panasonic cites bugs in the software), but the company said it may upgrade to Windows 2000, skipping Windows 98 altogether.

One of the great things about the Toughbook 33 is that you can choose between using the touch screen or the trackball.

The trackball is responsive, smooth-gliding and easy to use. The touch screen is a convenient feature, but the lack of a stylus leaves you scrubbing the screen to remove fingerprints. All touch screens have problems with glare because of the protective coating on them, but Panasonic's Daybrite screen is supposed to combat this problem. However, we found that it misses the mark. When we brought the unit into bright sunlight, we almost couldn't tell it was powered on at first.

All notebook computers make trade-offs between size and features, and the Toughbook 33 is no exception. The keyboard leaves your fingers slightly strained because of its petite size. Also, because the floppy disk drive comes as an external peripheral, you'll have to carry it along. The CD-ROM drive, which isn't included in the standard package, also is external, and you would have to purchase it in order to use the Windows 95 disk and the First Aid CD that Panasonic includes with the system.

The Toughbook 33 compensates in other areas. The system has ports aplenty, with USB and infrared ports, two PC Card slots, and microphone and headphone jacks all located on the body of the notebook.

Panasonic also includes a handy, 6-ounce port replicator that comes standard with the Toughbook 33. Snapped onto the back of the notebook, the peripheral includes mouse and keyboard ports, an external video port, a serial and a parallel port, and the external floppy drive connection.

On the Business Applications Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/98 benchmark test, the Toughbook 33 scored a 74, which is 38 percent slower than the average SYSmark/98 score of the 10 full-size, 366 MHz Pentium II processor notebooks reviewed in the Aug. 2 FCW. The SYSmark/98 benchmark test measures the system's performance of 14 business applications doing tasks such as office productivity, Internet content creation and speech recognition while running under Windows 95 or 98. These applications are divided into two categories - office productivity and content creation - each with its own score. The Toughbook 33's SYSmark/98 score broke down to a 73 for office productivity and a 76 for content creation. These scores aren't bad considering the 266 MHz Pentium processor in this mini-notebook.

On BAPCO.'s BattMark/32 battery life test, this tiny machine earned a score of 100. It ran 2.25 loops in one hour, 46 minutes and three seconds - short compared with full-size notebooks but reasonable for such a small battery. If you need more juice, you can purchase an optional extended-life battery, which is advertised to last six hours.

For $1,732, you get the power-packed Toughbook 33, an external floppy drive, an AC power adapter, the standard battery and the port replicator. The unit also comes with a three-year limited warranty on parts and labor.

Overall, we found the Toughbook 33 a great product for those always on the run. You get amazing portability and rugged-ized features. There are trade-offs for the small size, but for many busy travelers, it may be well worth it.

***

Panasonic Personal

Computer Co.

(800) 662-3537

www.panasonic.com

Price and Availability

Available on the GSA schedule for $1,732.

Remarks

The Toughbook 33 combines two great notebook features: tiny size and ruggedization. As with all mini-notebooks, this unit makes sacrifices in performance and battery life, but it does include the full functionality of standard-size notebooks. Most drawbacks are minor except for the fact that Panasonic includes CD-ROM rescue disks even though a CD-ROM drive is not included with the system. However, if you plan to buy the optional CD-ROM, and you like the idea of such a portable system that can also stand some abuse, you should consider this innovative notebook.

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