Latest Toughbook goes wireless

Panasonic's latest addition to its Toughbook line of notebooks is one that mobile professionals will appreciate: a ruggedized notebook with wireless capability.

The Toughbook 72 connects to the Internet using cellular digital packet data (CDPD), Motient Corp. or BellSouth Corp. Mobitex networks. Customers can order the wireless capability factory-installed by Panasonic, or they can buy a third-party wireless PC Card.

We tested the Toughbook's CDPD capability using a trial account from Verizon Wireless. Verizon offers a family of wireless packet data services called Mobile IP.

Our unit came with a built-in Sierra Wireless Inc. SB30X CDPD modem. Sierra's Wireless Expert wizard enabled us to configure the modem and set up the account in a jiffy. We only had to enter an IP address, Domain Naming System address and CDPD network preference, all of which were provided by Verizon.

Double-clicking on the Sierra CDPD Watcher desktop icon connected us almost instantly. The software also includes status and monitoring features.

CDPD uses available wireless phone channels in the 800 to 900 MHz range to transmit data. It offers data transfer rates of up to 19.2 kilobits/sec.

Our testing found that CDPD is extremely fast for data transfer, but it's not quite ready for Web surfing. Graphics and other data-heavy features of many Web pages slow transfer time. In some cases, such as with Web pages that were not graphics-heavy, the slower speed was merely inconvenient; in others it was prohibitive.

E-mail, however, was another story. Text messages took mere seconds to send and receive. E-mail with several JPEG file attachments only took one or two minutes to arrive, but some of the larger files took several minutes to open.

The bottom line is that CDPD seems to do fine with basic, reasonably sized graphics, but be prepared for delays when sending larger graphic files.

In addition to the wireless capability, the Toughbook 72 offers ruggedized features, such as a magnesium alloy case, a gel-mounted hard drive and a moisture-resistant keyboard. All ports except the PS/2 mouse/keyboard connector are protected by sturdy covers.

This notebook is full-featured, containing a 700 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium III processor with SpeedStep technology, 128M of synchronous dynamic RAM expandable to 348M, a 20G hard drive and a 24X CD-ROM drive. For graphics performance, the Toughbook 72 has a NeoMagic Corp. NM2160 chipset with 8M of video memory. The display is a 13.3-inch TFT Active Matrix LCD with 1,024x768 resolution.

Our system came loaded with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98. Customers can also order it with Windows NT or Windows 2000.

In addition to the CD-ROM drive, the multimedia pocket accepts an LS-120 SuperDisk drive that comes bundled with the system or an optional DVD-ROM drive, second battery or second hard drive.

The unit features the standard fare of ports, including PS/2, parallel, VGA, serial and two Universal Serial Bus ports. It also has microphone and headphone jacks, an internal 56 kilobits/sec modem and PC Card slots that can hold two Type I or Type II cards or one Type III PC Card.

The system turned in a score of 256 on Business Application Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/98 suite of real-world benchmark tests. This score is decent, but falls behind the other 700 MHz notebook we've tested — Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.'s Tecra 8100, which scored 275 [Federal Computer Week, April 7, 2000].

Battery life was somewhat short for a full-size unit. The system scored 98.19 on BAPCO's SYSmark/98 for Battery Life benchmark, running for two hours, 14 minutes and 58 seconds and completing two loops. To compare, Gateway Inc.'s Solo 3300 sub-notebook scored 96.12 and ran for about three minutes longer, completing 1.87 loops [, Oct. 4, 2000].

On the aesthetic side of things, this notebook looks cool. The case is an eye-catching metallic silver with black borders and has a comfortable, sturdy carrying handle.

The Toughbook 72 will make a dent in agencies' wallets at $4,225 on the General Services Administration schedule, but you get a quality notebook that can withstand a harsh environment while remotely connecting with other systems. Battery life is a bit short compared to other full-sized notebooks we've tested, and the performance is good but not blazing. Overall, however, it's a solid system that offers customers two major features that aren't found on most other notebooks.


Toughbook 72

Score: A

Panasonic Personal Computer Co.
(800) 662-3537

Price and availability: Available on the GSA schedule for $4,225 (prices vary with configuration).

Remarks: This is a good, solid system that offers the unusual combination of ruggedization and wireless capability. Battery life is a little on the short side.


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