Latest Toughbook goes wireless
- By Michelle Speir
- May 09, 2001
Panasonic's latest addition to its Toughbook line of notebooks is one that
mobile professionals will appreciate: a ruggedized notebook with wireless
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
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
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 [FCW.com, 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.