Panasonic Toughbook CF-T5 review

15 Dec 2006

Your only choice if you need a tough, rather than fully rugged, ultraportable notebook

Price when reviewed 
1,319
4

Panasonic's ultraportable, semi-rugged Toughbooks may be small and light enough to be stuffed into an overnight bag, but they're no lightweights when it comes to robustness. The specially contoured lid can handle up to 100kg of pressure before the screen is threatened. And Panasonic claims the CF-T5 can withstand drops of up to 30cm on to a hard surface, without damage. Unlike fully rugged Toughbooks, they're attractive enough to avoid curious glances too.

Arriving in a chassis looking identical to the CF-W4 the CF-T5 is a member of a new generation with upgraded components, so it's faster than ever. There are two models in this series, the difference between our CF-T5 and the CF-W5 being that the latter has a DVD burner and is 300g lighter, while the CF-T5 has a touchscreen and longer battery life.

The 1.2GHz Pentium M ULV 753 of the previous model has been replaced with a 1.2GHz Core Solo U1400 low-voltage CPU. That's joined by the power-frugal 945GMS chipset and 512MB of 533MHz DDR2 RAM. The power saving of the new Centrino-branded parts gives a battery life of 5hrs 22mins under constant full load, and an amazing 11hrs 30mins of light-use life. While overall performance isn't up there with the latest mobile chips, the Office score of 0.74 in our benchmarks is more indicative of its intended use, and is perfectly usable in day-to-day work. Other upgrades to this release include the 60GB hard disk (up from 40GB), 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth, as well as an optional service-unlocked HSDPA module (which raises the overall price to £1,583 exc VAT).

Elsewhere, not a huge amount has changed since we saw the CF-W4. That's good news if you want to add these to an existing fleet, though, as you can use your old port replicators with the new CF Toughbooks, or use the new £110 unit (which gives four USB ports, plus D-SUB and LAN), with your current CF-W4 and CF-T4 Toughbooks.

With the only changes to the new range internal, you get the same rugged design features as the previous range. The hard disk, for example, is still embedded in foam, surrounded by four anti-shock pads and then encased in a shatter-proof magnesium frame. The chassis itself is made from the same tough yet light material, which is what provides such excellent resistance to heavy knocks.

Another bonus is the fanless and vent-less design; the CF-T5 isn't only silent but safe from dust. Panasonic uses aluminium-carbon heatpipes instead of copper ones, which it claims reduces weight by 33g. These pipes route heat to the chassis so parts of the base get hot, with some areas uncomfortably so. However, using the adjustable hand strap underneath avoided the worst of it. This excellent addition allows you to hold the Toughbook securely with one hand, and props up the notebook for a more natural typing position when at a desk.

The CF-T5 also offers plenty of software-based security. The BIOS can password-protect the hard disk and boot procedure, and can lock the user and supervisor passwords. There's a TPM 1.2 module, and you could use the SD card slot for token-based security. The Toughbook also comes with an encouraging three-year warranty, even if it's a return-to-base policy.

This is all good news for those needing a sturdy yet portable notebook, but there are enough flaws to discourage those not requiring such absolute robustness. While the main letter keys of the keyboard are reasonably large, important keys such as the spacebar, enter and tab are tiny. It's very easy to miss these when in full flow, with the minuscule tab key particularly annoying if you're filling in a form one-handed while in the field. It's a shame, since the keys themselves have a pleasant firmness and solidity when typing.