Panasonic touts its Toughbook 18 as an industry leader in durable, mobile computing -- just what you might need if you're, say, a first responder on a disaster scene in less than pristine conditions and in need of critical information.
Though we couldn't test it in a live crisis situation, we constructed a series of unscientific durability tests, which had me sweating about what I'd tell Panasonic if we busted its machine.
I'll tell you later how that turned out.
First, some details about what's hiding under the tiny PC's ruggedized shell. The Toughbook sports a full-tilt swivel TFT display and comes preinstalled with Windows XP. It is configured with a low voltage Intel Pentium M 900 MHz processor, is equipped with a 1 MB L2 cache, and has 40 GB storage and 256 MB system memory.
The Toughbook measures 10.7 inches by 8.5 inches and weighs roughly 4.5 pounds. It's not the most handsome notebook, but it doesn't feign beauty; it's made for durability.
It has a moisture- and dust-resistant LCD, keyboard and touch pad, with sealed port and connector covers, shock-mounted hard drive, and a vibration and "drop-shock" resistant design encased in a full magnesium alloy case. The 10.4-inch touchscreen is supposedly protected against scratches by a layer of anti-reflective coating, though I didn't have the heart to test it.
Its carrying strap and light weight make it easily portable, and its battery power is ample, providing nearly 6.5 hours of computing time. My fingers struggled a bit on the smallish keyboard, but they're not that reliable on any keyboard.
Now to the moment of truth.
How did the Toughbook stand up to our impromptu durability tests? For starters, a fall from a couple of feet onto the carpeted floor (simulating a drop while carrying the unit) produced an ominous "thwack," which would be cause for alarm with most other laptops, but not the Toughbook.
So far, so good.
We upped the ante by dropping the unit from four feet. This one had me reeling -- I could barely watch as a colleague raised and released the computer. Again a solid thunk and again no damage. The unit was on with a Word document open during both drop tests, and the document was still there after each one.
This was getting easier and more fun, and we were getting bolder.
To find out what exactly "moisture resistant" means, we borrowed a water bottle with a squirt top and let the Toughbook have it a couple of times with a fair amount of water -- not mist. I can say, as I sit here and type on a water-slicked keyboard, the thing is indeed moisture proof.
Overall, the Toughbook is impressive. If you're looking for a mobile computing device that won't wimp out in the elements and can handle a little roughhousing, the Toughbook is a good choice -- if you can deal with the price of more than $3,000 a pop.
256 MB (768 MB Max.) memory
40 GB hard drive
Touchpad Digitizer (anti-reflection) pointing device
Windows keyboard (82 keys)
Ram Module Slot -- 200-pin, SO-DIMM, 2.5 V, DDR-SDRAM, PC2100 Compliant
USB Port -- 4-pin x 2, USB2.0
Modem -- RJ-11 DATA:56 Kbps (V.92 & K56flex) FAX:14.4 Kbps
LAN -- RJ 45 IEEE 802.3 10Base-T, IEEE 802.3u 100Base-TX
Wireless LAN -- 802.11b
4 out of 5