Panasonic Toughbook CF-18: Ultraportable meets ultrarugged

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Getting tough: The new and improved Toughbook CF-18 has a lot to offer.

Latest Toughbook CF-18 boasts a brighter screen, upgraded wireless

Rugged notebooks are designed to weather some pretty harsh environments, from the deserts of Iraq to the trunk of a patrol car in Texas. But the level of ruggedness needed to survive under nearly any condition traditionally means more bulk and heft. Rugged and ultraportable aren't words you normally use to describe the same notebook.

Still, with its Toughbook CF-18 family, Panasonic has made a go of creating an ultraportable, ruggedized notebook. This month, the company introduced a version of the CF-18 with a new screen, updated wireless capabilities and faster processing capabilities. Panasonic sent one of the first units to the GCN Lab.

The CF-18 looks like a miniature version of the Toughbook notebooks that government users have come to know. It's 10.7 inches by 8.5 inches, and just 1.9 inches thick'a nice form factor. Without the external optical drive and power supply, the system weighs just 4 pounds, 2 ounces'not exactly ultraportable, but remember, it's built to withstand serious jostling.

One of the most impressive features of the new model is the 10.4-inch, 1024-by-768 screen, which is especially bright and sharp. The new CF-18 is rated at 500 nits. A nit is a measurement of light in candelas per square meter. Basically, it's how much light is coming out of the front of the screen. Most notebook LCDs have a brightness between 200 and 250 nits, not easily readable in direct or even indirect sunlight because the screen appears washed out.

Bright idea

The CF-18 happened to be in the GCN Lab during testing for next issue's notebook roundup, and it was obvious the system's screen was much brighter than the others we were testing. Outdoors or in a car, where a rugged notebook is likely to be used, we found the screen readable under almost any lighting conditions, even with bright sunlight streaming through the open top of a jeep.

As a standard notebook, the CF-18 comes with an XGA touch-screen display. Optionally, you can buy a CF-18 with a digitizer for converting it into a tablet.

Loaded with features

The new Toughbook CF-18 has an 802.11a/b/g wireless radio and two USB 2.0 ports that are protected behind heavy rubber stoppers to prevent water or moisture from seeping into the system.

Because power outlets may be few and far between out in the field, the CF-18 is optimized for long battery life, starting with an Intel Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage processor running at 1.2 GHz. In our worst-case scenario battery testing, where we run a movie off the hard drive and disable all power-saving features, the CF-18 ran for four hours and 27 minutes'one of the best battery performances we've seen in a long time. This means the CF-18's listed operating time of four to six hours under normal use is probably a little conservative. If you activate power-saving features, including a slightly dimmer screen and hibernation mode, you can probably work an eight-hour day without needing a charge.

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