Panasonic notebook has brains to match brawn

The first CF-25 [GCN, Dec. 9, 1996, Page 1] could stand up to just about any torture
test you might devise, but its benchmark performance was disappointing. The MK II hits the
jackpot.


Its active-matrix display has gone up from 10.4 inches to 12.1 inches. The 133-MHz
processor has been replaced by a 150-MHz Pentium, and the optional CD-ROM drive has zoomed
from 6X to 10X.


The 133-MHz CF-25 performed slower than other 133-MHz notebooks. But the MK II tears
along compared with other 150-MHz notebooks.


My test unit came with Microsoft Windows 95, 150-MHz Pentium processor, 16M RAM, 2M
video RAM, 256K Level 2 cache, 10X CD-ROM drive and 2G hard drive. None of the rugged
features were compromised to raise performance.


Although Panasonic doesn't recommend driving a Humvee over this unit, it can still take
it, just like its predecessor. The MK II meets the same specifications for drop shock,
vibration, water and dust resistance, temperature and humidity.


You can drop it as it's running without failures, and I found water resistance was up
to the claimed limits. A CD in the optional CD-ROM drive tended to become unseated when I
dropped the unit, but the case would have likely broken in a conventional notebook.


My only real disappointment was that the CF-25 MK II still contains the same
nickel-metal hydride battery as the older model. That means shorter battery life,
considering the faster processor and larger screen.


Under normal use in the GCN Lab, the notebook lasted only 112 hours, and with heavy use
including CD-ROM access, the notebook died in just under an hour. A multimedia notebook,
rugged or not, should last longer.


Also, I could not get the battery to recharge while the unit was on. The specifications
said recharge time is two hours with the unit off and four hours when on. After charging
the battery to 72 percent, I left it plugged in for three hours, and the charge still read
72 percent. However, the unit did charge, when turned off, from zero to 100 percent in the
two hours claimed.


The 150-MHz processor and CD-ROM drive tended to run hot after extended use. Twice I
encountered system failures after running the unit for more than two hours plugged into an
AC outlet. I couldn't prove the failures were heat-related, but I found no other cause.


The bigger screen is great, and with the sealed magnesium case you don't worry about
breakage. Other rugged features include vibration-damped hard and floppy drives, sealed
keyboard and touchpad, and water-resistant speaker. As a bonus, there's a handle, so you
don't even need a carrying case. All port and jack covers have rubber seals to resist dust
and moisture.


The notebook accepts three Type II PC Cards or one Type III and one Type II.


All these extras raise the weight by a half-pound, to 8.2 pounds. This is lighter than
some notebooks I've tested, but the carrying weight might not appeal to some buyers.


I wish all notebooks were built to such tolerances. Now that the performance shortfall
is history, I'm even more impressed by the tough-as-nails CF-25 MK II. Heat and power
problems limit it for general-purpose use, but it makes a great sport utility computer.


inside gcn

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