Panasonic's rugged slimline goes 5 hours on one charge

Some notebook computer users like to
brag about speed, others about battery life. Who hasn't heard a coworker boast about not
having to change batteries on a cross-country flight?


Panasonic Personal Computer Co.'s rugged, mainstream CF-25 changed the rules slightly
[GCN, June 30, Page 35]. Users began to brag about driving over it, working in the rain or
dropping it just for fun.


With that ruggedness came penalties in weight, price and performance. Panasonic did an
admirable job of moving from the CF-25 to the second-generation CF-25 Mark II, but let's
face it, this is a tank, not a two-door coupe.


I said in the June review that more mainstream notebooks should incorporate CF-25
features in their designs. Panasonic listened and came up with the CF-35: a rugged
notebook for the masses.


Counting battery and floppy drive weight, the CF-35 comes in under 5 pounds. It's only
11Ž2 inches thick and has a 12.1-inch active-matrix screen. Best of all, it goes
about five hours on one battery charge.


That sounds a lot like everybody else's notebooks. But they don't have the
magnesium-alloy casing around the LCD screen or the reinforced plastic of the lower case.
And how about a water-resistant keyboard, speaker and touchpad?


The features make the CF-35 unique among slimline notebooks. Like the CF-25, this one
also nestles its hard drive in shock-absorbing gel. The CF-35 was designed for durability,
not ruggedness. It even has a cooling fan for the processor.


If this sounds a little exotic, it shouldn't. Considering the monetary investment by
users, manufacturers must do a better job of designing notebooks that stand up to the road
and perform as though they own it.


I don't understand why Panasonic is the only notebook maker building in this much
durability. The CF-35 might fail a Humvee test, but how often do you throw your notebook
in front of an all-terrain vehicle? The CF-35 certainly can stand up to baggage carousels
and frantic runs through the subway.


Now that most slimline notebooks have LCD screens measuring at least 12.1 inches,
durability has become a real challenge. The GCN Lab staff always checks to see how much an
LCD screen flexes--the more flex, the likelier you are to need an expensive replacement.


Larger screens require further strengthening of the LCD mount, which few vendors have
done well. Except for the fully ruggedized CF-25, the CF-35 has the sturdiest LCD screen
I've seen in a notebook.


So the CF-35 is almost perfect, but there are a few things to note. At press time, you
could get it with only a 133-MHz Pentium processor or a 150-MHz Pentium MMX. That's not
the fastest CPU available, but a 150-MHz processor should be acceptable for most
applications on the road.


I do advise upgrading the notebook's memory from the standard 16M extended data out
dynamic RAM to 32M or more--the limit is 80M. This is the cheapest and easiest way to buy
maximum performance. My test unit only had 16M, the amount available on the Navy's
notebook buys.


A 2G hard drive is the largest available. Smaller 1.35G and 840M drives round out the
choices.


The CF-35 can accept two Type II PC Cards or one Type III. Its Zoomed Video feature
streams data between the graphics controller and the PC Card controller, tying together
the Motion Picture Experts Group compression chip, audio controller, graphics controller
and speakers. That lets you play back 30-frame/sec video at 640- by 480-pixel resolution
in 24-bit color.


You also get an IrDA port, parallel, serial and video ports, a microphone and speaker
jacks. There's a PS/2-style port for an external keyboard or mouse.


In its multimedia pocket you can place a floppy drive, an optional 10X CD-ROM drive or
a plastic spacer that protects the internals when you don't want to carry extra weight.
You can access the CD-ROM and floppy drives through an optional external cable.


There's a Universal Serial Bus port, too, but it's not enabled yet. Panasonic plans to
issue a BIOS update after the release of Microsoft Windows 98.


Remember that co-worker who always brags about battery life? You can, too. Initially I
was skeptical about Panasonic's claim of a real-world 51Ž2 hours, but I'm now a
convert.


The GCN Lab battery test took just less than four hours to drain the CF-35 battery. In
normal use, it often lasted more than five hours. Best of all, recharge time was only two
and a half hours with the unit turned off. Turned on, it took twice that time. Battery
charge reporting through a function key combination proved extremely accurate.


So how did the CF-35 perform on the GCNdex32TM benchmarks? Results were very much in
line with the CF-25 scores, but almost all were just a shade better as you would expect
from the Pentium MMX processor.


Video performance was very good for a 150-MHZ MMX notebook. Hard-drive scores were
almost the same, counting the same performance hit on large-file access. The CF-35 scored
slightly lower than the CF-25 on all the disk access tests, which is odd considering the
two units' similarity. This is one area that would benefit from more memory.


The integer math and floating-point benchmark scores probably benefited from
Panasonic's tweaking and from the processor's new cooling fan.


The CF-35 raises the bar for road warrior notebooks. No fragile prima donna, the
notebook rolls up its sleeves and goes to work almost anywhere.


inside gcn

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