- Very solid outer casing
- Spill-resistant keyboard and touchpad
- Wide-aspect-ratio 15.4in. screen
- Large and heavy
- Some ports are unprotected
- Disappointing battery life
Panasonic's Toughbook range covers a spectrum of toughness, from military-grade fully ruggedised notebooks to drop- and spill-resistant business ruggedised systems, such as the CF-T7 we reviewed recently. In the middle sit a number of semi-ruggedised notebooks, including the wide-screened CF-52 reviewed here, which Panasonic recommends for sales representatives in the field.
Despite its 'semi-ruggedised' classification, the Toughbook CF-52 is a seriously solid-looking notebook. When closed it looks more like a slim briefcase than a portable computer, thanks to its hard outer shell and built-in carrying handle.
The shell comprises a lid section made mostly of magnesium alloy with a black plastic section towards the top that adds visual interest and provides space for the Panasonic branding; the rest of the system is encased in hard black plastic.
Panasonic's Toughbook CF-52 is a 'semi-ruggedised' system with a toughened case, a shock-mounted hard drive, some covered ports and a spill-resistant keyboard.
The handle is built into the front of the notebook. It is hinged to the left and right, allowing it to be laid almost flush when not in use. Unlike the handle on the GETAC P470, this handle does not lock into a snug position when not in use.
The upper and lower sections of the Toughbook CF-52 are locked in place when the notebook is closed by a very sturdy clasp. There's almost no chance of the two sections being prized apart by anything other than your fingers.
Its ruggedised casing is one factor contributing to the CF-52's weight — at 3.3kg, it's unlikely you'll want to carry it very often or very far. It's also large, measuring 35.6cm wide by 28.7cm deep by 5.2cm high at its maximum.
The good news is that the 15.4in. screen has a wide aspect ratio and stretches almost to the boundaries of the space on offer. The display has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels and can easily support two document windows open at once; it's also up to the job of displaying complex graphics — as might be needed in the field by architects or engineers, for example.
The keyboard looks a little lost in its wide surroundings. The QWERTY keys are full sized and responsive, however, and we had no problems with touch-typing. The space bar is a little shorter than we would like and the Enter key could be bigger, which takes a little getting used to. A full-width row of half-height function keys above the number row gives access to various functions, including screen brightness and volume control.
The two-button touchpad, which sits in the wrist-rest area, looks relatively small in its surroundings. It incorporates vertical and horizontal scroll bars along its right and bottom edges, which we found a little temperamental to use at times. The entire keyboard area, including the touchpad, is splash resistant.
The Toughbook CF-52 has a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor. This includes 2MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz frontside bus. Our review sample came with 1GB of RAM, which can be upgraded to a maximum of 4GB.
You may need extra RAM if you intend to run Windows Vista Business on this notebook. Ours came with Windows XP Professional, for which 1GB is quite sufficient.
Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g) are both integrated, along with Gigabit Ethernet. Graphics are handled by the GMA X3100 module integrated in Intel's GM965 Express chipset.
The Toughbook CF-52 has several ruggedised features. We have already noted the splash-resistant keyboard and solid shell. The 80GB hard drive is mounted in shock-absorbing foam and connected to the motherboard by flexible cable. Panasonic says it will withstand a 90cm drop. The whole notebook should survive a fall from a height of 76cm. This is roughly the height of an office desk. Note, though, that this test assumes the notebook is not switched on.
Many of the ports and connectors ranged around the sides of the casing are protected by covers. This is not the case for the SD card slot or the multi-format DVD drive on the left-hand side, though.
The front-mounted audio sockets are not protected either, and nor is the physical switch that turns Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.
On the right-hand side, a Type II PC Card and a single ExpressCard slot are layered one above the other and protected by a hinged cover. A second cover protects a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connector.
At the back there are two further USB 2.0 ports, again protected by a hinged cover. Further covers protect the external 15-pin monitor connector, Ethernet (RJ-45) and modem (RJ-11) ports and a 9-pin serial port.
All of these hinged covers feel robust and have a 'spring-back' action that, while not locking them in place securely, at least ensures some measure of protection when a peripheral is removed.
As far as options go, the most important one is HSDPA connectivity, which will boost the price from £1,291 (inc. VAT) to £1,549. Other optional components include a fingerprint reader and a smartcard reader.
We tested this notebook’s battery life by running Battery Eater. It delivered a total battery life of 2 hours 32 minutes, which we found disappointing especially given Panasonic’s own estimate of up to 7.5 hours.
Battery Eater is a demanding test that provides a minimum estimate of a notebook's battery life, and the CF-52 does have a large 15.4in. screen to power. Even so, we'd expect more from a machine designed to spend much of its life on the road. Run Wi-Fi for long and you're likely to need access to mains power at least once per working day, unless you carry a spare battery.
The Toughbook CF-52 is a very solidly built notebook, with a hardened outer casing, shock-mounted hard disk and covered ports. Although the 15.4in. wide-format screen is nice, this 3.3kg system isn't the most portable of notebooks — even with its carrying handle. Battery life also falls a long way short of Panasonic's claims.
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows XP Professional|
|Wireless capabilities||IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g|
|Notebook type||Mid-size laptops (6-7.5 lbs.)|
|Processor / Chipset|
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 / 1.8 GHz|
|Number of Cores||Dual-Core|
|Cache||L2 - 2 MB|
|Front Side Bus||800 MHz|
|Platform Technology||Intel Centrino Duo|
|Max RAM Supported||4 GB|
|Optical Drive||DVD-RW / DVD-RAM - fixed|
|Optical Drive (2nd)||none|
|Environmental standards||EPEAT Silver, EPA Energy Star|
|Resolution||1920 x 1200 ( WUXGA )|
|Audio & Video|
|Graphics Processor||Intel GMA X3100 - 128 MB|
|Memory Allocation Technology||Dynamic Video Memory Technology 4.0|
|Compliant Standards||High Definition Audio|
|Wireless Controller||Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN|
|Network Interface||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Max Transfer Rate||56 Kbps|
|Run Time||9.5 sec|
|Input||AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )|
|Connections & Expansion|
1 x PC Card
1 x ExpressCard/54
1 x display / video - VGA - 15 pin HD D-Sub (HD-15)
1 x audio - line-out/headphones - mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm
1 x audio - line-in/microphone - mini-phone 3.5 mm
1 x docking / port replicator - 100 pin docking
1 x serial - RS-232 - 9 pin D-Sub (DB-9)
1 x IEEE 1394 (FireWire) - 4 pin FireWire
4 x USB 2.0 - 4 pin USB Type A
1 x network - Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000Base-T - RJ-45
1 x modem - phone line - RJ-11
|Software Included||Hard Disk Data Erase Utility|
|Security||Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip|
|Features||hard drive password|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|EPEAT Compliant||EPEAT Silver|
|ENERGY STAR Qualified||Yes|
|ENERGY STAR Qualified||Yes|
|EPEAT Level||EPEAT Silver|
|Greenpeace policy rating (Nov 2011)||3.6|