Since CNET gave an Editors' Choice award to the ultraportable Panasonic ToughBook W2 in 2003, Panasonic has renamed the system the W4 and made a few modest enhancements to the laptop. The few case modifications involve adding a handy Wi-Fi on/off switch and a connector for Panasonic's optional port replicator; otherwise the W4's design and features are exactly the same as the W2's.
The bulk of the changes on the W4, priced at $2,199, are inside the case. Panasonic has stocked the laptop with an assortment of previous-generation parts (no Core Solo or Core Duo processors here): a 1.2GHz Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage processor, 512MB of middling 400MHz RAM, a 40GB hard drive spinning at 4,200rpm, and integrated Intel graphics. Those components are nearly identical to the similarly priced Fujitsu LifeBook P7120's, though not quite as fresh as those on the less expensive, Core Solo-based Gateway NX100X. Nevertheless, the W4 matched the performance of both the Fujitsu and the Gateway on CNET Labs' performance benchmarks and should prove sufficient for basic business applications such as e-mail, word processing, and spreadsheets.
The W4 also displayed an impressive battery life, lasting 5 hours, 41 minutes in our drain tests. The LifeBook P7120 held out just 7 minutes more, while the NX100X trailed far behind both competitors, lasting an average 3 hours, 6 minutes.
Like its predecessor, the W4 is covered by a lengthy three-year standard warranty (most consumer laptops are covered for only one year). In addition, Panasonic provides paid shipping for repairs, along with lifetime, toll-free, 24/7 tech support--a package that's virtually unheard of these days. The company's support Web site includes troubleshooting guides, FAQs, and driver downloads, as well as the option to contact a support rep via e-mail.