Panasonic ToughBook CF-W2 review: Panasonic ToughBook CF-W2

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MSRP: $2,455.00

The Good Six-hour battery life; unique optical drive hidden under wrist rest; very small and light; rugged construction; lifetime tech support.

The Bad Small spacebar; expensive; some design quirks.

The Bottom Line Panasonic's innovative, long-lasting ToughBook CF-W2 fills the bill for ultraportable-seeking business or home users.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 9
  • Support 9

Review summary

The tiny Panasonic ToughBook CF-W2 sports the coolest ultraportable feature we've seen in a while: a DVD/CD-RW hidden under a pop-up wrist rest. This nifty feature helps the notebook weigh an incredibly light 2.8 pounds (3.6 with its AC adapter). Equally impressive: it cranked for almost six hours on one battery in CNET Labs' battery tests. True, the notebook's $2,250 price tag accompanies some faster notebooks these days, but none this small and cool. If portability and convenience are their key criteria, business and home users alike will have a hard time finding a better match than the ToughBook CF-W2.

Panasonic came up with an elegant way to eliminate the annoying external drive that most ultraportables depend on: the ToughBook CF-W2 works a combo DVD/CD-RW into a tiny space under the left wrist rest. Click a button on the notebook's side, and the drive's lid pops up, just like on the old Sony Discman. To make room for the drive, the long-lasting battery fits into the back edge, leaving the sides available for ports. If you tend to connect to a lot of external devices such as a printer and a monitor, unsightly wires dangling from the sides might detract from the look of the sleek, ribbed, silver case.

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Part of the wrist rest pops up, revealing the DVD/CD-RW drive.
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The round touchpad takes some getting used to.

While the overall design of this 10.5-by-8.25-by-1.1-inch ultraportable impresses us, we take issue with a few of minor design points. For one, the power button sits on the outside of the case and is not recessed; in this position, it might accidentally turn on while jostling around in your backpack. And the built-in Wi-Fi transmitter doesn't have its own power button, so you have to turn it on and off through taskbar icons or the Network Connections control panel. Also, the round touchpad takes some getting used to. The quarter-circle left- and right-click buttons that surround it are easy to hit, but the circular touchpad itself doesn't map easily to the rectangular shape of the screen.

The ToughBook CF-W2 contains many full-size notebook features, including a Type II PC Card slot and a Secure Digital slot, 10/100 Ethernet and modem, a monitor port, and two USB 2.0 ports. It has 256MB of memory (plus an empty slot, so you can max it out with a second 256MB module) and a 40GB hard drive.

The notebook's hard drive and very bright screen are outfitted with shock absorbers, and the all-magnesium-alloy case protects the screen edge with an extra band of metal. Nonetheless, we don't recommend it for white-water rafting trips.

Because the ToughBook CF-W2 is tiny, its screen is small, too. Overall, the screen has somewhat flat colors, and its text doesn't display as crisply as we like it; on CNET's test unit, the screen was brighter and pinkish on the right side, dimmer and greenish on the left side. Nonetheless, the screen, with 1,024x768 resolution on 12.1 inches (diagonal) of real estate, has an impressive 20 levels of brightness; for conserving battery power, the dimmest one is really dim, but the brightest settings are plenty bright.

The keyboard is also small, but surprisingly, only the tiny spacebar feels awkward. The keys don't sag or wiggle; our only complaint is that typing makes a clatter. A mono speaker next to the touchpad really pumps it out, sounding very clear, especially for a notebook this small.

For the most part, the ToughBook CF-W2 comes in only one flavor, and you don't buy it in a typical manner. To get this machine, you call Panasonic, and the company puts you in touch with a reseller. The reseller then might add extra memory or a bigger hard drive. Inside, the notebook runs Windows XP Pro on a 900MHz Intel Pentium M. The system doesn't come standard with any other software, but you can buy bundles from resellers.

In this small test group of ultraportables, the Panasonic ToughBook CF-W2 came in last place in mobile performance, mostly because it has less memory than the competing systems. The Sony VAIO PCG-TR1A beat the ToughBook by 5 points, and the Fujitsu LifeBook P5000 won by 13 points. All three notebooks had similar specs, except for memory; the ToughBook CF-W2 had half the memory of its rivals. Still, its score is not that far off from the LifeBook P5000's, making the ToughBook a capable notebook when running office and content-creation apps, especially for a 900MHz system.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Fujitsu LifeBook P5000
Panasonic ToughBook CF-W2

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Fujitsu LifeBook P5000
Windows XP Professional; 900MHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm

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