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Panasonic Toughbook W7 review: Panasonic Toughbook W7

Panasonic Toughbook W7

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
6 min read

A handful of companies, including Twinhead and Dell, make ruggedized laptops, but Pansonic's Toughbook brand is still synonymous with the concept of a heavy-duty portable computer. Most laptops in this category don't actually meet the strict military specs of a truly rugged system, instead opting for designations of semirugged, or business rugged, which basically means they offer harder, thicker shells than standard laptops, along with shock-mounted hard drives and usually some degree of spill resistance.


Panasonic Toughbook W7

The Good

The Toughbook CF-W7 can withstand small spills and up to 200 pounds of pressure; weighs the same as a MacBook Air; WWAN options are available.

The Bad

Bulky and ugly; ports and connections are not protected; ho-hum performance; dated 4:3 aspect display; circular touchpad is difficult to use.

The Bottom Line

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-W7 manages to be lightweight and awkwardly bulky, but this rugged ultraportable offers excellent protection for business travelers who are extra rough on their systems.

This trade-off lets us carry tough laptops around without too much extra weight or bulk, and Panasonic's $2,099 Toughbook CF-W7 manages to fit plenty of extra protection into a 12-inch laptop that weighs just barely more than three pounds. That makes for an impressive system, especially if you take the mantle of "road warrior" literally and are extra hard on your equipment. However, the W7 still feels huge compared with today's ultratiny ultraportables, and it will appeal only to those who really need these ruggedized features.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $2,099
Processor 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7500
Memory 2GB, 533MHz DDR2
Hard drive 80GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel GM965
Graphics Mobile Intel Express 965GM (integrated)
Operating System Windows Vista Business
Dimensions (WDH) 10.6 x 8.2 x 1.6-2.25 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 12.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.0 / 3.9 pounds
Category Ultraportable

Admirably lightweight, the Toughbook CF-W7 actually weighs the same as Apple's svelte MacBook Air. Unfortunately, it's much bulkier than the Air, measuring 2.25 inches at its thickest part. The lid is raised in the middle, offering additional protection to the LCD screen, but that will make it hard to fit into smaller laptop bags.

The somewhat awkward design does serve a purpose, however, and the chassis is designed to withstand up to 200 pounds of pressure. That's not a license to stand on top of the screen, though, it's intended for compression across the whole surface of the system, as you'd experience when packing it into your luggage and having other heavy suitcase stacked on top. Unlike some other models in Panasonic's business rugged line, the W7 has a spill-through keyboard, which means liquids will pass through the keyboard into a canal and exit through a small hole in the bottom of the system. It's rated for a 6-ounce spill--we eyeballed with a paper cup of water, and it worked as advertised, but Panasonic recommends turning the laptop off and letting it dry completely after a spill.

The Toughbook is rated to survive a 1-foot fall from just about any angle, and we "accidentally" knocked it off a low table with no ill effects. Twelve inches doesn't sound too impressive, but it's the standard measurement we've seen in other semirugged systems, and even a small drop such as that one could kill a regular laptop (although that's far from certain). The hard drive itself should survive a 2.5-foot fall, but Panasonic says the laptop itself may be damaged in the process.

The optical drive moves from its usual spot on the side of the system to a top-loading model located directly on the wrist rest. It's a smart idea and keeps the drive extra-safe when the laptop's lid is closed. The ports and connections, however, are in their usual spots on the edges and get no special protection from the elements, like the rubber port covers we saw on the Toughbook CF-52.

The keyboard's keys are surprisingly large for an ultraportable laptop, and the round touch pad--something we've only seen before on the Intel Classmate PC--is aesthetically interesting but hard to use in real life, and you lose the standard edge scroll function standard in rectangular touch pads.

The 12.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,024 x 768 native resolution, and we almost did a double-take when we saw the squared-off 4:3 aspect ratio--it's the first laptop we've seen in more than a year without a wide-screen display. The low resolution means you won't have as much screen real estate as you might like, but the display was clear and bright and had an easy-to-read matte finish.

  Panasonic Toughbook CF-W7 Average for category [ultraportable]
Video VGA-out VGA-out
Audio headphone/microphone jacks headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader
Expansion Type I/II PC Card slot Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard
Networking modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband. modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner None, or DVD burner

Like the dated 4:3 screen, we also felt a bit left behind the times by getting a PC Card slot instead of the newer ExpressCard. FireWire is also missing, but we've found we can easily live without it on other laptops. Since your Toughbook will hopefully be spending plenty of time in the field, we were pleased to see mobile broadband options from AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon offered. Business buyers also get standard features such as a Trusted Platform Module chip and Computrace, a theft protection agent built into the bios, which helps track down lost or stolen laptops.

The 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7500 CPU is not our favorite and is the same chip found in pokey systems such as the Sony Vaio TZ150. Intel's ULV CPUs do offer better battery life and produce less heat, but anyone who's spent some time with a standard Core 2 Duo laptop will be able to tell the difference. That being said, ULV systems are fine for Web surfing and basic office productivity, and you'll only run into occasional slowdown and stuttering. We look forward to seeing the shrunk-down standard Core 2 Duo found in the MacBook Air making its way to other ultraportable systems later in 2008, maybe even Toughbooks, eventually.

The Toughbook CF-W7 ran for 4 hours and 2 minutes on our DVD battery drain test. That's well short of Panasonic's claims of a seven-hour lifespan but still a very impressive number (about 40 minutes more than the Toughbook CF-52). Note that our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.

Panasonic includes a three-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, but units must be sent back to the company's national service center in Kansas. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, e-mail, online chat, and a Web-based knowledge base and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Panasonic CF-W7

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Panasonic CF-W7

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Panasonic CF-W7

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Panasonic CF-W7

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Panasonic CF-W7 Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7500; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 358MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 80GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7600; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 100GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio TZ150 Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7500; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 100GB Toshiba 4,200rpm

HP Compaq 2710p Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7600; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 148MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 80GB Toshiba 4,200rpm


Panasonic Toughbook W7

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 9Performance 5Battery 8Support 7
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