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-- by Art Brieva
I don't enjoy abusing the notebooks I evaluate. The 4-foot drop test makes me cringe the most. But when Panasonic provided me with its CF-25 "ruggedized" notebook, it was a whole new ball game.
Panasonic engineered this notebook to withstand more punishment than usual. The cabinet is made of magnesium alloy; the keyboard, touchpad and speakers are all water-resistant; and the hard disk and floppy drive are surrounded by a shock-absorbing gel.
The doors that cover the serial, parallel and monitor ports are plastic, but they tightly seal out moisture and dust. The AC power port, keyboard and headset ports are covered by rubber doors that are formed to fit perfectly within the ports. With all the extra armor, this notebook is no lightweight, but I was impressed that it weighed no more than 7.0 pounds with battery.
The configuration I tested included a 133MHz Pentium processor, 16MB of EDO DRAM (8MB is standard), a 1.35GB hard disk and a 10.4-inch 800x600 active-matrix color screen that's sealed to protect against the elements. The video subsystem is a Chips and Technologies 65550 chip and includes 1MB of EDO RAM. It has a 32-bit PCI bus that connects to three Type II PCMCIA slots, a video port for direct video stream to the graphics controller and 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro support. The CF-25 is also available in a 100MHz Pentium version with an 840MB hard disk; an optional 6X CD-ROM drive can replace the floppy drive.
I put the CF-25 to the test-with some help from New York's winter weather-to certify the notebook holds up to the manufacturer's durability claims. First, I used it in the rain for 45 minutes, at 44-degree temperatures. The touchpad, which had caused me some grief when dry, was only slightly worse when wet. But the dampness did not obstruct or fog the LCD, nor did the notebook suffer any physical damage because it became wet. Next, I drop tested the notebook with the lid closed from about waist level onto the cement pavement. I dropped it once so that the notebook landed on the bottom, and again on its corner. The only damage was a bit of paint scratched off. I dropped it once more and I found its Achilles' heel. The fall didn't stop it from working, but the screen became misaligned, the hinge cracked and a plastic door broke off.
The notebook's battery life was disappointing. It never made it to the 2-hour mark, even running only a word processor.
The notebook scored well on our WINDOWS Magazine Wintune benchmarks, but not well enough to beat out rivals such as the HP OmniBook 800CT on our Recommended List. The CF-25 came in at 238MIPS, 5.9Mpixels per second video throughput and an uncached disk throughput of 1.8MB per second. It completed our Word and Excel macros in average times of 20.33 and 20.67 seconds, respectively.
If you need a notebook to stand up to the travails of weather and hard use, look no further than Panasonic's CF-25. Just keep in mind that it isn't indestructible.
Copyright (c) 1997 CMP Media Inc.