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Panasonic Toughbook W4

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Reviewed Dec. 29, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

The Panasonic Toughbook W4 lives at the lonely intersection of good looks and ruggedness. When it comes to notebooks you usually get it rugged or get it attractive, not both. Panasonic's line of semi-rugged notebooks changes that: they're very cool looking yet they can withstand bumps and grinds better than standard notebooks. They're light weight too, again not something you generally find in a rugged design. Now before we go on too long, keep in mind that their semi-rugged offerings are a separate line from the well-known long standing line of fully ruggedized Toughbooks which are more suited to military expeditions and archaeological excavations than daily use.

Panasonic Toughbook W4

Most but not all of the semi-rugged Toughbooks are very light weight, and the W4 is no exception, weighing in at only 2.8 pounds including its very high capacity battery. While many utralights sacrifice an internal optical drive, the W4 has a combo DVD/DW-RW drive with Panasonic's trademark pop-up lid design. You may recall seeing that interesting industrial design when thumbing through the virtual pages of your favorite importer's web site catalog, but the Toughbook semi-ruggeds are now available in US form. And while most sub- 3 pound notebooks are lacking in the horsepower department, the Toughbook W4 holds its own with a 1.2 GHz Intel processor, Centrino architecture, fast memory and 12.1" display. It's not your first choice for Battlefield 2 or serious CAD work, but the W4 is more than fast enough for business applications and Internet use.

Design and Ergonomics

First impression: this thing looks like a Zero Halliburton case. You know, those really cool looking aluminum cases that are nearly impossible to break into? The same case that made it into an episode of the hit TV show Lost. Just don't drop your Toughbook W4 down the side of a cliff or beat it with implements as did Sawyer the Halliburton on Lost: the W4 is only semi-rugged wink. Panasonic provides a 3 year warranty while most manufacturers offer only 1 year which we take as a testimony of their confidence in the build quality and durability of this machine. The notebook feels incredibly light; lighter than its actual 2.8 pounds which may be psychological: since it looks rugged, you expect it to be heavy. It measures just 1.0/1.8 (thinner at the front, thicker at the back) x 10.6 x 8.3 inches, making it easy to slip into a bag or briefcase.

top view of toughbook W4
bottom view
The casing is made of magnesium alloy and should withstand bumps and minor drops that might crack plastic casing notebooks or their LCDs. You won't be driving a Hummer over the W4 if you expect to use it again, but it will take a beating better than standard notebook computers. The hard drive is also shock mounted for better protection of those spinning platters and delicate heads. The internal optical drive in permanently integrated into the W4's casing and is surprisingly light, thus the W4 weighs less than other notebooks such as the ThinkPad X41 which lacks an optical drive. The DVD/CD-RW drive lives under the right wrist rest and the door opens upwards rather than the usual slot or tray loading design. This means you won't get bumped in the belly or hit your neighbor's tray table on the plane. DVD/CD-RW drive

The W4 has a good set of ports for a business class notebook, including two USB 2.0 ports, VGA out (on the rear), RJ45 Ethernet, RJ11 modem, a type II PC Card slot and a front-facing SD card slot. The unit does not have FireWire, so you'll need a FireWire PC card to get that job done. The single speaker is adequate and sound through the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack is quite good. In addition the Toughbook has a 3.5mm mic jack. The WiFi on/off switch and power button are located on the front edge for easy access, as are the audio ports.

Toughbook W4

Horsepower and Performance

Intel's ULV 753 Pentium M processor running at 1.2 GHz keeps things moving along well for business applications such as Microsoft Office, web browsing, email, light Photoshop work and web development. The ULV 753 and Intel 915GMS chipset help keep power consumption and temperatures low, aiding and abetting the Toughbook's excellent runtimes. Great stuff for a road warrior but less so for the desktop replacement crowd who craves absolute power. But the same thing can be said of any notebook weighing in at less than 3 pounds: an Alienware they're not.

Benchmarks, PCMark 2004:
PC Mark04: 2176
CPU: 2357
Graphics: 676
Memory: 2232
HDD: 2575

The machine comes with 512 megs of DDR2 RAM with one slot open to upgrade to the maximum 1 gig of RAM (requires a PC3200 SODIMM). Hard drive capacity is surprisingly small at 40 gigs, but we are happy it's shock mounted. The integrated DVD/CD-RW is great for watching DVDs on the plane (battery life is up to the task) and burning CDs on the road or at home.

Graphics, Sound and Multimedia

The Toughbook W4 has a 12.1" TFT anti-glare active matrix display that's bright and colorful though not breathtaking like Sony's XBrite display. The display is clear, sharp and easy to read and the lack of glare means you can work on Office documents for hours without suffering eye fatigue. The machine's XGA (1024 x 768) resolution is geared toward business use rather than wide screen movie playback, but that said, watching DVDs was pleasant enough. The W4 can drive an external monitor up to 2048 x 1536 pixels at 16.7 million colors thanks to the more than adequate 128 megs of shared memory and the Intel 915GMS graphics inside. Serious gamers require discrete graphics controllers but the Intel can handle moderate gaming quite well as long as you stay away from today's most demanding games such as Battlefield II. If you're looking for a thin and light that has the horsepower for games, consider the Sony Vaio S460 and its brethren.

Sound through the single speaker is adequate, while sound through a set of headphones plugged into the W4's headphone jack is quite pleasing. For those who need to record or do conference calling, the Toughbook W4 has a mic jack.


Panasonic knows it's important to be well connected so the W4 has integrated WiFi, 10/100 Ethernet and a 56k dial up modem. WiFi 802.11 a/b/g is provided by Intel's PRO/Wireless 2915ABG card which is both reliable and strong in the range department. You can use either Windows or Intel's software to manage WiFi connections. For those times when only a wired connection will do, the Toughbook has a standard RJ45 Ethernet port and a modem for dial up.

Battery life

For a low power subnotebook, the Panasonic Toughbook comes with a very high capacity 7800 mAh Lithium Ion battery. Panasonic claims a fully charged battery will last 6 hours, though we got more like 4.5 with WiFi on and power management set to auto. That's very good battery life for a system with decent processing power, a 12.1" LCD and wireless, so we're impressed. Unlike some notebooks which dim the screen unbearably to conserve power, the W4 maintains good brightness while still managing those runtimes.


An attractive, super-light and capable notebook that's tough enough to take a licking; a rare and lovely combination. The W4 is absurdly light yet it fits in a 12.1" display and optical drive along with a reasonable set of ports and card slots. If you need a semi-rugged notebook but thought you had to haul around a behemoth, do consider the W4. It has more than enough processing power for business tasks, a strong dose of good looks and won't weigh you down on the road.

Pro: Rugged yet attractive. Bright display, good performance for a machine in this class, great battery life, integrated WiFi and optical drive.

Con: Keyboard may be a bit cramped for big-fingered folk. Standard hard drive is only 40 gigs: small for a notebook that costs over $2,000.

Price: ~ $2150

Web Site:

3 year warranty

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Display: 12.1" TFT active matrix display. Intel 915GMS graphics with 128 megs shared memory. Can drive an external monitor up to 2048 x 1536 pixels at 16.7 million colors.

Performance: 1.2 GHz Intel Pentium M Processor ULV 753 with 2 megs level 2 cache and 400 MHz FSB. Intel 915GMS chipset. 512 megs RAM standard upgradeable to 1 gig using DDR PC3200 RAM.

Drives: 40 gig hard drive and DVD/CD-RW drive.

Size: 1.0/1.8'' x 10.6'' x 8.3''. 2.8 pounds.

Battery: 7800 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. World charger, 100 - 240v.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. SigmaTel STAC9751 AC-97 v.2.1 audio.

Networking: Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG WiFi 802.11a/b/g. 10/100 Ethernet, 56k modem.

Software: Windows XP Professional.

Slots and Ports : Video - D-sub 15 pin, stereo 3.5mm headphone/speaker jack,
3.5mm microphone/Line In, two USB 2.0, 10/100 Ethernet - RJ-45, 56K Modem - RJ-11, one PCMCIA type II slot, SD card slot.


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