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