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Panasonic Toughbook 52

Semi-rugged notebook with super hi-res display and touch screen option
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Update: On September 25, 2012, Panasonic announced upgrades to its semi-rugged 15.4-inch Toughbook 52 notebook computer. Key upgrades are a switch tp the i5-3360M processor, expanded 500GB 7200rpm hard drive, improved wireless with Intel Centrino® Advanced-N 6235 WiFi technology and Bluetooth 4.0 and expanded connectivity with USB 3.0

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-52 is an interesting semi-rugged machine that offers performance, reliability and versatility. Sporting Panasonic's trust-inspiring Toughbook design (compared to its unassuming looking CF-51 predecessor), the CF-52 is more than just another durable notebook. There's a shock-mounted hard disk, a spill-proof keyboard, a magnesium alloy case that is 20 times stronger than plastic, and incredibly low failure stats.

Showing Panasonic's ongoing quest for offering state-of-the-art technology, the initial CF-52 was upgraded first from T2300/T2500 Intel Core Duo to T7100/T7300 Core 2 Duo and then to the current Core 2 Duo P8400/P8600 processors with vPro technology that facilitate improved security and remote management (see Intel white paper on vPro). Available hard disks grew to 80 and 120GB, and now to 160GB, standard memory starts at 2GB and goes up to 4GB, and the WiFi module in the latest version, introduced in February of 2009, is Intel's Wireless WiFi Link 5100 that supports 802.11a/b/g as well as draft-n. Bluetooth is standard in the top-of-the-line P8600-equipped machine.

Optionally available is integrated Gobi 3G mobile broadband (WWAN). Gobi (Global Mobile Internet technology) is a Qualcomm wireless technology that supports the various wireless networking technologies around the world, so users can select whatever carrier is available to them (see Qualcomm page on Gobi). Installed Carrier Selection Application software facilitates operation on both CDMA2000 and WCDMA (UMTS) wireless networks and seamless network selection within a single device.

Compared to the CF-51 predecessor model, the CF-52 switched to the "wide" display format. The screen of the standard CF-52 measures 15.4 inches diagonally. That's a bit more than the CF-51's 15 inches, but due to the 16:10 aspect ratio it has less viewing area. The display initially came in two varieties, 1280 x 800 pixel WXGA on models with the P8400 processors or a stunning 1920 x 1200 pixel WUXGA with the P8600-equipped versions. That's as much as the big desktop Apple iMac24 we use for production at RuggedPCReview.com.

In February of 2009, Panasonic introduced additional upgrades to the CF-52. The most important one was the optional availability of a 13.3-inch 1024 x 768 pixel touchscreen with an integrated stylus holder and a 1,000 nit anti-glare and anti-reflective screen for superb outdoor and direct sunlight viewability. Machines so equipped also come with dual red overhead LED keyboard illumination. The availability of a 13.3-inch touch screen version clearly expands the application range of this machine into new areas.

As a semi-rugged machine, the CF-51 has a spill and dust-resistant case, keyboard and touchpad. Machines are drop tested to 3-feet in accordance with the procedures mandated in the MIL-STD-810F. Panasonic reports a spectacularly low first year failure rate of just 3% compared to an industry average of 15% (according to a 2006 Gartner Research report). Also, all Toughbook notebook hinges must pass 50,000 cycles and keyboards are tested to handle 25 million keystrokes. Overall, the CF-52 undergoes more than 500 checks and tests before, during and after production, and Panasonic does burn-ins on all customer machines.

On the connectivity side, things have evolved as well. On the right side you find a PC Card Type II slot as well as a 54mm Express Card slot. There is also a SDHC card reader and a Smart Card reader is optionally available. Instead of a large variety of different optical drive options, you now get a DVD Super MULTI Drive with dual layer support that can do it all. There no longer seems to be a second battery option for the media bay. There are no fewer than four USB 2.0 ports as well as IEEE1394 FireWire.

Overall, this is a superb machine in the best Panasonic Toughbook tradition, and that especially goes for the top-of-the-line model with the 1920 x 1200 display and the touch screen version. If you need maximum resolution in a still fairly small and handy notebook that's also semi-rugged, the Panasonic Toughbook CF-52 is hard to beat. If a super-bright daylight viewable touch screen is required, that's available in the CF-52 as well.

For the Toughbook CF-52 page on Panasonic's website, click here.

CF-52 Specifications
Added/changed Replaces CF-51; updated 09/2008, 02/2009
Type Semi-rugged notebook computer
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 or P8600 (1066MHz FSB)
OS Windows Vista Business with Windows XP downgrade option
CPU Speed 2.26 GHz or 2.4 GHz
Chipset Intel GM45 (P8400) or ATI Radeon HD 3650 (P8600)
Standard/Max RAM 2-4GB DDR2
Disk/drive 160GB shock-mounted HD
Card slots 1 Type II PC Card, 1 54mm ExpressCard, 1 SDHC Card, Smart Card (optional)
Media Bay DVD Super MULTI drive with dual layer support
Display type Transmissive anti-glare, anti-reflective TFT
Display size/res P8600: 15.4" 1920 x 1200 pixel WUXGA; P8400: 1280 x 800 WXGA, or optional 13.3" 1024 x 768 sunlight viewable 1000 nit touchscreen
Digitizer/pens Optional touch screen
Keyboard/scale Integrated 87-key, 100%-scale, dual overhead light with 13.3" touch screen version
Housing Magnesium alloy
Operating Temp semi-rugged
Sealing Spill-proof keyboard and touchpad
Shock 3-feet per MILD-STD-810F
Size (WxHxD) 14.0 x 11.3 x 2.0
Weight 7.5-7.9 pounds (with handle)
Power 11.1V, 7800mAh 87 Watt-Hour Li-Ion (P8400: 7 hrs; P8400 touch screen: 8 hrs; P8600: 4 hours")
Interface 4 USB 2.0, IEEE1394, RS232, RJ11, Gigabit RJ45, port replicator, audio in/out, fingerprint reader (opt.)
Wireless Intel WiFi Link 5100, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR; optional GOBI 3G global mobile Internet
List price $1,699 (1.8GHz, 1280 x 800), $2,499 (2.0GHz, 1920 x 1200), $2,549 (1.8GHz, 1024 x 768 touch)
Contact www.panasonic.com
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