With a moniker like “ToughBook”, a design to military standard MIL-STD-810F, and a price tag considerably above technically comparable Tablet PCs models, outstanding build quality and features are a consumer expectation. In this regard, The Panasonic CF-18 doesn’t disappoint. Like its full-sized notebook model siblings, the CF-18 is built rock-solid to withstand use in extreme environments and is graced with internal components and industry standard features.
(view large image) At the edge of the left palm rest are indicator lights for Locks, HDD activity, network activity, battery charge, and notebook status.
Panasonic ToughBook CF-18 Specs
|CPU||Intel Pentium M 753 1.2 GHz|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 915GMS Express|
|RAM||512 MB DDR II SDRAM|
|Audio||SigmaTel STAC9767 AC`97, built-in speaker|
|PC Cards slot||Card Type II x 2 or Type III x 1 (CardBus)|
|Hard Drive||60 GB|
|Communications||Ethernet 10/100, Fax modem 56K
Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11a/b/g
Design and Build
Upon first glance the CF-18 looks small and dense. It is diminutive in width (10.7″) and depth (8.5″), but a bit chunky in height (1.9″). The hefty look is deceiving to the eye as the CF-18 pleasantly weighs in at only 4.5 lbs.
The case exterior is comprised of a magnesium alloy shell allowing sufficient shock protection, absorption and durability. The magnesium casing has a roughly textured surface providing a secure, non-slip grip. The silver and black color scheme, despite being overly prevalent in the industry these days, gives the unit a tough industrial look.
The CF-18 appears solid as a brick but actually feels like it contains pockets of air inside the casing (maybe this allows for ‘crumple zones’ to absorb impact). The CF-18 is rated to withstand impact from a drop of about three feet. We didn’t test it personally, but there are videos around the web that will let you have the vicarious thrill of watching the unit dropped, sprayed, stood on, and abused without suffering notable damage. Your data is further protected by a shock-proof enclosure for the hard drive.
The CF-18 also appears to be designed with easy field service in mind. All the screws that hold the unit together are easily visible and accessible, and are simple Phillips head screws that don’t require special tools. Additionally both the hard drive and battery can be quickly and easily removed and replaced.
Final touches include oversized controls and switches to allow easy access to device functions while wearing gloves. Additionally, the ports are covered by weatherproof rubberized seals to enhance protection in the worst climate and weather conditions as needed.
A look around the CF-18…
(view large image) Front View: Sliding power switch, heavy duty display latch, display brightness control and tablet mode buttons. The switch and buttons are all easy to operate even with a pair of gloves on your hands.
(view large image) Left Side: AC in, USB ports, modem port, LAN, card reader slots. (Weather proof covers are closed over all of these components.)
(view large image) Right Side: Battery and hard drive bays.
(view large image) Rear: headphone jack, mic jack, VGA out.
(view large image) Underside: Docking port, fan exhaust.
The screen of the CF-18 as with most other convertible Tablets, pivots and hinges on a single point. However Panasonic chose to includes a switch to keep the display locked firmly in place The pivoting hinge feels solid and sturdy. In “notebook mode” the screen has virtually no jiggle even if the unit is shaken. The screen feels like it would stay in whatever position you put it in even if you were bouncing around in a Humvee. The only drawback to this locking hinge design is that the screen can not be “opened” with one hand because the base doesn’t provide enough weight to counter balance the excess tension. The trade-off is worthy in this case to have the assurance that the hinge will survive whatever you throw at it. When closed in either Tablet or Notebook mode, the screen latches with a secure metal locking mechanism.
The primary outstanding feature of the display on the CF-18 is that it can be set to blinding brightness (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). In most any extreme lighting condition, this screen was designed to be easily viewable. The ToughBook CF-18 comes in two different screen configurations – a standard electromagnetic (standard Tablet PC version) “pen only” type, and an enhanced touch screen version which allows manipulation of input on the screen with your fingers. The former uses Microsoft XP Tablet PC Edition and the latter uses standard Windows XP Pro. Our test unit was the Tablet PC version.
Both versions utilize a 10.4″ 1024 x 768 transmissive, indoor/outdoor LCD. Tested outdoors under the bright Arizona sun, the screen remained readable with good contrast although only when set the highest bright level. We found the viewing angle to be comparable to most Tablet PC models.
The CF-18 sports a single speaker on the underside of the unit. It is loud enough to hear Windows prompts or basic sound bytes. Being that there is no stereo output from a single speaker, users who want to hear music or enhanced media audio should opt for an external speaker set. The CF-18 audio is provided courtesy of a SigmaTel STAC9767 AC`97 integrated chip.. That being said, the CF-18 isn’t billed as a multimedia hi-fi powerhouse and the speaker easily meets the tasks of system sounds and a little light Skyping. The speaker also appears to be well sealed against dust and moisture.
Making a lightweight, small Tablet PC requires some compromise, and the first place we run into that compromise is in the keyboard. The keyboard looks to be about 80% scale of a full size keyboard that takes some time for adaption in order to type accurately. Users with larger fingers or wearing gloves may very well encounter difficulty trying to wrangle typing accuracy out of it. The reduced size also makes for an unconventional placement of the cursor keys which might also take time to remember. The individual key travel and response feels adequate to allow for moderate typing speeds.
The CF-18 touchpad is unfortunately the greatest downfall in the overall user experience. Despite spending a good deal of time adjusting the settings, tapping and double tapping with the touch pad were never consistent. The speed and acceleration settings produced inconsistent results. Perhaps over time the touch pad would become familiar, but touchpads are so ubiquitous today that consistent and predictable performance should be a given.
The pen that Panasonic has included with the CF-18 leaves little to be desired. The pen feels slightly bigger than a stylus you might find on a PDA and is too small to hold comfortably for any significant amount of time. The pen feels like it could be easily lost or dropped, but Panasonic have thought of this and include a coiled tether that attaches the pen to the screen bezel. A larger pen would seem to be better suited for the rugged environs for which the CF-18 is intended. We would recommend an additional full-sized pen be purchased for any user who plans to use the CF-18 tablet functionality on a regular basis.
Tablet PC Buttons
On the front of the CF-18 are buttons for quickly accessing various Tablet PC or other frequently used functions. Brightness can be controlled by the up and down arrows. The Tablet PC Input Panel can be turned on or off with the keyboard button. There is an ‘Enter’ button. Screen orientation can be toggled between landscape and portrait. And finally there is a security button that performs the same function as CTRL + ALT + Del. The buttons are of course sealed touch sensitive buttons. While the buttons are functional, there are a few drawbacks to their placement. The buttons offer no tactile feedback to distinguish one from another. Their placement on the side of the unit as opposed to on the bezel means that you’ll have to turn the unit and look to make sure you depress the right button. Furthermore if you are right-handed you have to use your stylus hand to access the buttons when in Tablet mode. The only other button on the front is the power switch slider.
Processor and System Performance Benchmarks
We used SuperPI to calculate the number Pi to 2 Million digits in this raw number crunching benchmark. This open source benchmark application allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated from 16 Thousand to 32 Million. The benchmark, which uses 19 iterations in the test, was set to 2 Million digits.
Comparison of tablet/notebook models using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):
Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Panasonic ToughBook CF-18
(1.2GHz ULV PentiumM)
|Fujitsu P1500D Tablet PC
(1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M)
|ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC (1.5GHz Alviso LV PM)||2m 3s|
|HP tc4200 (1.73GHz Alviso PM)||1m 51s|
We used Futuremark’s PCMark ’04 benchmarking software to measure the P1510D’s performance in various tasks.
Performance Benchmarks for the Fujitsu P1510D (1.20GHz ULV) compared to the IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad (1.5GHz LV) simulating multiple computing tasks:
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores||Panasonic ToughBook CF-18
(1.2GHz ULV PentiumM)
|Fujitsu LifeBook P1500D (1.2GHz ULV PM)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||2.39 MB/s||2.38 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||17.89 MB/s||17.61MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||15.71 MB/s||15.54 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||7.15 MPixels/s||7.12 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1199.91 MB/s||1403.55 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||1.96 KB/s||1.92 KB/s|
|File Decryption||35.3 MB/s||35.2 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||1633.99 KB/s||1635.84 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||3.48 Pages/s||3.63 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||103.5 FPS*||34.82 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||67.13 FPS||67.5 FPS|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||365.31 FPS||392.02 FPS|
|3DMark ’03 Score||N/A||N/A|
When compared with the Fujitsu LifeBook P1500D (1.2GHz ULV PM), the CF-18 performs just about the same (identical CPU models).
*note: We cannot explain the DivX Video Compression which tested significantly better in the CF-18 over the Fujitsu P1500D. This test was run twice to double check our result.
Using “HD Tune” we tested the CF-18′s Hitachi TRAVELSTAR 60GB 5400RPM hard disk read and write access benchmarks.
With an average transfer rate of 26.5 MB/second, the TRAVELSTAR lives up to its high-end reputation.
|Manufacture||Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.,Ltd.|
|OS||Windows XP Service Pack 2|
|CPU Manufacture||Intel Corporation|
|CPU Model||Intel(R) Pentium(R) M processor 1.20GHz|
|CPU Extensions||| MMX | SSE2 | Enchanted SpeedStep|
CPU Cache Info
|Level 1 Instructions||32|
|Level 1 Data||32|
|Level 2 Data||2048|
System RAM info
|Memory slots||3 ( 1: 512Mb; 2: 0Mb; 3: 33792Mb; )|
Display Device Info
|Adapter||Mobile Intel(R) 915GM/GMS,910GML Express Chipset Family|
|OpenGL render device||GDI Generic|
|OpenGL driver version||1.1.0|
|Vertex shader version||0.0|
|Pixel shader version||2.0|
Hard Disk Drive Info
|S.M.A.R.T.||Supported and Enabled|
Main Battery Info
|Temperature||Termal Control Not Present|
|Full Charged Capacity||56610mWh|
|Force charge support||Not Supported|
|Force discharge support||Not Supported|
|Pi calculations||17133 Cycles|
|HDD read\write||11740 Mb|
|Fames Rendered||691421 Frames|
The 6600mAh battery provides exceptional life at just about 3.5 hours in our Battery Eater Pro test (see benchmarks). Real world use brought us about 6 hours per charge. The battery can be easily swapped out for a second through the double locked door on the right of the machine.
Heat and Noise
The CF-18 runs whisper quiet. Even under heavy load we are hard pressed to hear anything from the unit. There’s no fan noise to speak of and interestingly enough, the unit doesn’t appear to have an exhaust port that can be seen.
The CF-18 provides a full complement of ports that you would expect to find on any high end Tablet PC. Down the left side of the unit are two USB 2.0, one Ethernet, one Modem, DC in, two PC Card slots, and an SD Card slot for good measure. The back of the unit has a VGA out connector, Kensington lock port, and Headphone & Microphone jacks. The right side of the unit houses two doors that drop down to reveal a removable hard drive sled and removable battery. On its underside the CF-18 has a proprietary port for mating the unit with a desktop or vehicle based dock. As we mentioned earlier each port is protected by its own individual door/flap. This is one area where the CF-18 (and the rest of the ToughBook lineup) stands heads above the competition. The doors seal tightly with rubber plugs and guarantee dust, dirt, and moisture have no way to get in. The bigger doors for the PC Cards, battery, and hard drive have a locking mechanism (a tab must be slid horizontally and then vertically) to ensure they don’t accidentally open.
The ToughBook CF-18 doesn’t offer security features such as biometrics or encryption as some other Tablet PCs do, but are none-the-less a few security features to expand upon average consumer-level standards. You can set Supervisor passwords to prevent users from changing settings and a “Password on boot” to prevent unauthorized access. The SD memory card slot can be also used to require an SD memory card key to access or start the machine. Finally there is a “Hard Disk Lock” that when enabled prevents data being read from or written to the hard drive when it is removed and placed in another computer.
Outside of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software, the CF-18 comes out of the box as a virgin in the software department. There are some very small utilities from Panasonic such as Battery Recalibration, Display Rotation Tool, Hokey Settings, an Icon Enlarger and SD Card Setup utility. These are very small applications that are noninvasive to say the least. You won’t find any bloatware on the CF-18 (Hurray for that!).
The CF-18 comes standard with built in 802.11abg which functions as expected. Range and signal strength were good throughout testing. The wireless on the CF-18 gets interesting when you start to look at some of the optional built-in capabilities you can order. Besides the commonplace option of Bluetooth, cellular radio in two flavors (CDMA and GSM/GPRS) are available as well as an integrated GPS chip option. For corporate customers who order more than 100 units, Panasonic offers complete customization.
The Panasonic ToughBook CF-18 has a very unique place in the vertical and consumer Tablet PC market. Although the CF-18 is not perfect in every department, it is a quality machine overall. Most importantly though is the unique casing and ruggedness that has not been matched by any other manufacturer as of yet. If you need a “breakproof”, environmentally adaptable Tablet PC, look no further than the Panasonic ToughBook as the current industry standard choice.
- Exceptional indoor/outdoor display
- Built to live up to the “ToughBook” name
- Great Battery Life
- Sluggish touchpad response
- Pen is too small for regular use
- Keyboard is small for big hands