Panasonic Toughbook CF-53 review

Pros

  • Excellent rugged construction
  • Solid performance
  • All-day battery life

Cons

  • OS is slightly behind the curve
  • Rugged design is big and heavy

When you leave the comfort of the office for the rougher environs of the street or the great outdoors, you don't want your laptop to fail when the ride gets bumpy or when things get messy. For anyone that works from their car or out in the field, Panasonic has the Toughbook line of semi-rugged laptops. The Toughbook CF-53 is a 14in laptop that can take a beating without missing a day's work, making it your ideal companion when you need a laptop that's as reliable as you are.

Design and features

The Panasonic Toughbook has all the trappings of past Toughbooks, from the inside and out magnesium alloy construction to locking port covers. Both the keyboard and touchpad are sealed to protect against moisture, and the hinges are both dust and water-resistant. It's built to meet MIL-STD-810G certification standards for shock and vibration, extremes in temperature, and resistance to dust and moisture.

The result is a laptop that can handle everything from a sloshed drink on the keyboard to a drop from waist height. Whether you're in the cab of a police cruiser, parachuting out of a C-130 Hercules, or off-roading to a remote construction site, the Toughbook CF-53 should shrug off whatever abuse it encounters.

As a result of all that rugged construction the Toughbook CF-53 isn't the slimmest or lightest laptop on the market. Its 55mm thickness is equivalent to three Ultrabooks stacked one atop another, and the beefy 340 x 280 x 55mm (WxDxH) build makes for a hefty weight, tipping the scales at 2.6kg. To help make it a little easier to lug around, it also sports a briefcase-style handle.

The Toughbook CF-53 has a 14in display, and while the 1,366 x 768 resolution won't be winning it any awards, it is readable in direct sunlight, and a preinstalled film protects the display from scratches (and is replaceable by the user). The native brightness may be great in sunlight, but indoors you may want to dial it down for the sake of your eyeballs. The spill-resistant keyboard offers a fairly comfortable typing experience, but the touchpad is small (50mm x 80mm) and the right and left mouse buttons are rubbery and stiff.

Even the AC adapter cable for the Toughbook CF-53 is ruggedised, with 4in of ribbed reinforcement on the plug end (most laptops use 0.5in). Along the back and sides of the Toughbook CF-53 are several locking covers which conceal two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, outputs for HDMI and VGA, a LAN connection, a serial port, and a card reader (SDXC). A case lock slot lets you physically secure the laptop, and a tray loading optical drive lets you read and burn DVD-RW discs and CDs. On the right, behind a locking cover, is an empty ExpressCard slot, while on the left, secured with screws, is a cover for an optional Smart Card slot.

The 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive inside is shock mounted to cushion it against drops and vibration, and it uses a flexible connection so that force isn't transferred between the drive and the system board, protecting it further from damage. It's a larger capacity than the 320GB drive found in the HP EliteBook 8460p, but we might have preferred the faster solid-state drives which are options on the likes of the Dell Latitude E6420 XFR and Latitude E6430 ATG – they’re smaller (128GB or 256GB) but more rugged by virtue of having no moving parts. Internally, the Toughbook CF-53 is equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a SIM card slot is available for optional mobile broadband.

Built for business and government use, the Toughbook CF-53 is bloatware free, and comes with the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional already installed. Panasonic covers the Toughbook CF-53 with a three year warranty.

Performance

The Toughbook CF-53 is outfitted with a 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M with 4GB of memory. This processor is part of Intel's Ivy Bridge line, which already places it ahead of systems running older CPUs. For example, the Toughbook CF-53 scored 2,801 points in PCMark 7, compared to the HP Elitebook 8460p which hit 2,065 points due to its older processor.

Similar results were seen in Cinebench R11.5 speed tests, where the Toughbook CF-53 scored 2.88 points, ahead of the HP 8460p which was on 2.44, and the Panasonic CF-31 which racked up 1.91.

The Toughbook CF-53 utilises Intel's integrated graphics rather than a discrete GPU, but performance levels should still be sufficient for moderately demanding graphics performance. It won't support high-end 3D gaming or modelling software used by engineers and architects, but for more basic applications, it should be more than enough.

Where the Toughbook CF-53 really stands out, however, is in terms of battery life. When measured in our video rundown test, the CF-53's 9-cell battery lasted an impressive 9 hours and 6 minutes. Though the numbers aren't directly comparable between tests, when using our older MobileMark benchmark, the older Panasonic CF-31 managed six hours. At any rate, the test indicates that you'll be able to use the Toughbook CF-53 for hours on end without any worry as to when you'll encounter a power outlet.

Verdict

For a rugged laptop that won't falter under the stresses of the great outdoors or the factory floor, the Panasonic Toughbook CF-53 is a solid performer with a full selection of armoured ports and all-day battery life. It is pretty hefty, but that comes with the rugged notebook territory.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Product

Panasonic Toughbook CF-53

Primary Optical Drive

DVD+/-RW

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional

Graphics Card

Intel HD Graphics 4000

Weight

2.6kg

Networking Options

802.11n

Type

Business

RAM

4GB

Screen Size

14in

Storage Capacity (as Tested)

500GB

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