Panasonic – CF-74 Toughbook review

business ruggedised laptop with long battery life
Photo of Panasonic – CF-74 Toughbook
£2,340 + VAT

The latest addition to Panasonic’s Toughbook family of ruggedised notebooks, the CF-74 brings the family up to date using the latest Intel processor for improved performance and, in particular, battery life.

Sitting in the Toughbook line-up between the more industrial-looking CF-29 (a favourite of BT engineers everywhere) and the more notebook-styled CF-51, the CF-74 is powered by an Intel Core Duo T2400 clocked at 1.83GHz.

This is backed by 512MB of PC4200 DDR2 memory which, given the price of the CF-74, is meagre to say the least, especially with Vista around the corner. Even many mainstream notebooks these days come with 1GB of memory, so the CF-74′s SYSmark score of 183 doesn’t really make the earth move.

Connectivity is, as you expect from a laptop these days, pretty comprehensive; integrated Gigabit Ethernet, a V.92 modem and 802.11a/b/g wireless, the latter controlled by an on/off switch under the carrying handle, which is a useful feature as you can save battery life by turning it off when it isn’t needed. Also integrated into the platform is audio (SigmaTel STAC9200) and the graphics, controlled by Intel’s GMA950 which uses up to 128MB of the system memory.

Unlike a lot of notebooks around today, the CF-74 doesn’t bother with a widescreen format display and the 13.3-inch screen has a disappointing natural resolution of just 1,024 x 768 pixels, but given the job it’s been designed to do this is no great surprise.

And the screen is very bright, bright enough to be seen in full sunlight outdoors, which is where the CF-74 has been designed to spend much of its life, as demonstrated by the hardened cover that protects the screen.

Panasonic has labelled the C-74 as ‘Business Ruggedised’. In Panasonic-speak this means the laptop will survive a drop of 30cm, which is no great height, but the hard drive (80GB) is held inside a shock-resistant caddy and can withstand a drop of 90cm. All of which means it’s not as tough as its big brother, the CF-29, but then again not much is.

Despite the rugged look of the CF-74, the keyboard has a good feel and very little flex, with responsive keys that aid fast typing. Similarly the touchpad is first rate, being designed to work in all weathers and neatly recessed into the chassis so you don’t activate it when you hit the space bar.

As you would expect, the ports are hidden behind rubber protective flaps which annoyingly don’t have any form of labelling on them. Most of the ports are built into the right-hand of the chassis; SD/MMC card reader, a connector for the port replicator, a single USB 2.0 port and slots for PC Cards and Express Cards.

The left-hand side holds the dual format DVD burner which also supports DVD-RAM; the drive is removable and next to it sits a second USB 2.0 port. A largish flap on the rear hides connectors for the LAN, modem, external VGA and a serial port.

Although the performance of the CF-74 is pretty average, the battery life is outstanding; just over four hours when tested with MobileMark 05′s DVD Playback test and a whopping six hours when tested with the Productivity test.

Company: Panasonic

Contact: 0870 010 0464

At first glance the CF-74 seems over-priced for its specification, and for a normal laptop that would be true, but as with all Toughbooks this one is aimed at users who work in all weathers and all conditions, where a conventional notebook would last five minutes. The CF-74 fits that range nicely.