Panasonic ToughBook W4 Review (pics, specs)

by nesbo Reads (56,662)

Introduction:

I recently had an opportunity to test a Panasonic ToughBook W4 laptop, the latest ultraportable laptop that is a part of the acclaimed Panasonic ToughBook Series.  Panasonic produces an array of innovative and unique laptops geared towards the business user.  The ToughBook series is divided into two classes:  rugged and semi-rugged.  The W4 is part of their semi-rugged laptop series.  These semi-rugged laptops are built to withstand the drops and bumps that the mobile business person may endure.


Panasonic ToughBook W4 (view large image)

The review model I was able to obtain had the following specifications:

  • Intel Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage 753 (1.20 GHz, 2 MB L2 cache, 400 MHz FSB)
  • Intel 915 GMS Chipset with Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelator 900 with up to 128 MB Shared Video Memory
  • 512 MB DDR2 SDRAM Micro-DIMM (1024 MB Max.)
  • 40 GB Toshiba 4200 RPM HDD, Shock Mounted
  • Built in DVD-ROM & CD-R/RW Drive
  • 12.1″ XGA Display (non-glossy)
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2915 ABG
  • 1 x PC Card Slot
  • SD Memory Card Slot
  • 2 USB Ports/VGA Out/Port Replicator/Microphone&Headphone
  • Jack/Modem/Ethernet

Build Design of the W4:

The Panasonic W4 has a very nice design.  The laptop uses an all silver, all magnesium alloy casing.  Using this alloy throughout the laptop provides the increased durability found in the ToughBook series.  Supposedly, this model can withstand up to 100 kg of pressure. However, I’m not sure I would feel comfortable trying to sit on it or dropping it off a cliff!  The laptop also includes a shock mounted hard drive for extra protection.

The casing is well built, with almost no flex to the machine. The LCD screen is firmly attached and I could not produce any ripples by pressing on the back of the screen.   For a semi-rugged machine, the casing found near the keyboard and optical drive does seems a little thin, but allows for the machine to be super light in weight.  It measures at 2.8 lbs, which is absolutely amazing, considering it has a built in optical drive and uses a 12.1″ screen!  Frankly put, this laptop is the lightest computer I have ever used! 

The overall measurements of this machine are 1.8″/1.0″ (at its thickest/thinnest points) x 10.6″ x 8.3″.  All of the ports are located on the two sides of the machine.  The front of the laptop has the microphone/headphone jacks as well as a main power and Wi-Fi power switches.  Also located on the front is the optical drive switch.  Probably the most unique feature of this laptop is the optical drive.  It isn’t your typical side loading tray found in most laptops.  The right side of the palm rest is actually the lid of the optical drive and it opens upward when you press the optical drive switch.


Panasonic W4 left side (view larger image)


Panasonic W4 right side (view larger image)


Panasonic W4 front side (view larger image)


Panasonic W4 back side (view larger image)


Pansonic W4 top view (view larger image)

Screen:

The Panasonic W4 uses a 12.1″ anti-glare LCD screen.  Basically, this is a non-glossy, matte finished screen.  Apparently, some complaints regarding previous Panasonic models have been dull looking screens.  I found that the W4 screen looks good.  It seemed quite bright at maximum settings. In fact, it appeared to be brighter than my Fujitsu S6231 Crystal View screen! Overall, for a matte finish, I thought the W4 LCD screen was very good. 

For an ultraportable, I think the 12.1″ screen is a good compromise.  I have used the Fujitsu P7000 series, and while I think that laptop is an amazing ultraportable, the 10.6″ screen found on that machine was too small for my eyes.  12.1″ seems like a good choice without compromising the size and weight of the laptop.

Speakers:
 
As with many smaller laptops, the speakers are not very good.  It sounds tinny with little to no bass whatsoever.  I wouldn’t recommend watching movies without some headphones

Processor and Performance:

The W4 uses the Pentium M 753 Ultra Low Voltage processor running at 1.2 GHz.  I don’t have a whole lot of experience with this processor, but I found it to be surprisingly quick with the W4 laptop.  The machine had no problems running every day productivity programs.  I’m not sure how the ULV processor would perform when using CPU intensive programs, but for the typical business user, which this machine was designed for, it should have no problems with day to day office tasks and presentations. 

The W4 uses the recent Intel GMA integrated graphics which uses up to 128 MB of the system memory.  While good enough to play the occasional non-intensive game, don’t expect to use this machine as a gaming laptop. But for watching movies and other basic multimedia tasks, the integrated chipset is good enough.

Below are some benchmarks I tested with this notebook to get an idea of the speed of the notebook.  I went ahead and posted numbers from a previous review of the W4 predecessor, the Panasonic W2:

Results for calculating Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy using the program Super Pi.

Notebook Time
Panasonic ToughBook W4 (Pentium M 753 ULV 1.2 GHz)  2m 27s
Panasonic ToughBook W2 (Pentium M 713 ULV 1.1 GHz)  2m 54s
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 18s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 36s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Panasonic ToughBook W4 (Pentium M 753 ULV 1.2 GHz) Panasonic ToughBook W2 (Pentium M 713 ULV 1.1 GHz)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 2.38 MB/s 2.0 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 17.72 MB/s 16.35 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 15.51 MB/s 14.42 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 7.17 MPixels/s 6.46 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1197.861 MB/s 1310.48 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 1.92 KB/s 1.66 KB/s
 File Decryption 35.52 MB/s 32.7 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 1633.83 KB/s 1508.28 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 3.42 Pages/s 2.98 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 88.69 FPS 29.9 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 68.01 FPS 41.55 FPS

The W4 does seem to be overall faster than its predecessor, the W2.

Overall, I thought the ULV chip of the W4 performed admirably when using every day programs such as MS Office or Internet Explorer.  I also had no problems watching DVD movies.  For an ultraportable machine, this computer is plenty fast enough

Heat:

The Panasonic W4 uses a fanless design.  Therefore, it is whisper quiet.  The only noise you can hear is the hard drive spinning.  Unfortunately, the machine does produce some heat, especially at the highest processing speeds.  While the laptop never became burning hot, the bottom of the computer does get pretty warm, particularly where the memory is located.  On slower processing speeds, the laptop was much more comfortable to use.

Keyboard & Touchpad:


Panasonic keyboard (view larger image)

The W4 uses an 83-key keyboard.  It did take some getting used to.  Keys such as the “tab” and “caps lock” are quite small, and I would frequently miss them when typing.  The keys are rectangular in shape which also took some getting used to.  After a while, I felt more comfortable using this keyboard.  The keys were solid, with only a little bit of flex at the F7 and F8 keys.  Unfortunately, you have to press the FN key to use the page down and page up keys.


Optical drive open (view larger image)

The touchpad has a cool circular design.  I thought it had good response and felt comfortable to use.  The touchpad also has light indicators for hard drive access, caps lock, etc.

Wireless:

The Panasonic W4 uses the Intel 2915 A/B/G PRO/Wireless chipset.  I had excellent reception throughout my house and very good down load speeds.   No complaints here!

Battery life:

Battery life might be the W4′s  strongest point.  This laptop uses a 7800 mAH battery that does not protrude from the back of the machine.  With Wi-Fi on and low to medium brightness, I easily had 4.5 to 5 hours of battery life.  With Wi-Fi off I had over 6 hours of battery life!  Simply put, this laptop has the strongest battery life of any laptop I have used.  Arguably, it might be the best in its class without having to use an additional battery.  The instruction manual of this laptop lists this machine as having up to 7.5 hours of total running time!

Software:

The Panasonic W4 comes with Windows XP Professional. A recovery disc is included to reinstall the OS, DVD player, drivers, etc.  Thankfully, the Panasonic W4 doesn’t come preinstalled with a bunch of bloatware.  

Customer Support:

The Panasonic W4 comes with a standard 3 year warranty.  Since this machine is a review model, I did not have to contact customer support.  Panasonic offers 24 hours, 7 days a week support by calling a toll-free number.  Their website also has some troubleshooting FAQ’s as well.

Pros:

  • Incredibly light (2.8 lbs)
  • Built in optical drive
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Fanless design makes it whisper quiet

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • No option for a glossy-type screen (for those that like these screens)
  • No DVD Burner

Conclusions:

Overall, I was impressed with the Panasonic W4.  For those of you who are looking for a truly mobile, business class notebook, this notebook might be the best in its class.  The machine is on the expensive side.  However, you are getting a high quality notebook that is durable, light weight, and offers incredible battery life.  I am looking forward to seeing future models of the Panasonic ToughBook series.

Pricing and Availability:


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