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Panasonic Toughbook 53

Pana's semi-rugged notebook gets smaller, wider, lighter (and also faster and more modern)
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Update: On September 25, 2012, Panasonic announced upgrades to its semi-rugged 14-inch Toughbook 53 notebook computer. Key upgrades are a switch to 3rd gen Intel Core processors (i5-3320M), expanded storage (up to 500GB 7200rpm HD, 4-8GB faster RAM, optional SSD up to 512GB), two USB 3.0 ports, longer battery life (up to 11 hours), optional integrated GPS and RFID/Smart Card reader.

On May 10, 2011, Panasonic Solutions Company introduced the Toughbook 53, a semi-rugged notebook that emphasizes high performance with standard voltage Intel Core i3 and i5 processors, yet offers long battery life (up to ten hours), and—as a first in the Toughbook line—optional 4G LTE mobile wireless broadband. There's also a good degree of ruggedness, a fair price, and Panasonic intangibles such as their magnesium alloy construction and claimed exceptionally low failure rates.

The Toughbook 53 is the successor to the Toughbook 52 (which will remain available for a while) and the Toughbook 51, all meant to provide lighter and more affordable alternatives to Panasonic's fully rugged models while still offering robust construction and durability. The 50 Series has gone this way and that since the line began, at times responding to consumer demands for ultra-high resolution and other display options, as well as early conversion to wide-format displays, and attention to high performance.

With the new Toughbook 53, Panasonic changed their semi-rugged once again, downsizing from a 1920 x 1200 pixel 15.4-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio to an even wider (albeit smaller) 16:9 14-inch display with 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, also known as 720p in HDTV speak. The 53 dropped a bit of size and a good bit of weight in the process. It now starts at 5.6 pounds—modest for a fortified magnesium machine in this class.

Technology has suitably changed. The 53 comes in two processor configurations, one with a 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M and the other with a 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M that can scale up to 3.2GHz via Turbo Boost. With customers asking for faster disks, Panasonic gave the 53 a speedy 7200rpm 320GB drive, and there's also a 128GB solid state disk option. There's now a SDXC card reader, an HDMI video port in addition to VGA, a webcam, a USB 3.0 port in addition to three USB 2.0 connectors. The long-life battery of the i5 model promises up to ten hours of battery life (i3 models come with a "lightweight" battery good for up to six hours). And the new and larger touchpad has multi-touch.

Also of interest: while the older Toughbook 52 was either available with a 15.4-inch standard screen or with a significantly smaller 13.3-inch screen with touch and sunlight viewability, the new Toughbook 53 uses the same 14-inch display size both for the standard version and the touch screen version. The touch screen models also come with Panasonic's CircuLumin technology that uses various optical treatments and a very bright LED backlight (up to 800 nits) for superior outdoor viewability.

On the wireless front, the big news is the optional availability of a 4G LTE mobile broadband module in addition to the still available Gobi 2000 module that provides wireless 3G technology and carrier independence. 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth v2.1 are standard.

As a semi-rugged machine, the Panasonic 53 has a spill and dust-resistant case, keyboard and touchpad. Panasonic claims the machine passes nine MIL-STD-810G tests (drop, shock, vibration, dust, altitude, high/low temperature, thermal shock, and humidity). Initial data sheets don't go into specifics other than stating the machine can survive 2-1/2 foot drops (though only one foot on corners and edges). That is not awfully impressive, but there has to be a line between semi-rugged and rugged somewhere. In all fairness, desks are hardly ever taller than 2-1/2 feet, and desks and laps are probably where 53s will be used most. That said, the Panasonic 53 is, within reason, suitable for vehicle mounting.

As for pricing, a base Toughbook 53 lists for US$1,599, with a top-of-the-line Core i5 machine with the super-bright touch screen going for a thousand bucks more. That is quite reasonable, and Panasonic's customers for this class of machine (insurance adjusters, government, field service, construction offices, etc.) will certainly take note of this new machine.

For a YouTube video of Panasonic product management director Kyp Walls describing the Toughbook 53, click here.

Specs Panasonic Toughbook 53
Added/changed Added 05/2011; (eventually) replaces CF-52, updated 05/2013
Type Semi-rugged notebook computer
Processor Intel Core i5-3320M
Processor speed 2.6GHz (3.3GHz turbo)
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (32 or 64-bit)
Chipset Intel QM77
Graphics Integrated Intel HD Graphics
Standard/Max RAM 4GB to 16GB DDR3L 1,333MHz
Disk/drive Shock-mounted flex-connect 320GB 5400rpm or 500GB 7200rpm HDD with optional hard drive heater; optional 128/256/512GB SSD
Card slots 1 PC Card Type II, 1 ExpressCard 54, 1 SDXC Card
Media Bay DVD Multi-Drive witl dual layer support
Display type Transmissive LCD with LED backlight
Display size/res 14.0" 1,366 x 768 pixel
Digitizer/pens Optional touch screen with CircuLumin (anti-glare, anti-reflective, circular polarizer) 2-850nits
Keyboard/scale Integrated 87-key, 100%-scale, optional backlit emissive keyboard backlight
Housing Magnesium alloy
Operating Temp MIL-STD-810G tested
Altitude MIL-STD-810G tested (15,000 feet)
Vibration MIL-STD-810G tested
Humidity MIL-STD-810G tested
Sealing Spill-resistant keyboard and touchpad
Shock 3-foot drops
Size (WxHxD) 13.4 x 11.1 x 1.8/2.2 inches
Weight 5.6 to 6.5 pounds
Power 10.8V 6,750mAH battery ("up to 11 hours") or 10.8V 4,500mAH battery ("up to 7 hours")
Interface 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, VGA, HDMI, RS232, Gigabit RJ45, docking, audio in/out; optional 2nd 10/100 LAN or FireWire or modem or dual antenna pass-through; optional fingerprint reader
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR; optional GOBI 2000 mobile broadband, optional LTE 4G mobile broadband
List price $1,599 (Core i3), $1,899 (Core i5), $2,549 (Core i5 touch + CircuLumin)
Website Panasonic
Product page Toughbook 53
Brochure Toughbook 53
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