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Panasonic Toughbook 54

Panasonic's semi-rugged business notebook for mobile professionals gets an overhaul and emerges lighter, thinner and entirely state-of-the-art
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

On February 13, 2014, Panasonic introduced the Toughbook 54, a semi-rugged notebook that emphasizes light weight and a slim profile while providing high performance with a 5th generation Intel Core i5 processors as well as very good battery life (up to 18 hours with two batteries). The new Toughbook is designed to a highly portable tool for mobile professionals who need durability, power and feature sets beyond what a standard consumer laptop can offer.

The Toughbook 54 is the successor to a whole series of prior semi-rugged Toughbooks — starting with the venerable Toughbook 51, then the 52 and 53 — all meant to provide lighter and more affordable alternatives to Panasonic's big and heavy fully rugged models while still offering robust construction and durability. Over the years, the Toughbook 5x Series has gone this way and that, responding to consumer demand for ultra-high resolution and other display options, early conversion to wide-format displays, focus on high performance, etc.

With the new Toughbook 54, Panasonic resolutely placed the emphasis on paring down excess weight and giving its semi-rugged a sleek and slender new profile. That's because it may be okay for rugged industrial gear to be on the bulky side, but smartphone and tablet toting mobile professionals want it thin and light these days. So — drum roll please — the new 14-inch Toughbook 54 weighs less than a 13-inch Macbook Pro. We're talking just 4.2 pounds, down a full 25% compared to the starting weight of the Toughbook 53. And yet, the new model remains a Toughbook through and through, magnesium alloy construction with integrated carry handle and all.

How did Panasonic pull this weight loss regimen off? A look into the engine department provides a clue. While Panasonic skipped two generations of Intel Core CPUs, moving from 3rd gen "Ivy Bridge" to 5th gen "Broadwell" processing, the Core i5-5300U chip used in the Toughbook 54 is of the ultra-low voltage 15 watt Thermal Design Power variety whereas the Toughbook 53 used standard voltage 35 watt TDP chips. That means the new Toughbook 54 draws much less power and generates much less heat. Which means it can do with less cooling and less battery. And that makes for less weight and a slimmer profile. There.

Will this have an impact on performance? Possibly a little, but we don't have benchmark figures yet. The i5-3320M in the Toughbook 53 ran at 2.6GHz, with turbo boost up to 3.3GHz. The i5-5300U runs at 2.3GHz and maxes out at 2.9GHz. Despite the smaller available batteries (34.8 and 46.6 watt-hours vs 48.6 and 72.9 watt-hours), compared to the 53, the 54's expected battery life is actually better with the small battery, and the same with the larger battery. Add to that Broadwell's two-generation advances in performance (and especially in graphics), and the new model may well hold its own in speed.

In order to meet the wide variety of customer requirements, Panasonic offers the new Toughbook 54 in four different models — Lite, Prime, Gloved Multi Touch, and Performance. Here are the primary differences between the four models:

Toughbook 54 Model Lite Prime Gloved Performance
Std/Max RAM 4-16GB 4-16GB 4-16GB 8-16GB
Display resolution 1366 x 768 1366 x 768 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Direct bonded IPS No No Yes Yes
Discrete Graphics No No No Yes
Touch No No Yes No
1,000 nit luminance No No Yes No
Weight 4.2 lbs. 4.4 lbs. 4.4 lbs. 4.6 lbs.
Std. HD speed 5400rpm 7200rpm 7200rpm 7200rpm
Opt. 2nd drive No Yes Yes Yes
Battery 34.8 whr 46.6 whr 46.6 whr 46.6 whr
Battery life 8 hrs. 11 hrs. 11 hrs. 11 hrs.
Optional Core i7 no yes yes yes
True RS232 port No Yes Yes Yes
Dual fan No No No Yes
Opt. web camera No Yes Yes Yes
Height 1.2" 1.2" 1.2" 1.4"

In addition to the four different models, customers may also specify 128 or 256GB solid state disks, or a large 1TB hard drive. The unit's media bay can accommodate a DVD Super Multi Drive, a second battery, or a PC Card slot. And customers may opt for either dedicated u-blox GPS or a 4th USB port or a rugged Fischer USB connector ora 2nd RJ45 LAN port.

Even standard I/O is generous, consisting of three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, RJ45 LAN, docking, audio in/out, a true RS232 serial DB9 connector (except on the Lite version), and a SDXC Card slot of the UHS-II variety, meaning it has an Ultra High Speed (UHS) bus with a theoretical data transfer rate up to 156 MB/s.

Below you can see what the backside and the right of the laptop look like, with protective doors open:

On the wireless front, there is 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and Intel Wireless Display capability. Optional gear includes integrated 4G LTE multi carrier mobile broadband with satellite GPS, dedicated u-blox GPS, contactless SmartCard/NFC reader, and a high-gain antenna pass-through.

As a semi-rugged machine, the Panasonic 54 has a spill and dust-resistant case, keyboard, touchpad and screen. 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 ruggedness specifics other than stating the machine can survive 3 foot drops. That is very respectable for such a light machine, and significantly better than your garden-variety consumer laptop.

As for pricing, a base Toughbook 54 starts at US$1,499, with higher-end and specially equipped models going for considerably more. That is reasonable. Panasonic's customers for this class of machine — mobile workers in markets such as video production, insurance, utilities, construction, field service, public safety and government — will certainly take note of this lighter, fashionably slender, and remarkably competent Toughbook. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, Feb. 2015

Specs Panasonic Toughbook 54
Added/changed Added 02/2015
Type Semi-rugged notebook computer
Processor Intel Core i5-5300U
Processor speed 2.3GHz (2.9GHz turbo)
OS Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro or Windows 7 Professional
Chipset Integrated
Graphics Integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500; additional AMD FirePro M5100 in Performance model
Standard/Max RAM 4GB to 16GB DDR3L 1,600MHz
Disk/drive Shock-mounted flex-connect 500GB 5400rpm or 7200rpm HDD; optional 128GB or 256GB SSD, hard drive heater, 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Card slots 1 x SDXC Card UHS-II, optional PC Card Type II (takes up media bay)
Media Bay DVD drive or 2nd battery or PC Card slot
Display type Transmissive IPS LCD with LED backlight, anti-reflective and anti-glare treatment, direct bonding (FHD displays)
Display size/res 14.0" 1,366 x 768 pixel or 14" 1920 x 1080 pixel or gloved multi-touch 1920 x 1080 (1,000 nits)
Digitizer/pens Optional gloved multi-touch screen with 1,000 nits FHD display
Keyboard/scale Integrated 87-key, 100%-scale, electrostatic touchpad with multi touch support, optional backlit emissive keyboard backlight
Housing Magnesium alloy
Operating Temp MIL-STD-810G tested
Altitude MIL-STD-810G tested
Vibration MIL-STD-810G tested
Humidity MIL-STD-810G tested
Sealing IP5x dust-protected design, spill-resistant keyboard and touchpad
Shock 3-foot drops
Size (WxHxD) 13.6 x 10.7 x 1.2 inches
Weight 4.2 to 4.6 pounds
Power 10.8V 3,220mAH battery ("8 hours") or 11.1V 4,200mAH battery ("11 hours"), optional 11.1V 2,960mAH 2nd battery
Camera Optional 1080p webcam and mic
Interface 3 x USB 3.0, 1 x HDMI, 1 x Gigabit RJ45, docking, audio in/out; optional VGA, optional 1 x RS232, optional USB 2.0 or Rugged Fischer USB or 2nd Gigabit RJ45 or dedicated uBlox GPS
Security Kensington lock slot, TPM 1.2, Computrace in BIOS, optional: fingerprint reader, insertable SmartCard reader, 13.56MHz contactless SmartCard/NFC reader
Wireless Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Class I Bluetooth v4.0 + EDR, optional: 4G LTE w/ AGPS, dedicated u-blox NEO M8N, high-gain antenna
List price Starting around US$1,499
Website Panasonic
Product page Toughbook 54
Brochure Toughbook 54
Warranty 3-year limited warranty, parts and labor
Panasonic Toughbook 54