Panasonic Toughbook CF-54, First Take: A semi-rugged laptop for field-service pros

Not everyone needs all of the protective features offered by a fully rugged laptop, but there are some situations where a greater degree of protection than is found on a standard laptop is welcome. According to Panasonic, field service engineers specialising in indoor maintenance and repairs is one use case.

Panasonic's semi-rugged Toughbook CF-54, newly equipped with a 7th-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel Core i5 processor, replaces the Toughbook CF-53, which we reviewed way back in October 2011.

There are three models on offer that share a range of core specifications, with some variation including around storage, RAM and the 14-inch screen:

Entry Model

Intel Core i5-7300U vPro processor, Windows 10 Professional, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, 14-inch 1,366 x 768 pixel non-touch screen

Mid Model

Intel Core i5-7300U vPro processor, Windows 10 Professional, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 non-touch screen

Premium Model

Intel Core i5-7300U vPro processor, Windows 10 Professional, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen

pana-tb-cf54-main.jpgThe 14-inch Toughbook CF-54 runs on a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and weighs 1.9kg, although this will rise if you customise the system with optional add-ons. Images: Panasonic
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The Toughbook CF-54 officially becomes available in August, and at the time of writing Panasonic had not finalised pricing. However, I found the Mid Model online at a starting price of £1,389 (ex. VAT).

Its semi-rugged status makes the Toughbook CF-54 quite sizeable (345mm wide by 272mm deep by 29.8mm thick) and heavy, with a starting weight of 1.9kg -- which will rise as customisations are added to the two flexible configuration areas. One of these is a bay that can accommodate a second battery, a smartcard reader or a PC Card instead of the standard DVD drive. The other is a configurable port that can be used for a second RJ-45 LAN port, d-GPS, or an additional USB port.

You can also add 4G LTE to the standard configuration, select different hard drive/SSD capacities and upgrade the RAM to a maximum of 32GB. The standard ports and connectors are three USB 3.0, HDMI, RJ-45 LAN, 9-pin D-Sub (True Serial) and VGA ports, plus an SD card slot. These sit in small groupings under hinged covers that protect them from damage by dust and liquids (although we could not find a formal IP rating among the specifications).

pana-tb-cf54-ports.jpgThe CF-54's ports and slots are protected by hinged covers. Image: Panasonic

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-54 benefits from a magnesium chassis, with magnesium plating used on all four of its sides. The lid and base sections are kept tight shut with a sizeable clasp to help the laptop stay shut during the rigours of transportation in tough environments. The lid section has the characteristic Panasonic Toughbook silver styling and sports a honeycomb effect that provides good protection from knocks. Panasonic says the Toughbook CF-54 will survive drops of up to 76cm (which is equivalent to the height of an average desk).

The keyboard and (relatively small) touchpad are both spill resistant, while Panasonic's characteristic carry handle is solid and easy to grip, and tucks away neatly when not in use.

pana-tb-cf54-field.jpg Image: Panasonic

Panasonic says battery life is up to ten hours. If the configurable bay is used to house a second battery, claimed longevity rises to 17 hours. Hot-swap capability means you can slot in a new battery without closing the Toughbook CF-54 down.

Lighter and more compact than the Toughbook CF-53, Panasonic's new semi-rugged CF-54 offers a solid, up-to-date choice for professionals requiring a well-protected laptop for moderately challenging field service work.

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