Panasonic Combines Toughbook Features, Intel Atom Processor for Health Care PC

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-11-04

Panasonic Combines Toughbook Features, Intel Atom Processor for Health Care PC

Panasonic is combining the technology it uses for its line of Toughbook notebooks with Intel's Atom processor to offer a new type of notebook specifically designed for hospitals and health care workers.

On Nov. 4, Panasonic debuted Toughbook H1, a rugged notebook for the health care industry. The Toughbook H1 is based on a reference design that Intel first brought to the health care market in 2006 called the MCA (mobile clinical assistant).

Right now, the only other PC vendor that makes this type of MCA notebook is Motion Computing, with its C5, which hit the market in 2007. For now, many hospitals and health care workers simply use standard laptops or tablets with wireless capabilities to help them with their jobs, such as checking patient records or checking inventories.

While the health care industry remains a highly specialized vertical market, it is becoming one where companies like Panasonic and Intel are looking to make additional investments. According to Health Industry Insights, U.S. health care providers will spend about $411 million on PCs and other hardware in 2008, and that number will increase to $605 million by 2011.

Now that Panasonic has joined Motion Computing in this market, Health Industry Insights Research Director Marc Holland said he believes that at least one or two other PC vendors will offer similar notebooks within the next six to 12 months.

"The MCA is a reference architecture that is published and Intel licenses it," Holland said. "I was surprised it took this long for a second competitor to Motion to come to the market."

The benefits for health care and hospital workers are fairly obvious. MCA notebooks such as the Toughbook H1 and the Motion C5 will help nurses and doctors cut down the time it takes to record information about patients by allowing them to bring the machine into the room. Since the Toughbook H1 offers an RFID (radio-frequency identification) reader, the notebooks can also be used to check inventory or patient records.

Panasonic Combines Toughbook Features, Intel Atom Processor for Health Care PC

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The Panasonic Toughbook H1 shows that the company continues to use Intel's Atom processors creatively for vertical markets.

In June, Panasonic began selling the Toughbook CF-U1, which also uses an Atom chip. Unlike the low-cost notebooks called netbooks, which were designed to access the Web and support basic applications, the Panasonic CF-U1 is a rugged mininotebook built for use in vertical markets such as real estate and local government.

The Toughbook H1 has an Intel Atom Z540 processor (1.86GHz), 1GB of RAM, a shock-mounted 80GB hard disk drive and a 10.4-inch dual-touch display, and uses 802.11 a/b/g and draft-n wireless technology. The machine also supports Microsoft Windows Vista with Service Pack 1, and Panasonic allows for the XP downgrade.

The Toughbook H1 is fully rugged, with a magnesium alloy chassis and resistance to water, dust and vibration. Since it uses a low-watt Atom processor, the H1 does not use a fan. In addition, all the buttons are sealed and there are no exposed USB ports, which adds to security and means workers can disinfect the H1 with cleaners.

"The [Intel] MCA reference design did not specify an Atom chip, but using one with the H1 allowed us to offer full Windows capabilities without sacrificing battery life and it also did not require a fan for venting heat out [of] the device," said Kyle Wall, director of product management for Panasonic.

The H1, which weighs about 3.4 pounds, also offers 6 hours of battery life and comes with two hot-swappable batteries.

While Panasonic introduced the Toughbook H1 Nov. 4, the notebook will become available January 2009 at a cost of $2,999.

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