Panasonic has updated its Toughbook 31 ruggedized laptop, giving it a faster processor, four times the standard memory of the model it replaces and a standard SSD storage drive for the first time.
The new Toughbook 31, which was unveiled by the company this week, now features an Intel Core i5-7300U processor, which is an upgrade from its former Intel Core i5-5300U 2.3GHz processor, as well as 16GB of DDR4 memory, which is a big increase from the standard 4GB of memory that was included in the previous version. The new model also now includes a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) as standard equipment, replacing the previous 500GB hard drive that was in the earlier model. Options on the new version include 32GB of memory and a 512GB SSD.
The new processor promises performance boosts of up to 19 percent and graphics performance increases up to 42 percent, according to Panasonic. Buyers can also choose to move up to an optional Intel Core i7 CPU for even faster performance.
Aimed at mobile workers in the federal, public sector and utility marketplaces, the Toughbook 31 is built to survive tough indoor and outdoor working environments and can withstand water, dirt, vibration, drops, humidity and more. Starting at $3,699, the device will be available in the U.S. starting in December.
The machine also gets a faster WiFi chipset and now can be configured with an optional EM7455 LTE-Advanced module for faster LTE speeds and an optional dedicated GPS modem.
The Toughbook 31 features a 13.1-inch XGA touch-screen display (1,024-by-768 resolution), an Intel HD Graphics 620 chip and a full magnesium alloy case with a handle, and it runs on the Windows 10 Pro 64-bit operating system. It is MIL-STD-810G certified for durability and can withstand drops from six feet. It also includes IP65 certification and has a sealed all-weather design.
An integrated stylus pen and stylus holder and tether are built-in, as well as a backlit keyboard and a pressure-sensitive touchpad. A second drive bay can be used for an optional DVD Super MULTI Drive or an optional second battery. The machine includes a USB 3.0 port, three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, an HDMI port, a VGA connector, a 10/100/1000 Ethernet RJ-45 port, 3.5mm mini-jack stereo audio port and a serial port. An optional 4G LTE-Advanced multi-carrier mobile broadband modem is also available, which is certified for use with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and Panasonic's P.180 connectivity services.
The Toughbook 31 includes an 8,550mAh Li-Ion battery pack that is hot-swappable and offers an estimated 19.5 hours of use. An estimated 29 hours of use is available when also using the optional second battery. The rugged laptop, which also features TPM v2.0 security capabilities, comes with a three-year limited warranty. It is 11.5 inches wide, 11.9 inches deep and 2.9 inches thick, and weighs 8.6 pounds.
Analysts told eWEEK they appreciate the changes made by Panasonic in this model.
Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said he sees the bump in standard memory to 16GB from the original 4GB as a large improvement in the device, as well as its faster CPU and optional i7 processor availability.
"These systems are used in a wide variety of difficult locations, and they need to have high performance in order to handle anything that is asked of them—from rendering video to processing seismic data, for example," said Olds. "This Toughbook has the specs to handle very demanding computational tasks."
Another analyst, Avi Greengart of GlobalData, said while the upgraded processor is to be expected, he is happy to see Panasonic improve the connectivity capabilities and options for users of the device. "Where the Toughbook is setting itself apart is with improved connectivity—both WiFi and cellular—and with local service guarantees," he said. "It is still a bulky and expensive proposition, but that's par for the ruggedized course."
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told eWEEK that he is surprised that Panasonic didn't use the fastest available processors in the revamped model as standard equipment, but noted that those choices were likely made to keep the price from rising. In contrast, competitors like Dell are using faster CPUs in their rugged laptops, he said.
"I expect the component decisions were mainly related to affordability," said King. "After all, we're talking about specialty laptops with starting prices north of $3,500, so it's not like you're going to grab one on a whim at Best Buy. But Panasonic's idea of processing upgrade—a year-old CPU with a healthy dose of memory—focuses more on price than leading-edge performance."