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For Road Warriors, Lightening Strikes Again

These four very portable computers make terrific traveling companions.

Of course, unruly shareholder meetings aside, corporate executives generally don’t list “ballistic protection” as a laptop must-have. To meet more mainstream needs, Panasonic has extended its Toughbook line into what it calls “business rugged.” The CF-W5 sits at the top of that line. The machine is not as durable as a fully ruggedized notebook, but it does feature a magnesium alloy case and shock-mounted hard drive.

The Toughbook isn’t all about the tough, however. While this semiruggedized portable is nearly twice as thick as the other models in this roundup, it still weighs in at right around three pounds. That’s impressive engineering, considering the machine boasts a bright 12.1-inch screen and integrated optical drive. Despite its girth, the Toughbook is fairly stylish, with a rippled silver pattern and chrome-ringed, circular touchpad. The machine also comes with an auto-sensing adapter, meaning it works with either 110-volt or 220-volt power supplies. Executives who fly regularly to Europe or Asia will surely appreciate that.

Like most ultralights, the CF-W5 boasts extended battery life, thanks in part to its low-voltage processor. How many hours qualifies as “extended”? Panasonic claims the machine will run for eight hours on a single charge. We claim to be former underwear models. Neither claim bears close scrutiny. But the Toughbook did run six hours on one battery charge. For those of us stuck with notebooks whose batteries start to trickle down before the XP start window has finished loading, six hours of uninterrupted power sounds pretty good.

On the Bright Side

For Sony, 2006 was not what you’d call a banner year. The company’s much-trumpeted Playstation 3 was badly upstaged by Nintendo’s remarkable (and addicting) Wii. Worse, the company took a PR and financial beating when it was forced to recall millions of lithium-ion batteries used in its own laptops and in models made by many other companies. James Bond may have need of an exploding laptop, but few business users do.

Given those events, Sony management must be thanking its lucky stars for its Vaio line of notebook computers, which has set high standards for both design and engineering. The TXN15P/B, in particular, stands out as a near-perfect blend of power, efficiency, and portability.

How portable? You could put two TXs in your briefcase and it would probably still weigh less than that clunker you’re carrying around now. The Vaio is the lightest portable in our roundup — which is saying something. And at an inch thick, it’s also the sleekest. Sony accomplishes this neat trick by, among other things, encasing the display in a carbon fiber lid, thus reducing overall thickness while maintaining rigidity. Granted, we thought the lid seemed a wee bit bendy, but it’s certainly sturdy enough. (We have heard some complaints, though, that when the lid is closed it can squish down on the keyboard, scratching the screen.)

Some reviewers have also criticized the notebook’s undersized keyboard. They have a point: the keys on the Vaio measure 17 millimeters, while keys on a standard keyboard are 19 millimeters. Still, we had no complaints about the keyboard. Change requires adjustment: when touchpads were first rolled out as a substitute for mice, we saw them as the greatest threat to Western civilization since twist-ties. Now we get all bent out of shape when a notebook doesn’t have one.


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