Panasonic plans new Toughbook PCs, expects big growth

Panasonic will release a range of tougher Toughbook PCs in October and November. They should still work after a fall of 76 centimeters, the company said.

Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) is refreshing its Toughbook rugged laptop PC line and aiming for a big jump in international sales of the computers over the next three years.

The company, already a leader in the rugged PC market, aims to ship 7.5 times more rugged PCs outside Japan by 2010 than it did in 2006, said Toshiyuki Takagi, director of the IT product division and Panasonic's AVC Networks division, at a Tokyo news conference. In Europe it is aiming for a ten-fold increase in shipments.

The new 7-series machines, aimed at corporate users, are beefier than the current 5-series machines and can survive a fall from a greater height.

The new models can be dropped from 76 centimeters -- the height of an average desk -- while switched on and still work, according to Panasonic. Its current Toughbook models for the corporate PC market are rated for a 30 cm drop but only when switched off.

The 76-cm claim was backed up at the news conference as the laptops were dropped numerous times without any problem.

Panasonic also demonstrated a new irrigation system in the keyboard that can funnel water through the machine and out of a drain hole in the base. It can handle up to 200 milliliters of water -- about the amount in a medium-sized glass -- without the PC experiencing any problems.

The four new laptops -- one of which will be available in Japan only -- are based on Intel's Santa Rosa platform, which combines a processor, chipset and wireless adapter. They have double the memory of their predecessors, at 1G byte, and the hard-disk capacity is one-third larger, at 80G bytes, than in the previous models. They all include 802.11 a/b/g wireless LAN but the new 802.11n variant is not supported.

The Japan-only CF-R7 has a 10.4-inch screen with 1,024 pixels by 768 pixels (XGA) resolution but no optical drive. It will be launched on Oct. 19 and will cost about YEN Â205,000 ($US1,780).

The CF-T7 has a 12.1-inch XGA screen and will be launched in Japan on Oct. 19. It will cost YEN Â220,000.

The CF-W7 adds a DVD Super-multi drive to the mix and will go on sale in Japan on Nov. 16 for around YEN Â250,000.

Finally, the high-end CF-Y7 has a 14.1-inch screen with 1,400 pixels by 1,050 pixels (SXGA) resolution and the DVD Super-multi drive. It will launch on Oct. 19 and will cost about YEN Â270,000.

The CF-T7, CF-W7 and CF-Y7 will be launched in Europe on Nov. 27. The CF-W7 will cost YEN Â1,950 $US2,760), the CF-T7 will have a YEN Â2,100 price tag and the CF-Y7 will be YEN Â2,170.

North American and Asian prices are yet to be announced. Launch dates will be around the same time as those in Europe.

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