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BITS & BYTES: Groundbreaking Design, Development and Production

By Staff | Nov 24, 2010

Every once in a while a company releases a truly innovative and groundbreaking product that makes our lives so much easier it can be hard to imagine how we got along without these great products. One specific portable computer easily falls into this category and will change the way you think of portable computing.

One company’s R&D department has successfully removed a compromise that has plagued computer users for years: Do I want speed, expandability, spacious screen, and battery power, or would I prefer, light and thin? Panasonic is one of the only computer companies that conducts their R&D, manufacturing, and end user customer service entirely in-house.

Having this convergence of both support and R&D has allowed Panasonic’s R&D to see exactly what users want and need in a portable computer: the result is the F9 “Toughbook” which combines superior features, dependability, expandability, performance, spacious screen, and desktop size keyboard with the characteristics of an ultra lightweight, thin, easy to carry laptop computer. The F9 is possibly the first fully no-compromise portable computer ever released.

From the first micro-second you hold the F9, there is no question that this is not your normal laptop computer. At only three pounds it is hard to imagine that the F9 is rugged enough to be dropped on a concrete floor, is spill resistant, and can withstand even the hottest summer days in a hot, steamy car without the mildest concern. Carrying the F9 is a cinch due to the retractable handle built directly into the chassis. To provide this incredible drop resistance without increasing the weight, Panasonic crafted the entire chassis out of magnesium. Almost $1,000 of magnesium is used for this computer.

Opening the glossy silver lid reveals a spacious 14″ display that extends so far to the edge of the computer there almost no bezel; this is truly a computer with no wasted space. The custom keyboard, with desktop size keys, provides the most comfortable typing experience, rivaling other laptops and other desktop keyboards as well.

It is obvious the design and development team for the F9 was genuinely excited about developing the most advanced and comfortable laptop. The DVD Multi-Drive is is a perfect example. Since one of the goals of the F9 is to minimize the footprint, a DVD tray simply would not be acceptable. The normal alternative would be a slot load drive (which Panasonic manufactures), but that would not be acceptable, since slot load drives do not support mini DVDs and CDs.

To provide users access to all CDs and DVDs without having to use the antiquated DVD tray, the F9’s inner circuitry was further compressed to make room for a fully integrated DVD drive directly under the keyboard. Touching a silver button on the front of the F9 activates an electronic release that gently lifts the palm rest, revealing the amazing integrated DVD-Multi drive: perfect functionality without increasing the footprint of the computer, which is great for general use and tight environments, like an airplane.

Of all of the F9’s physical characteristics, one of the most stunning is also possibly the most discrete. Turning the F9 upside down reveals a small hole. This hole is the outlet for an inner gutter system. The F9 development team was faced with a challenge: develop a computer that can resist a spill, but doesn’t effect the comfort of the keyboard. The newly designed custom keyboard is resistant to damage from liquid, has the same feel as other keyboards and does not require the use of rubber keys. With the keyboard protected, that leaves the question of what to do with that spilled liquid that is now sitting in your computer. The solution involved two steps.

A solid cover was placed directly between the F9’s sensitive circuits and the keyboard / touchpad. This serves to protect the circuits from something falling on or near the keyboard and to direct a spill to the second part of the equation: a meticulously designed gutter system that channels liquid away from sensitive areas and neatly out the bottom of the computer.

The performance and technology characteristics have received just as much attention as the perfectly crafted physical characteristics. The F9 features an incredibly vibrant matte finish, anti-reflective display that provides both a color range that will be pleasing to even the most demanding artists and contrast and clarity that easily enables hours of comfortable document viewing. In addition, the display provides easy readability in most outdoor environments due to a combination of exceptional brightness and reflective characteristics.

Optionally, this computer can feature the latest GNU/Linux operating system that, unlike Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X, provides an environment free of malware and most other complexities such as device drivers, etc. The GNU/Linux F9 we tested was able to automatically configure itself to work with most cameras, printers, and other peripherals we connected simply by plugging them in; no driver disks or other software was needed.

In addition, Panasonic has fitted the F9 with the latest Intel VT-x features allowing you to continue to run programs made for other operating systems such as those mentioned earlier.

The Panasonic Toughbook F9 far exceeds expectations. It is a fully no-compromise computer for those who desire performance, expandability, easiest-to-read display, light-weight, dependability, spacious keyboard, GNU/Linux compatibility, effortless user friendliness, and exceptional craftsmanship. This is groundbreaking design, development and production. It will be interesting to see what this sparks in the rest of the industry. This is an exciting time.

(Bits & Bytes is a computer troubleshooting advice column provided by Zebis, a single point of contact managed service provider located on Sanibel serving clients worldwide.)