Linuxgruven > Hardware > Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y5

Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y5

2008.09

At the moment, I'm laptop rich.  The HP 2133 makes a great main machine for me, but truth be told, it has been a bit slow.  While out looking for a laptop for a family member, I happened across a Panasonic Toughbook Y5 at the local BestBuy.  Normally priced at $1999, this floor-model had been reduced to $1299.  I've always been interested in the Toughbooks.  I figured that if I didn't jump at this, I'd never own one.  So, I went for it.

While the Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y5 has been available in Japan since 2006, it was considered a current model in North America until Panasonic very recently released the updated Y7.  The short version is that this is the nicest laptop I've ever used.  It is incredibly lightweight, very well spec'd, quite fast and has a stellar battery.  I'm not exaggerating here.  This machine, despite being full-sized with a 1400x1050 display, weighs a diminutive 3 pounds, has a 5+ hour battery, a dual-core CPU and a fabulous keyboard.  In fact, the only real disappointment with this machine is that it doesn't have a Transflective screen.  Given that Panasonic claims that this model is "Ideal for indoor and outdoor activities alike" this was a real letdown.

Hardware

At the heart of the Y5 is an Intel Core Duo L2400 ULV CPU running at 1.66GHz.  This means that it is an ultra-low-voltage 32bit-only CPU.  The ULV CPUs run a bit slower than their standard versions but use dramatically less battery, and create dramatically less heat.  This translates to more than five hours of battery and whisper quiet operation on the Y5 even under normal use with wifi and mid-level screen brightness.  The ULV CPU also contributes heavily to this being a quiet machine.  While not completely silent, like the SSD-based Asus EeePC, the Y5 is the quietest standard laptop that I've ever used.

As mentioned, the screen is a 1400x1050 14" display.  It is driven by an integrated Intel GPU.  This takes memory from system RAM.  As the Y5 comes standard with only 1GB and is pre-loaded with Vista Basic, you'll likely want to bump the RAM up to 2GB ASAP.  Having said this, while the Y5 was briefly running Vista, it seemed to perform admirably with such a paltry amount of RAM.  While on the topic of RAM, watch out:  The Y5 uses a Micro-DIMM, not the standard SO-DIMM.  I bought a second 1GB stick for $45CDN.  It's pricier than standard SO-DIMMs, but it's still cheap enough.

The keyboard is stellar, though I have a hard time deciding why.  It doesn't look like much, but the action on the keys is fantastic.  It's actually enjoyable to be on a good tear typing.  I can't really explain it, but this keyboard just makes me want to type more.  The keyboard could use a bit more of a slant to make it perfect, so find something small to prop up the back.  My accuracy on this keyboard is also better than average.  The travel is fantastic.  My biggest complaint is a lack of lighting.  MacBook Pro keys are backlit, ThinkPads have the light, the Y5 has neither.  At least it's black on light grey.  You don't need too much light.  At the very least, if you know you'll be in low-light conditions, you could use one of those little USB LED lights.

The Y5 uses older 2.5" IDE laptop drives.  The included drive is only 60GB but 200+GB drives can be had quite inexpensively these days.  One thing to note is that the included Toshiba drive is incredibly quiet.  I bought a 160GB Seagate as a replacement and took it back because it made the system noticeably louder (A good indicator as to how quiet this PC is.)

For ports and expansion, it's pretty standard fare.  The Y5 has 2 USB 2.0 ports, integrated Intel Wifi and Bluetooth, a PCMCIA slot, modem, Ethernet, and SD slot, VGA, headphone, Mic and an "EXT." slot that looks like it's for a proprietary Panasonic dock or something similar.  Of course, the Y5 has an integrated DVD-RW drive and also sports Panasonic's trademark circular touchpad with two mouse buttons.  Scrolling along the perimeter of the circular trackpad seems far more natural than trying to find the right-hand-side scrolling portion of most modern trackpads.

Software

The Y5 I bought came standard with Windows Vista Basic and that's about it.  Yeah.  I really don't like Vista, so that didn't last very long.  I did play with it for a day or two to make sure it worked well.  It did.  Even with only 1GB of RAM I found it to run Vista better than my old ThinkPad T60.  I don't know why, but it never ran Vista well. It also came with recovery DVDs, a rarity these days.  Anyway, the Y5 is all better now because I have replaced the Windows install with Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04.1.

Because it is a Core Duo, I had to stick with a 32bit version of the OS, which is fine by me, as I have no need of a 64bit OS.  Ubuntu 8.04.1 runs perfectly on this machine.  It sleeps, it resumes, it gets at least 4:30 on the battery, averaging closer to 5:30 under my normal use.  All keys apart from the sleep key do as they are supposed to.  I'm sure I could map the sleep key too, but I really don't care that much.

While the Y5 may not have been able to handle Vista's Aero, brief testing with Compiz was a total success.  Having said this, I've turned it off because I'm not a big fan of eye-candy.

VMWare runs very well on this now Ubuntu-only machine.  It's a little slower than I'd hoped for compared to my MacBook, but it doesn't overheat and lockup the machine like it does on my HP 2133 (which I'm keeping because of the size.)

All of my other software tasks find the Toughbook more than up to the job, not surprising given that it is a 1.6GHz Core Duo CPU.


It's a Toughbook!

Sure, the hardware specs are decent and it runs Vista and Ubuntu well, but it's a toughbook!

Yes, this means that you can pour water directly on the keyboard and watch it drip harmlessly away.  This means that you can put it in a room with a monkey, yes this is cool, yes this is partly why I wanted to buy this machine.

The Toughbooks are legendary for their durability.  There are several levels of Toughness, though.  The W & Y Toughbooks, like my Y5 are "business rugged" or "semi-rugged."  So, while they still stand up to far more abuse than your typical laptop, these aren't the military-grade ones that you can literally throw around.  Of course, the fully ruggedized models are far more expensive and far thicker and heavier.  These "business rugged" machines find a very nice balance.

Just in case you're a little hard on your Toughbook, the Y5 comes with a standard three year warranty.  The only problem I can see with this is that there's no local depot here in Kingston, so the laptop would have to go to Toronto.  Still, it's better than normal these days.

It also turns out that the Toughbooks specifically and Panasonic in general are very green.  That is to say that insofar as one can buy an environmentally friendly laptop, the Toughbook likely takes the cake.  It's also rare these days to find a laptop that is made in Japan.  These are difficult qualities to quantify, but a Japanese laptop from a company that is globally committed to green initiatives is certainly an unexpected bonus.

Toughbooks aren't cheap.  Even this one, on heavy discount, was almost three times as expensive as a 14" Dell with 3GB of RAM and a larger hard drive that  I bought for a neighbour just last week.  Having said this, that doesn't mean that the Toughbook is overpriced.  You get top-notch (some might say over-the-top) build-quality, a spectacular keyboard, great screen, very light-weight and an all-day battery for the money.  All from a company working hard to move production to an environmentally sustainable model.


Summary

This is a fantastic, fantastic machine.  After using it for several weeks now, I am terribly impressed, completely spoiled, and will have a very difficult time using any lesser full-size laptop.  This is bar-none the best full-sized laptop I've ever used.  Until this machine, I have been running mostly with ThinkPads and Apple laptops.  The Toughbook seems to offer an even better build quality than the ThinkPads and the battery life is better than twice the average for the T61s I've configured.

For me, twice the battery and half the weight along with a standard three year warranty make it a better bet than ThinkPads for business users.

Pros:

- Great battery life
- Great screen resolution
- Quite fast (even with Vista and 1GB of RAM)
- Super light weight for size
- Dual core (with VT)
- Runs VMWare well (thanks to VT)
- Optical drive (DVD+-RW)
- Full size
- Very tough
- Very cool (Literally and figuratively)
- Three year warranty
- Works perfectly with Linux
- Has Bluetooth
- Extremely Quiet

Cons:

- Not a transflective screen
- Expensive ($1999 list, paid $1299)
- Not a Core 2 CPU, so 32bit only (Is this a con yet?)
- Not the fastest machine out there, especially for the money
- Only 1GB RAM, only expandable to 2GB, non-standard RAM
- Only a 60GB IDE drive included. 
- Doesn't have backlit keyboard or ThinkPad light
- Having used one, I'm very spoiled now and am even thumbing my nose at MacBook Pros

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