My first introduction to the rugged laptop was years ago when a Rogers technician came by my condo to fix my internet. He was carrying a rather beat-up device that looked like it was made from solid metal. The technician told me it was a refurbished military-issue laptop. It could handle a drop from high heights and could survive in harsh environments, such as sandstorms in the desert. It could also be used as a shield during wartime as the chassis was supposedly thick enough to stop a bullet. Whether it would continue to work after that is unclear, as he never pulled a gun on the laptop.
I am reminded of this as I test the Panasonic Toughbook 55 — a new laptop marketed specifically to industries, such as telecommunications, manufacturing and law enforcement. Classified as a semi-rugged laptop, the 14-inch Toughbook 55 likely won’t stop any gunfire and is intended for use in the back office of a police station and by detectives in their cars rather than cops on the street.
That being said, with its magnesium alloy case, the Toughbook 55 is quite hardy. The 27.2 cm x 34.5 cm x 3.3 cm laptop is both IP53 and MIL-STD-810H certified, meaning it can withstand a number of different environmental conditions, such as dust, sand, humidity and extreme temperatures. It can supposedly survive a 0.9-metre drop. I did not test that out for myself.
Obviously, this sturdiness adds weight to the device and so it is a little heavier than your average 14-inch laptop – but it’s hardly onerous. The model I tested weighed around 2.1 kg so it was still reasonably portable. The laptop also comes with a retractable handle so you can carry it around like a briefcase.
But what really sets the Toughbook 55 apart from other laptops is its modularity. Not only can you choose between configurations, such as picking between a Core i5 or Core i7 processor or whether the display is a touchscreen or not, you can upgrade the device. The Toughbook 55 features three bays that allow you to easily swap in specially designed expansion packs, featuring a variety of different types of hardware.
For example, the laptop does not come with an optical drive but the universal bay expansion area on the left side allows you to add a Blu-ray or DVD drive expansion pack. Alternatively, you could add a second solid-state drive for storage or a dedicated graphics card pack into this slot.
The front expansion bay on the right side of the laptop allows you to add such things as a second battery or a smartcard or fingerprint reader.
The rear expansion area, which you access from the bottom of the Toughbook 55, lets you add additional I/O port packs. This allows for greater compatibility with the various peripherals you may need to plug into. You can even install I/O packs with VGA and serial ports, in case you need to plug into an old-school monitor or printer.
The first two expansion bays are quick release so you literally just slide the packs into place and out while the rear expansion bay packs are held in place by four screws. But it’s still pretty easy to add an I/O port pack. There’s no wires or anything to connect. Just remove the screws and take the original plate covering the bay off. Then, you snap the expansion pack into place, screw it in and you’re ready to go.
But, of course, while all these features are cool, it all comes down to how well it works on a daily basis. The expansion packs, can obviously make performance vary, depending on which ones you have installed – and you can only have one expansion pack in each of the bays at a given time. So, for example, you can’t have both the graphics card and Blu-ray drive installed.
But even without the expansion packs, the Toughbook 55 is a pretty good device. The test model I was given runs on a 1.6 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-8365U vPro processor and 8 GB of RAM. (A 1.9 GHz Core i7-8665U vPro model is also available.) Programs loaded smoothly and the onboard graphics seem sufficient in most cases – though, obviously it ran better with the graphics card expansion pack.
The non-touchscreen version has a 1,366 x 768-pixel matte display – but it still offers good, clear image. (The touchscreen version is full HD with a 1,000-nit brightness, which basically means it’s really bright.)
And the sound is impeccable. The audio was clear even when the speaker volume climbed to 92 decibels. This volume, is supposedly, loud enough that it can be heard overtop a police siren. Of course, short of getting arrested, I couldn’t really test if that’s true. And even if I was thrown into the back of a squad car, I doubt I’d be able, let alone allowed, to continue using the laptop while handcuffed.
The keyboard is a good size and easy to use. At first glance, the trackpad looks a little small though I didn’t feel cramped using it. It is also removable so if you need to change the keyboard for one of a different language or just because it has become worn out, you can do so yourself. It has three screws at the top. Though, it appears the keyboard is also held in place by an adhesive of sorts. So I wouldn’t pull off the keyboard unless you had a new one to install.
The non-touch Toughbook 55 has a 20-hour battery life (40 with the second battery) and is available with either 512 GB or 1 TB of storage. (Models with a 256 GB drive can be purchased available by special order.) For more information on the Toughbook 55, check out Panasonic’s website.
Windows Pro 64-bit
Panasonic Utilities (including Dashboard), Recovery Partition
Enterprise ready driver packages including CAB files and one-click driver bundles
Dimensions and weight
10.7 inches x 13.6 x 1.3 inches (27.2 cm x 34.5 cm x 3.3 cm)
Non-touch display: 4.6 lbs. (2.1 kg)
Touchscreen display: 4.9 lbs. (2.2 kg)
MIL-STD-810H certified — Can handle 3-foot (0.9 metre) drop, shock, vibration, sand, dust, altitude, freeze/thaw, high/low temperature, high temperature tactical, temperature shock, humidity)
ASTM D1469-14 certified
Magnesium alloy case with handle
14-inch HD (1,366 x 768) or 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) 1,000-nit 10-point capacitive touchscreen
IPS with direct bonding
Anti-reflective and anti-glare screen treatments
Intel Core i5-8365U vPro processor (1.6 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 4.1 GHz, 6 MB cache)
or Intel Core i7-8665U vPro processor (1.9 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 4.8 GHz, 8 MB cache)
Graphics and audio
Intel UHD Graphics 620
Integrated dual speakers (up to 92 db)
Intel High Definition Audio compliant
Memory and storage
8 GB of RAM (expandable to 32 GB)
512 GB or 1 TB M.2 SSD (256 GB SSD available by special order)
Li-Ion battery pack: 10.8 V, typical 6,500 mAh, min. 6,300 mAh
Non-touch model: 20 hours (40 hours with optional second battery)
Touch model: 19 hours (38 hours with optional second battery)
Ports and other features
Docking connector 24-pin
USB-A: 3.1 Gen 1 (x2)
USB-C: 3.1 Gen 1
Audio in/out 3.5 mm mini-jack stereo
Stylus (with touchscreen model)
1,080p webcam with privacy cover and tetra-array microphones (4 mics)
Select expansion pack options
Rear expansion area
VGA + Serial + USB-A xPAK
VGA + Serial + LAN xPAK
VGA + Serial + Rugged Fischer USB xPAK
Front Expansion Area
Fingerprint reader xPAK
Contactless SmartCard reader xPAK
Insertable SmartCard xPAK
Universal bay expansion area
Insertable SmartCard xPAK
Blu-ray drive xPAK
DVD drive PAK
AMD Radeon Pro WX 4150 dedicated graphics xPAK
512 GB SSD second drive xPAK
1 TB SSD second drive xPAK
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