They’ve appeared in Hollywood dramas, alongside hospital beds, and in some of the world’s darkest corners. It’s the kind of machine that you prefer to appreciate from afar, because those assigned one probably don’t have the cushiest of day jobs. The Panasonic Toughbook is a mighty cadre of a laptop series that has held its own for nearly 20 years. Since 1997, the Toughbook has been the name in rugged computing — and while competitors have come and gone, there’s been no name more closely linked with the thought of an industrial-grade workhorse.
In many ways, the Toughbook doesn’t get the praise it deserves. It’s far from being a mainstream machine, with its $1,000+ price tag, hefty exterior and spartan design quality. But for military operations, scientists that operate in the field and doctors who can ill-afford to lose data by way of a fragile computer taking a tumble, it’s a necessity. These computers are engineered to chug along even when all hell is breaking loose. They’re designed to be thrown, smashed, ran over, doused in hot liquid and operated in extreme heat or cold. Essentially, they’re built specifically to compute where other computers cannot.
These computers are engineered to chug along even when all hell is breaking loose.
Not to go full-nerd, but most of what makes the Toughbook worth the coin that Panasonic charges is in the finer specs. The Toughbook 31, for example, offers up the latest Intel Core processor, up to 16GB of RAM, a sunlight-readable display, and an SD card reader — typical stuff. But it also boasts MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certification, which, in lay terms, means its magnesium alloy exterior is engineered to survive a six foot drop onto concrete, rain, dust, sandstorms, and humidity. It may well be the only laptop on earth explicitly designed to resist “temperature shock” and “explosive atmospheres“. The inbuilt hard drive heater enables it to operate even in sub-zero scenarios, and the drive itself has a “quick release” in the event that you need to eject your data and let the rest of the computer meet its maker.
The Toughbook also stands as a beacon of hope for those pursuing products that simply address a specific niche instead of the masses. Since 1997, Panasonic’s name has shrunk. Rivals like Apple and Samsung and Vizio have all risen in prominence, while Panasonic feels more like a relic of yesteryear. But its insistence on making the best-possible rugged computer has enabled the Toughbook line to thrive.
We may never have reason to own a Toughbook, but we celebrate it nonetheless. It’s a shining example of serving a narrow audience, but doing so exceptionally well, in order to create a sustainable business. In an era where the most publicized ideas and companies are out to gain favor with as many people as possible, it’s refreshing to see a company stay focused on the core group it intended to serve from the outset.