If you've ever laid your hands on ruggedised laptops before, you'll have noticed that they possess a certain bricklike quality, combined with a tiny screen size that makes using one as a permanent part of your office on the road a daunting prospect. As a lightweight Toughbook, the CF-W7 comes as a breath of fresh air.
It's definitely not going to win any fashion competitions, but this little gadget has an aesthetic appeal remniniscent of lego or meccano. From the ridged lid to the round trackpad, it looks more child's toy than road warrior's essential, but don't let the unassuming looks fool you. The build quality in general is excellent; it feels plasticky, but is incredibly resilient.
Thanks to those bulky ridges, the lid withstands a good deal of force and protects the screen beneath. The hinges also act as bumper bars to help protect against bumps and knocks, as do the laptop's feet. It's a testament to the careful construction that no edge is without some kind of protective aspect.
The deep screws on the bottom of the chassis also hint at how much protective bulk is around the motherboard and other components. Make no mistake: this is a laptop designed to survive some serious knocks.
The screen has a good deal of flex, but there's no warping or distortion, and it copes admirably with our torture testing. The 12.1in 1024x768 panel has no glass, opting instead for a matt LCD with 4:3 aspect ratio that looks a little old fashioned in these days of predominantly widescreen laptops. The colours appear muted, but it's crisp and clear enough for several hours of work without strain.
The included processor, a 1.2GHz Intel U7600, is designed for long battery life, rather than for power. It includes additional speed-step states that ramp down the amount of power the processor uses (and provides) depending on the needs of the system at any given time.
Even with such an apparently low spec - even Netbooks now have 1.6GHz processors - the dual core processor helps boost performance above minimum. Combined with 2GB of RAM, it reached an overall score in our performance benchmarks of 0.59, making the CF-W7 more than adequate for productivity applications.
Our Online Editor, William Maher, used our review model as his constant companion during CES, where he used it to blog, email, upload stories to www.pcauthority.com.au, write up stories and more, and we had to prise it out of his hands to finally put together this review.
Where the U7600 comes into its own - and the reason for Will's reluctance to part with it - is the incredible battery life. Two hours and 53 minutes may not sound astounding, but our intensive Heavy Use battery life test uses every last scrap of power to push the laptop to its limits.
On our light use battery test, the value of the low voltage processor becomes apparent - six hours and 47 minutes is excellent. In practice, Will found that he regularly got five hours out of the CF-W7. Add in an extensive set of power management controls, allowing you to alter the maximum processor state, video display parameters and refresh rate to improve battery life, and you get get more life yet.
The distinctive round trackpad is functional, rather than exceptional, but the keyboard is a little vertically cramped to allow all that space beneath it. This doesn't impede the keyboard functionality significantly, and the slightly gritty texture to the keys ensures that typing is both comfortable and efficient.
You won't find any webcam here, but the CF-W7 does include an SD card reader that also reads SDHC, as well as PC card slot, VGA, 3 USB ports and modem plus LAN. A DVD writer is cleverly tucked next to the trackpad - a switch at the front turns the drive on or off to help conserve battery life further. It's the first time we've seen this sort of pop-up drive, but there's no doubting its usefulness on an ultralight laptop.
Given the $3245 price tag, we'd like perhaps a little more style, but given the overall functionality, 1.29kg weight and excellent battery life, the CF-W7 looks like a very good deal indeed.