Product Review - The EmperorLinux Wasp CF-19
If you need a battle-ready rugged notebook that runs Linux, the EmperorLinux Wasp CF-19 may be for you.
EmperorLinux and Laptops
If you have a quirky laptop need, a good place to start your search is at EmperorLinux. Unlike other hardware providers, Emperor only does laptops that are preloaded with Linux (or dual-boot with Windows) from a number of manufacturers, including Dell, Lenovo, Panasonic and Sony. Not only does Emperor attempt to cover nearly every niche - including ultraportable, rugged, tablet and desktop replacements - but they also do perhaps the best job of making advanced features like GPS, cellular broadband, tablets and 802.11n Wi-Fi, work out of the box.
In this space, we're reviewing a laptop from Emperor's line of rugged laptops, the Wasp CF-19, which is the Linux edition of the Panasonic ToughBook CF-19. The Wasp, at 10.4", is the smallest of the ToughBooks; the larger 13.3" Tarantula and 15.4" Scarab (love those names, Emperor!) are also available from Emperor but not reviewed here.
The EmperorLinux CF-19 is not only rugged and preloaded with Linux. It also features a tablet working out of the box. The display can also be secured with a tough metal latch.
Features of the Wasp CF-19
Because your company will likely be the one ponying up the $4000 or so you'll pay for this notebook, why not keep reading? The Wasp CF-19, as mentioned above, is EmperorLinux's Linux-based iteration of the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19. Indeed this tough cookie is no ordinary laptop. Built like an M1 Abrams tank (and used by the U.S. military), the rugged Wasp CF-19 was a joy to review because we got to see how much thought and effort Panasonic's engineers put into creatively armoring this computer's exterior. The Wasp CF-19 is the kind of laptop to accompany you on the construction site, surveying job, research expedition or field maneuver. It has been independently tested as MIL-STD-810F (U.S. military standard) compliant, meaning it can withstand punishment such as: a fall of 1 meter, 15,000 feet of altitude and an operating temperature range of -20 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Other tests include vibration (drives are shock-mounted), dust, humidity, water resistance, thermal shock, etc..
Given its rugged exterior, the Wasp CF-19 is quite light at 5 lbs. with its magnesium alloy casing. Other features are a shielded yet very daylight-readable 10.4" XGA display (1024 x 768), recessed and snugly capped ports, a tablet-based display with handwriting recognition, a tough swivel and a strong metal clasp that can secure the lid closed or in tablet-up position. The latchable compartment containing the Wi-Fi on/off switch, PC card slot, express card slot, SD reader is another smart addition.
Our test machine was configured as follows: Fedora Linux 7 + Windows XP dual boot, 1.067 GHz Intel Core Duo U2400 ultra-low voltage processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, 80 GB hard drive, and no optical drive (an external USB DVD/CD-RW costs an extra $400). The price as tested was $4250.
The Linux Experience on the Wasp CF-19
To our repeated delight, EmperorLinux is absolutely fanatical about offering a rich Linux-based experience, and the Wasp CF-19 lets them put their expertise on display. In addition to the expected features like Fn-keys all working, the Wasp CF-19 has a number of optional features atypical for Linux laptops, such as the tablet functionality with screen rotation and mobile broadband (EV-DO or HSPDA) and internal GPS support. And Emperor makes them work out of the box. The custom documentation is also excellent, explaining what does work (and how) and what does not work, saving the user precious time and headaches. If only Emperor would add a custom menu like R Cubed, another Linux laptop vendor, which offers custom installation of applications, system and kernel updates and direct support options, they'd have the best of all worlds.
Other cool features include:
-Tablet works flawlessly despite well-protected display; tablet also works out of the box
-Custom GNOME app toggles tablet between landscape and portrait
-Energy Star compliant (consumes no more than 1W of power when off, 1.7W when hibernating and 22W when idle)
-Just be sure a machine this small will meet your needs
Regarding the support and warrantee, Emperor includes one year of free, unlimited phone and email support, as well as 3 years of hardware warrantee from Panasonic.
Admittedly the pricetag on the Wasp CF-19 is steep, and adding any of those sweet features mentioned above, such as internal GPS, mobile broadband modem, or even an optical drive, will have you flirting with $5000 or even $6000.
For more information, visit EmperorLinux's Web site at www.emperorlinux.com/mfgr/panasonic/wasp/
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal
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