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Of course for a notebook to remain operational after being dropped, the hard disk needs to be protected. To facilitate this, the hard disk in the CF-51 is cocooned in an impact and vibration absorbent enclosure - it's also easily removable in case you're very paranoid about losing your data. In fact pretty much everything is modular in the CF-51 - push a little switch and the hard disk caddy slides right out of the front, push another one and the battery will slide out, while the optical drive will slip free from the chassis with similar ease. So, no need to get out the screwdriver for this machine then. Well, unless you want to add memory to the free SO-DIMM slot.
Despite being a rugged notebook, the CF-51 looks good. The magnesium alloy lid looks good and the single Panasonic logo suits the minimalist styling. Apart from the matt silver lid, the rest of the notebook is finished in black - not particularly inspiring, but not offensive either. Lifting the lid reveals a fairly standard keyboard and touchpad layout. The keyboard is a bit of a mixed bag - most of the keys are a decent size, but bizarrely the Return key is tiny. I always find it strange when a manufacturer decides to reduce the size of the Return key, since you really don’t want to be missing it when you’re typing at full speed. Likewise, the Backspace key has also been reduced - another often used key that's been made harder to strike. On the plus side, the cursor keys are set apart from the rest of the keyboard, and the Ctrl key is in at the bottom left, right where it should be.
The touchpad works well enough and is positioned far enough from the Spacebar to avoid accidental cursor repositioning. Although I prefer trackpoints, I can only assume that Panasonic has found touchpads to be more robust and therefore more suited to the ToughBooks.
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