There has been a lot of talk about Intel's new Atom platform of late, much of it centred on the Asus Eee PC and its imitators. Already we've seen the Eee PC 901 and MSI Wind, both of which employ the Atom platform. But this "Netbook" category, as Intel has decided to call it, isn't where the Atom was originally pitched. Back when Intel was first talking about the Atom chip, using its codename Silverthorne, the story was about Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), or the evolution of the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC), and although there have been many prototype MIDs shown at various events, the first actual MID/UMPC device to hit the market comes from a rather unusual source - Panasonic.
Despite the fact that Panasonic creates some truly impressive mobile computers, the ToughBook range is generally more about rugged performance than cutting edge components. It was therefore a surprise when Panasonic announced that it would be launching a product based on the Atom platform a few months ago, and even more of a surprise that it's the first UMPC style device to hit the market with Intel's new chip. So, the ToughBook CF-U1 is stuffed full of cutting edge mobile components, but does it still live up to Panasonic's super-rugged heritage?
The simple answer to the question above is a resounding yes. You just have to pick up the CF-U1 to realise that this is a seriously rugged bit of kit. In fact, the CF-U1 is rated as "fully rugged", meaning that it shares the same category as machines like the CF-30 and CF-19 notebooks. In fact, the CF-U1 has the potential to be the most rugged machine that Panasonic has ever made, since this is the first device to ship with no moving parts. Whereas Panasonic put huge amounts of R&D into creating protective caddies for notebook hard drives, the CF-U1 comes equipped with a solid state drive, which is intrinsically more robust than a standard Winchester drive.
The inclusion of a solid state drive removes a potential point of mechanical failure from the equation, and theoretically, provides the CF-U1 with greater long term durability than any other ToughBook. The drive inside my review sample has a 16GB capacity, but a 32GB disk is optional. With standard ultra-portable notebooks already shipping with 128GB SSDs, it's probably a safe bet to assume that Panasonic will offer higher capacities over the coming months. However, it's worth remembering that ToughBooks are generally used by field workers, who only need them to do specific tasks, and therefore masses of storage space is rarely required.