Panasonic CF-270 Business Partner. (notebook computer) (evaluation)
by Stephen Levy
Can a seven-pound notebook computer measure up to the needs of someone accustomed to using a well-equipped desktop machine? Panasonic's CF-270 Business Partner comes mighty close and offers many of the important features that we've now come to expect in notebook computers.
At a mere seven pounds, the CF-270 is a lightweight whose approximate dimensions are 12 inches by 10 inches by 2 inches--small enough to fit into most attache cases. The CF-270 compares well with other notebooks currently available, offering a 16-MHz 80C286 CPU, 20MB hard drive, 1.44MB 3 1/2-inch floppy drive, 640 x 480 backlit black-and-white LCD display with 16-level gray-scale VGA, and 1MB standard memory (expandable to 5MB).
The CF-270 comes with two 3 1/2-inch floppies, which include everything you would expect, including MS-DOS 4.01 and GW-BASIC. The floppies also include some programs that add important features: a setup program, a power-management program, FDISK to set up the hard drive, and a diagnostic program that tests each component of the system.
How long the battery holds a charge and how long it takes to recharge can ofgen be the determining factors when you're deciding which notebook to purchase. The CF-270 comes equipped with a quick-charge battery that will fully recharge in about two hours when the computer is turned off and in four hours if you use the computer while charging. The battery charge lasts about two hours but will vary depending on how often the drives are accessed and which power-conservation options you've selected.
The CF-270 software (called Power Management Setup Utility) allows you to select power-reducing options including slowing or shutting off the CPU when the computer is not busy, turning off the hard drive motor when it's not in use, placing the floppy drive on standby, and automatically turning off the screen or the entire unit if there's no keyboard input after a certain time interval. Each of the power-saving features operates only when the CF-270 is running on battery power.
Using the Power Management Setup Utility is simple enough. The manual briefly explains each of the options, and the utility includes online help screens--a handy convenience, especially if you want to change an option at 31,000 feet and haven't brought the manual.
I set the system to maximum power savings and found that the system functioned satisfactorily. The only time I could detect a slowdown in performance was when I accessed the hard drive after the motor had shut off. Usually the delay was only a few seconds while the drive got up to speed again, a small price to pay to extend the life of a battery charge.
I especially liked the keyboard and its layout; a touch typist would have little trouble adjusting. If you're a heavy spreadsheet user, you'll enjoy being able to convert the keyboard to a numeric keypad. Although not as convenient as a separate keypad, this compromise proves quite workable.
The CF-270 comes with several external ports and jacks. With the serial and parallel ports, you can connect to your favorite printer, external modem, or serial mouse. And with its VGA port and keyboard jack, you can use your CF-270 as if it were a desktop computer.
The CF-270 comes with several manuals. Less than 100 pages long, the basic User's Guide covers all the basics clearly and concisely. Also included are a very short Getting Started Guide, a User's Reference Guide, an MS-DOS Shell User's Guide, and a Quick Reference Guide to MS-DOS and GW-BASIC. Anyone with any experience with MS-DOS computers should find this documentation satisfactory, albeit a bit skimpy. If you've never set up a new system before, you might find the process a bit intimidating, as you would with most computers. And if you have limited experience with DOS, you'll not learn much from these guides.
Panasonic has designed a respectable notebook computer that includes most of the features we've come to expect. If you're in the market for a small, lightweight computer that will fit easily into your carry-on luggage and on an airplane's table tray, you would do well to consider the Panasonic CF-270 Business Partner.