Color, a 486, CD-ROM and under 7 lbs

Panasonic's CF-V21P laptop

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, April 15, 1994

Last time I got a notebook to review, about a year ago, it featured a colour screen and a 386SL CPU. It was nice, but with desktops moving solidly into 486 territory, it couldn't really keep up with the larger computers in processing power.

There are still good reasons to buy a desktop, not the least of which is price, but the performance of good portables is getting closer and closer to what you'll find permanently taking up space on your desk.

Take Panasonic's new CF-V21P, for example. It's a 5-7 lb. notebook, with a 486DX-2/50 processor. Plenty fast. A reasonable 200 meg hard drive. A base 4 meg of ram. And a lovely, bright active matrix colour screen, displaying 256 colours at 640x480 resolution.

Then there're a few features not available on my desktop machine... a PCMCIA slot that will accept a single Type 3 or two Type 2 cards, that could be anything from modems to ethernet to additional hard drives, for easy expansion.

The floppy drive pops out and can be replaced with a 3 1/2" CD-ROM player (not available on my demo unit, and no, I don't know where you'll be able to get 3 1/2" CD-ROM disks).

A miniature trackball built into the compact, but usable keyboard.

A removable screen, that can be flipped around, making this computer usable for pen input (Pen Windows is pre-installed). I didn't get a pen, and thus I was unable to test this feature.

My favorite feature is the auto-resume. Turn off the power... even in Windows. Turn it back on, even a day or more later, and it's instant on, just as you left it. No need to re-boot. Why can't I have that on my desktop machine?

There are a few catches... It still takes some getting used to the slightly smaller than normal keyboard, and some non-standard key placements. The mini-trackball, while conveniently located front and center, is still a taste I haven't quite acquired.

The hard drive, while spacious, was unaccountably slow, at least as measured by Windows Magazine's benchmarks.

Both the powerful CPU and the active matrix screen drain battery power. Even with power management, I only managed about an hour and 3/4 between recharges. You can work while the machine is charging, or you can load a second battery, but you can't fly coast to coast, working continuously with this machine.

But that power-hungry screen is a joy to work with. Less expensive passive-matrix colour screens (even the much improved double-scan models) offer much less contrast. Here, colours are fully saturated, and the screen is clearly viewable from a wide range of angles. The mouse arrow doesn't disappear, no matter how quickly it's moved around the screen-- no need for comet-like 'mouse trails'.

And if you want, you can connect a standard SVGA monitor and even a standard keyboard and mouse, and enjoy the best of desktop-like features. The built in video supports resolutions up to 1024 by 768, when using an external monitor, even though the active matrix screen is limited to 640x480.

Of course the biggest limitation to portables such as this one, compared to desktops, remains price. Expect to pay a hefty premium for this model's portability and power-- you could buy two desktops with similar specs for the price of this one.

I have to give this one back at the end of the week... but I'd happily keep it longer, say just until something better comes along. Very few of us absolutely NEED such a nice portable, but it's an awfully nice thing to WANT to have.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan