Panasonic is rolling out a tough and tumble laptop for doing work in the field, and because of its rugged design, it's a rather chunky system. Still, I'd like to see a gaming laptop manufacturer experiment with a similar design. Hear me out on this.
I'm not calling for laptops to revert back of the days of laughably thick housings and weighty designs. The trend towards thinner and lighter systems has been mostly positive. What intrigues me about the new Toughbook 55 is its modular approach to upgrades. That includes the graphics.
"The modular design allows users to upgrade the memory, storage, keyboard and three different expansion areas featuring additional I/O, optical drives, authentication readers, dedicated graphics and more," Panasonic explains.
As we've trended towards increasingly slim form factors, we have given up some level of DIY upgradeability. There are exceptions, of course, particularly among gaming laptops. But in other cases, even swapping out the RAM is a no-go.
What's unique about the Toughbook 55 is the use of several different modules. PCMag notes Panasonic sent it nine individual modules, in addition to the ones that came already installed. For the GPU, Panasonic offers a module with an AMD Radeon Pro WX 4150.
That's based on AMD's Polaris architecture, which is now a couple of generations old (behind Navi and Vega), and it's intended for professional workloads. But I'm envisioning a higher end gaming laptop that takes a similar approach—just slide in a new GPU module for added punch. As it stands, if you want better graphics from your laptop, you're looking at attaching it to an external enclosure (save for a spattering of niche designs that might be floating around).
There are obviously some drawbacks and limitations to the modular approach—the upgrade path depends in part on the power requirements, and things like cooling and cost come into play. Nevertheless, I think it'd be an interesting product, particularly if the modular design was as robust as it is on the Toughbook 55.
As for the Toughbook 55, the specs are a mix of neat and meh. The 14-inch HD display with an optional touchscreen panel touting a 1,000 nits brightness rating falls into the former category, while the Intel 8th generation Core i5-8565U processor is less interesting. It also features up to 64GB of RAM and 2TB of storage.
Out of the box, Panasonic claims up to 20 hours of battery life. However, users can add an optional second battery to effectively double battery life to 40 hours. That means more weight, of course, though at 4.9 pounds before adding a bunch of stuff, it's not incredibly heavy to begin with.
For those who are interested, the Toughbook 55 is available now starting at $2,099, about the price of a really nice gaming laptop.