A large portion of the Toughbook’s 13.6-by-10.7-inch base is made up of bays that can accept a dizzying array of modules—everything from RFID readers to Blu-ray drives. Panasonic loaned us a total of nine individual modules to test out, in addition to the modules that are installed in the Toughbook 55’s entry-level configuration. Even the keyboard can be swapped out, though doing so does require a screwdriver. This is truly a flexible machine.
Most of the module bays have quick-release sliding locks that, when released, let you pop out the module and swap in a new one. This includes the storage drive and the primary battery bay. Others, like the rear expansion area and the GPU bay (yes, there’s even a swappable graphics card module!) have screws in addition to quick-release levers that keep their components more securely in place. Even these bays are easy to access, however. I replaced the placeholder module in the GPU slot with the GPU module (based on the AMD Radeon Pro WX 4150) that Panasonic supplied, booted the Toughbook 55, and saw the GPU was already enabled in Windows Device Manager.
I especially like how the SSD module is located in its own dedicated, easily accessible bay on the bottom of the Toughbook 55. The ability to remove the boot drive can improve data security, allowing you to store the drive in a separate location from the laptop.
All of these modules come at an additional cost, of course, which will vary depending on where you buy them. And since they’re specific to this laptop, upgrades using third-party components will be unlikely—expect to install Panasonic’s modules or nothing. At current list prices, which in most cases are quite high, a second 512GB SSD is $400, the GPU module is $700, a second battery is $150, the fingerprint reader is $125, and the Blu-ray optical drive is $400.
Some other rugged laptops have basic degrees of on-the-fly configurability. The Toughbook 31, for one, can accept up to two hot-swappable batteries secured with quick-release sliders, or an optical drive instead of the second battery. The Dell Latitude 5424 and Latitude 7424 also feature dual removable batteries, and all three of these laptops can be configured with alternative connectivity options installed at the factory, such as legacy VGA ports or GPS receivers. But none of them can match the range of post-purchase swappable component options that the Toughbook 55 offers.
This nifty configurability comes in addition to hallmark Toughbook features, such as its bottom docking-slot that’s compatible with police-cruiser mounts, the extendable carrying handle built into the front edge of the laptop, and the signature silver magnesium-alloy case. Also on board: MIL-STD 810H certification for resisting vibration and to ensure safe operation at extreme altitudes and temperatures.
A Cutting-Edge Toughbook
Besides its swappable bays, the Toughbook 55 also brings significant performance and compatibility improvements to the Toughbook line, which often remains several generations behind the cutting edge. Unlike the Toughbook 31, which uses older 7th Generation Intel processors, the Toughbook 55 offers far more capable and efficient 8th Generation “Whiskey Lake” Core i5 or Core i7 processors. It’s also the first Toughbook to offer a USB Type-C port, an HDMI video output, and Bluetooth 5.0. These are all common on most mainstream consumer laptops, so it’s nice to see them join the Toughbook line.