Death of a ‘Toughbook’

By | June 17, 2008


(update: after two days of nothing, the device is now booting again and Panasonic have offered to take a closer look at it and tell me what happened.)

My faith in my Panasonic Toughbook took a bath today when a waitress poured coffee all over it (and me.) It’s that absurd thing that waiters do of having to put coffee and food down right next to you when you’re clearly in the middle of a key discussion/interview/meeting/nap. It was bound to happen.

Still, I held out hope the Toughbook would be up to it. After all, the videos show guys doing stuff to their Toughbook we wouldn’t do to our partners (unless they asked us to.) I splashed the coffee off under a tap, knowing the damage coffee can wreak. To no avail: within minutes the screen went blank and the thing died.

Now I know why they call them ‘drop- and spill- resistant”. If it’s a spill, you might be ok, so long as it’s purified water. And “resistant”? It resists it, like Niles would Maris.

I bought a new one and am charging the hotel for it; they’ve agreed but I’ll send the lawyers home when I see the money. I happen to have a recording of the point when the coffee is spilt. It goes something like this:

Interviewee: in a fast growth  economy like India. Bangladesh, meanwhile.. [sound of crockery slipping, liquid spilling] oo shit!

Flaks (in chorus): oh no!

Me: (bizarrely quietly) Interesting…

Flaks (in chorus): oh dear!

Me: (still bizarrely quietly) OK…

[Sound of waitress disemboweling self with sugar spoon]

Lessons from all this?

  • Don’t order coffee in five star hotel lobbies when you’ve got a laptop in the area.
  • Don’t believe any waterproof claims from laptop manufacturers. Turns out that spillage only applies to the keyboard. You can see the waitress managed to get the latte everywhere except the keyboard.
  • Don’t settle for less from those responsible than full replacement immediately. I made it clear to the phalanx of hotel management that they would face serious claims if I did not check and rehouse the hard drive as quickly as possible and that meant buying a replacement computer immediately (it helped I was down the road from the place I bought it at the time. Singapore is like that.) It’s not about the computer: it’s really about the data, but it’s also about your day. You’re a working stiff and you don’t deserve to sit on your hands while they try to wriggle out of a full refund.
  • Back up your data regularly. I was lucky; the hard drive was safe. But I bet a lot wouldn’t be.

This, by the way, is what Panasonic say at the bottom of the page on spillage:

Furthermore, if you spill coffee, soft drinks, or similar liquids on the computer, the keyboard or other parts of the unit may become stained. Sugar and other substances may also cause corrosion, so liquids other than water are more problematic. Deal with such spills in the same way as directed for water and then have the unit checked.

Be aware that the spill resistance of these products in no way guarantees that liquids will not harm them or cause breakdowns.

13 thoughts on “Death of a ‘Toughbook’

  1. Richard

    I seem to remember that when something like this happens the first thing to do is pull the battery and the A/C cord if its plugged in. Then let it dry out for a day or two before reapplying power.

  2. Royal8

    I was literally about to push the “one-click” buy it now button until this hit my radar. Thank you; sorry for the price you had to pay to save me from making a purchasing mistake! Please let us know how this plays out. Were you also going to open a dialog with Panasonic?

  3. Jeremy Wagstaff

    Royal8 thanks for this, I definitely plan to.

    Richard: I seem to recall that you’re supposed to get the coffee out of the circuitry before you let it dry off. Leaving the coffee in there, I believe, would have been worse.

  4. Brian Kennemer

    Nice Frasier reference! It is not everyday you can work something like that into a post about a broken laptop. THAT is why you make your money writing and I don’t. 🙂

  5. TechPRGuy

    Sorry to hear about this whole mess, but lessons learned, I guess.

    I was equally interested that there were TWO PR types there. Seems like overkill, but that’s just me.

  6. qthrul

    I’ve seen this done with Thinkpads and beer.


    I just relived those moments of the “Oh no” chorus.

    We’ll probably see hermetically sealed units hitting the market in a few years as laptops gain traction in the kitchen or other wet trades and heat dissipation is addressed without fans and airspace.

    Innovating thinking notwithstanding…

  7. SB

    You had me giggling again today — sorry — but it did sound funny on the radio.

    And I moved my coffee.

  8. David Brake

    I am a little worried about the waitress. I hope your refund doesn’t come out of her salary (or get her fired)…

  9. James Lushe

    Im not sure if the reputation of a toughbook should be decided on this one story. I have a toughbook cf 19 and have spilt liquids on it and dropped it many a times. They are a great laptop and I won’t buy anything else.

  10. Jeremy Wagstaff

    James, the CF 19 is a rugged Toughbook, not the lightweight corporate version that this one is (was.) The rugged ones should definitely withstand a coffee spill.

  11. Error 101

    If you were suprised by the spill damaging the notebook, you shouldn’t have been. It comes down to understanding and knowing what you purchased. Liquid resistance is rated by its IP rating, semi-rugged devices are generally IP54 which means you have an increased chance that it will not damage the unit, but under certain conditions intrusion may still take a toll. Its still a useful feature you shouldn’t throw out the window just because you got unlucky.

    Even with fully rugged, there is ALWAYS a chance for it to become damaged, if you treat hardware like it should be invulnerable or indestructable your not living in reality, it’s just a matter of paying for designs and features that help reduce that chance.


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