It’s a fact of modern life that if you drop your laptop, that’s probably its endgame. That’s not the case with a rugged laptop, however. From its magnesium-aluminum cases that are 20-times stronger than the plastic to reinforced glass screens, sealed ports and shock-mounted components, a modern-day rugged notebook is designed to handle the worst kind of abuse and still thrive.
Rugged laptops are perfect for soldiers, technicians and adventurers. The gold standard for rugged computing is the Army’s Mil-Std 810G, which involves 29 of the cruelest tests you could imagine. They range from repeatedly dropping shaking the system to dunking, spraying, freezing and baking it. In other words, every possible failure mode – short of a nuclear blast – is tried.
There’s one more spec that you should particularly look for in a rugged computer: its two-number IP (Ingress Protection) rating. On a zero-to-six scale, the first number stands for protection against dust, dirt and sand getting inside, while the second number represents the waterproof-ness. Most rugged computers get an IP65 or higher rating. If the design passes these tests, it should survive even the clumsiest among us.
The overengineering of these rugged notebooks adds up, however, and they end up weighing between five and nearly 10 pounds – roughly twice the heft of conventional systems. Most rugged systems include the clever bonus of a pull-out handle that can make carrying the system easier. Expect price tags that range from $1,300 to over $5,000, although there are semi-rugged designs that have a smaller premium over conventional systems.
For those who are hard on their gear, an armor-plated rugged machine is more than worth it because when the going gets tough, these rugged computers keep working.
Panasonic Toughbook 31
Panasonic’s sixth generation Toughbook 31 MK6 shows that beauty can be more than skin deep. It has a hardened magnesium-aluminum alloy case that has an IP65 rating, which is good for dunks and heavy-duty water sprays. Inside, the Toughbook 31 is a little behind the times with Intel’s seventh-generation processors (configurable with Core i5 or i7). The Toughbook 31’s 13.1-inch XGA touch display is more than bright enough to use in direct sunlight. For those contemplating arctic exploration, the optional drive heater can keep your data warm and accessible during the worst cold snap.
All the ports are sealed and covered with doors. There are connections for HDMI, VGA, Ethernet and three USB devices; an SD card slot is great for moving images from the camera to computer. Its removable Multimedia Bay can hold anything from a DVD drive to a second battery for up to 29 hours of use, according to Panasonic. In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the Toughbook 31 has an optional mobile data card for getting online any place there’s an LTE network. At $3,500, the Toughbook 31 has a softer side with a backlit keyboard and desktop dock that makes all the connections – including charging power. All in all, the Toughbook 31 more than lives up to its name with a rugged computer ready for just about anything.
Weight: 8.6 pounds
Mil-Std 810G certified: yes
With a magnesium-aluminum alloy case, sealed ports, rubber corner bumpers and a five-year warranty, the Getac B300 easily passed the Mil-Std 810G tests. It carries an IP65 rating against dust and water intrusion. Along with the choice of two eighth-generation high-performance Core i7 and two Core i5 processors, the B300 can be equipped with up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB ofSSD storage. The system’s media bay can accommodate a DVD drive, a data drive or a second battery that Getac says is good for 30 hours of use. The system’s copper heat pipe efficiently cools the system allowing it to go fanless without risking a melt-down.
Its QuadraClear 13.3-inch touchscreen display may be among the brightest screens available and works well in direct sunlight, but like the Panasonic Toughbook 31 only shows XGA resolution, not the HD imaging of the Dell rugged pair. The B300 has an excellent array of sealed ports for HDMI, VGA, serial and three USB 3.0 connectors. In addition to an SD card slot, the B300 has an optional mobile LTE radio to supplement its WiFi and Bluetooth abilities. The B300’s starting price of $3,600 easily rises to well over $5,000 but Getac includes something the others don’t: a 5-year warranty. As should be the case, it covers everything.
Weight: 7.7 — 9.5 pounds
Mil-Std 810G certified: yes
Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme and Latitude 5420 Rugged
Dell makes two rugged laptops: the Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme and Latitude 5420 Rugged. Both have 14-inch displays adn look identical twins at a distance, but upon closer inspection they couldn’t be more different. The 7424 RE is more than twice as big and has an IP65 grade for dust and water protection; while the 5420 R’s IP52 rating is more subject to environmental damage. At a little over six pounds, the 5420 R is lighter than the 8.5-pound 7424 RE.
Both Dell rugged systems have pull-out handles making them look and feel more like small briefcases, but the 7424 RE has a travel advantage: a shoulder strap to take a load off your arms. Both have waterproof keyboards, sealed ports with covers and are built around sturdy aluminum-magnesium alloy frames with rubber corner bumpers. Happily, both rugged systems include a three-year warranty that’s good, but nothing close to Getac’s bumper-to-bumper 5-year coverage.
All out performance is on tap with the choice of eighth-generation Intel processors (Core i3, i5 or i7) with a 14-inch HD touch-screen and stylus. In addition to the expected USB, HDMI, VGA and wired Ethernet on both models, the 5420 R adds an up-to-date USB-C connector. There are interchangeable media modules for data drives or a second battery pack, but the 7242 RE model goes the extra step with a DVD drive option.
The Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme starts at $3,250 and the Latitude 5420 Rugged starts at a more economical $1,300.
Weight: 8.5 pounds (7424 RE); 6 pounds (5420 R)
Water-resistance: IP65 (7424 RE); IP52 (5420 R)
Mil-Std 810G certified: yes
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