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Dell Rugged Laptops Not Quite Tough Enough 225

Posted by timothy
from the one-good-hit dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Trusted Reviews has put the new Dell XFR rugged laptop through the grinder and it hasn't fared as well as expected. Considering that these guys drove a car over a Panasonic Toughbook, they went pretty easy on the Dell, but it still couldn't take the punishment. It looks like Dell still has a way to go to steal the ball from Panasonic when it comes to all terrain computing."
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Dell Rugged Laptops Not Quite Tough Enough

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  • I see... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @10:44AM (#29964028)

    So the Dell blends after all!

  • by wandazulu (265281) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @10:50AM (#29964126)

    I've seen Panasonic Toughbooks in police cars, fire trucks, and in the vehicles of industrial companies, but I guess I don't get why; the laptops are well protected in the car or truck, and it's not like a cop is going to use it as a shield in a shoot out, or a fireman is going to be typing something inside a burning building. When a plumber came over to fix some pipes, he brought with him a battered Compaq laptop that was missing several keys, looked like it'd gone through hell, but was still working and wasn't "ruggedized" in any way I could tell.

    This is pure ignorance on my part...I can appreciate there is very likely a need, or they wouldn't make them, but I really don't know what that need is; especially, under what circumstances would it be possible to get my laptop run over by a truck as part of a normal day?

    That said, they definitely *look* cool and wouldn't mind having one myself, especially if I thought I'd need to check my email outside, in a snowstorm, in the Sierra Madre. :)

    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @10:55AM (#29964190) Homepage
      Think of it as laptop insurance. Just in case. Maybe you won't need it, but maybe you will. Also probably cheaper to pay the ToughBook premium than replacing your laptop a year earlier.
    • by moosehooey (953907) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:00AM (#29964286)

      A regular laptop won't start up at -40 after a North Dakota night. The toughbook says "Please wait, warming up" on the BIOS screen while it pre-warms the hard drive. It also works just fine when it's baking in the sun at 150, whereas the old Dell I had would crash at those temperatures.

      • by Kagato (116051) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:20AM (#29964534)

        That's pretty much spot on. They need the hardware to work in temperature extremes. And even then I would assume they would by the semi-rugged model. The Panasonic Toughbook is a great machine. They still make them by hand in Kyoto. Panasonic doesn't trust the quality of factories in other parts of Asia, part of the price premium means you're getting a laptop built by a highly skilled workforce with a keen eye on tolerances.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DrWho520 (655973)
          ...part of the price premium means you're getting a laptop built by a highly skilled workforce with a keen eye on tolerances.

          Were it not that we had to pay a premium for this...
      • I'm sure cold operation has some uses but my fingers stop working somewhere around -10C so I wouldn't know what they are. On the other hand, I suspect that the reason that the battery died on my Asus laptop was walking home in -30C weather with the laptop in my backpack.
        • by Kagato (116051)

          The more typical scenario is that the laptop is in police car overnight in sub-zero temperatures and they expect it work when they head out again. Obviously the car will warm up, but the machine has to start doing what it needs to do without waiting for hours.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by koxkoxkox (879667)

        Well, you have a right to use an idiosyncratic unit of temperature, but please at least specify it, ok ?

        • Context clues, dear, context clues. He said "North Dakota" -- a state in the USA, which uses Fahrenheit...
        • by jo_ham (604554)

          -40 is the same in both C and F, so no need for units.

          Kelvin can't be a negative value, so you know it's not K.

          • -40 isn't the only temperature he mentioned.

            • by jo_ham (604554)

              Well the other one is so far off the human tolerance scale in C that it's unlikely.

              Depends if a Toughbook could survive baking in an oven at 150C - I know a Powerbook G4 can, with only the screen and keys dying (ie, it boots up, just need to connect a usb kb and external monitor).

              • Well the other one is so far off the human tolerance scale in C that it's unlikely.

                You overestimate the amount of common sense exhibited by the average pedant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Two possibilities: One is that, through some mixture of poor prediction and being oversold, those users bought the wrong hardware. Just as many people buy "laptops" that end up spending their lives on a desk, essentially never moved, these laptops could well have been purchased to survive the Rigors of a Crime Scene; but then plunked into car mounts and not moved since. Not necessarily good planning; but a hugely common, and fairly understandable, mistake made by all sorts of individuals and organizations.
    • This is pure ignorance on my part...I can appreciate there is very likely a need, or they wouldn't make them, but I really don't know what that need is; especially, under what circumstances would it be possible to get my laptop run over by a truck as part of a normal day?

      Not so much run over by a car but and decent sized IT dept will probably tell you that people abuse the hell out of laptops. Most of them quickly accumulate a veritable junkyard of spare parts from laptops that have been killed through various acts of neglect, malfeasance and random accidents. I've personally seen laptops get destroyed in countless ways. It's a fairly safe bet that a field service technician or traveling consultant is probably going to beat his laptop up pretty quickly. I've had a few cl

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      While they're not your every day laptop, there are some people out there who have a use for them. Once, while working in a computer repair shop back in 2002, a customer came in with a very battered old Toughbook. As it turned out, it really had been through a warzone, as he'd been a journalist in Afghanistan during the invasion and it'd been his companion for the last year or two.

      Despite its appearance, the hardware was working perfectly - more than can be said for the Windows install on it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228)

        I would add that those that say you don't need a Toughbook for "just being mounted in the police car" has never actually been in a ride along. I have a HS buddy that was a county cop for several years and the amount of abuse and beating you get in those cars chasing a bad guy is just unreal.

        Lets not forget that trying to evade the law many bad guys will try to make their own roads, cut through ditches, medians, etc and the amount of beating and bouncing around you get in a police car during a chase is ju

    • For policemen or many industrial companies, where if your computer went down it shouldn't delay service by much, or the service would be cheap to reschedule, using a regular laptop makes sense.

      But for other uses, like firemen or refinery maintenance technicians, who need to refer to building schematics and hazardous material contents before they decide how to attack a fire, or need to see maintenance documents to repair a piece of equipment keeping the refinery down at a cost over $100,000/hour, only a T
    • Why the Toughbooks (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I worked for the county sheriff's office for several years as an IT / network guy and can tell you that the more durable laptops are DEFINITELY useful in the police context. No matter how often you tell them to be careful or even discipline them, cops will be cops, and most of them are pretty rough around the edges. They toss their notebooks around, drop them, spill coffee on them, you name it. We had one notebook in for updates and servicing that looked like it had fallen into a threshing machine. My cow

      • No matter how often you tell them to be careful or even discipline them, cops will be cops

        I think the better way to put it is that "End users will be end users." It doesn't matter what your profession is. You could be the CEO, a janitor, or a Ph.D and still make the same mistakes as everybody else.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Sure, the Compaq might have been alive but Compaq didn't warranty that it would. It could have died the first time it fell to the ground (as have many Dell and HP laptops I have seen). The Toughbook-series is made so that you COULD drop it and it will still go on and the manufacturer will either replace it or repair it if damage occurs to it. As in a fire truck or police car, the machine is usually protected by the car but it should withstand the door being left open in a winter storm, somebody using it tha

    • by fwice (841569) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:38AM (#29964826)

      At my job, we use these toughbooks in extreme conditions -- think arctic/antarctic desert and Middle Eastern deserts. Especially in the latter, the toughbook excels because all of the ports are blocked against FOD [foreign objects and debris] -- namely, if there's a sandstorm that kicks up, the sand can't enter the unit in any way.

      In addition, try using a regular laptop while riding on a humvee through rocky terrain. No way that disk lasts, whereas the toughbook disks are made to absorb the shock and vibration.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Well, the firefighter might be using the thing with dirty, greasy hands. Just hose it off when it gets too dirty. It could also get smacked around a bit when someone wearing heavy gear is a bit clumsy getting into the truck.

      The cop probably doesn't actually need one, but then I've never actually seen a police car with a toughbook in it, so maybe the ones you saw are just there because the emergency services provider ordered a bunch for everyone.

    • I was chatting to a British Telecom (BT) engineer a few years back and I believe they have Toughbooks.

      He told me he used his closed laptop as a 'level' under his ladder when working up a pole on a sloping steets!

    • by jtorkbob (885054)

      Think about how police officers work. They are in and out of their vehicles in all kinds of weather. They might be doing a traffic stop or such and return to the vehicle wet from rain, and need to use the laptop. Think of fire fighters, who routinely get wet and dirty while responding to routine accidents and small fires. The insides of emergency vehicles need constant cleaning; if they didn't use a ruggedized computer the inside of the laptops would too.

    • by popeye44 (929152)

      I can say from experience that nothing I've used yet lasts like a Toughbook. Of course we use them in some pretty harsh environments. These are what we use to configure multiple devices on the side of the road. From sprinkler systems to signal lighting. Our Surveys group uses them for field surveying. I've got machines that have been used so badly they barely hold together yet still boot up and run.

      We've yet to break a Toughbook. We generally replaced due to our normal replacement schedule or we've worn one

    • I've seen Panasonic Toughbooks in police cars, fire trucks, and in the vehicles of industrial companies, but I guess I don't get why; the laptops are well protected in the car or truck, and it's not like a cop is going to use it as a shield in a shoot out, or a fireman is going to be typing something inside a burning building.

      It is possible that they really don't need the Toughbooks and were just oversold. It wouldn't be the first time that has happened.

      It is also possible that those are the semi-rugged Toughbooks. They're more durable than your average laptop, but they aren't really built to take the abuse that a fully-rugged Toughbook is.

      It is most likely that they actually need some form of ruggedization in those laptops. A Toughbook isn't just built to take physical abuse like bullets and being dropped down stairs... The

    • by sjames (1099)

      I can think of many reasons they're a good value for police.

      Ever put something on the roof of your car, then been reminded of it when you drive off and hear the thud? Imagine your job involves being at the side of the road using your laptop many times a day. Throw in some incidents of physical violence and you can imagine how often that might happen in a year.

      Add in getting knocked off the car during a scuffle when the suspect decides he'd rather not get in the back of the car. Throw in the occasional 3 poi

    • Construction site. It didn't stay in the truck because we needed it to check instrumentation in the field.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Er, what? This Slashdot summary does not jive with the article at all. The laptop was perfectly functional after all of their tests. The only problems they had were a minor cosmetic issue of the adhesive coming off around the trackpad (which they just called "fit and finish") and that some of the doors might pop open during drops since they weren't double locked. Their conclusion was that it was indeed quite rugged.

    • by Shag (3737) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:07AM (#29964378) Homepage

      Did *you* RTFA? They stated quite clearly that the Dell had issues with water ingress, including water getting into a battery compartment that isn't isolated from the mainboard.

      Yes, it worked again after they let it dry out for a day... but that's bad.

      I volunteer somewhere that bought one of these Dells, and honestly I have no idea why they needed a ruggedized laptop.

      • by fataugie (89032)

        Except the summary talks about running it over with a car and eludes to it being destroyed.
        The fact that water is a problem was never stated.

        • by Blapto (839626)
          The summary says they ran over a competitor's model with a car, not the Dell.
  • Did they compare the Dells to regular Thinkpads? They're not officially ruggedized, but they can take an awful lot of punishment.

    Incidentally, I just had a book shelf collapse under its load of books (apparently I wasn't supposed to stack them that high) and fall on my open Macbook. Huge dent next to the keyboard, but everything works fine.

    • FWIW, somebody picked up my MacBook to see how heavy it was, and managed to drop it off the desk. Roughly 3 feet. Still works fine, though there is a hefty dent in corner of the metal body that impacted the floor.

      I probably just got lucky on this, though; I don't think the MacBook is any more rugged than a regular laptop.

      • by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:30AM (#29964710)

        FWIW, somebody picked up my MacBook to see how heavy it was, and managed to drop it off the desk.

        How long did it take you to remove your hands from their throat?

        • How long did it take you to remove your hands from their throat?

          I wish. I wasn't even there -- I was out to lunch, and only got the story from colleagues who witnessed it after I came back and wondered who the hell put a dent in my laptop. And the culprit was a leading member of our company's Board of Directors who happened to be walking past my desk at the time.

          • by Dog-Cow (21281)

            If they admitted to it and if the laptop was a personal item, I'd make them pay. You can bet your job that they'd do the same if you dented their laptop.

        • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:50PM (#29965812)

          No need - a little red light comes on somewhere in Cupertino and Steve picks up a phone and calls a team of highly trained ninjas to deal with it.

          Steve: Hello ninjas?
          Ninjas: Yes?
          Steve: A non-Apple user just dropped one of our brethren's Macbooks.
          Ninjas: Again?
          Steve: Yup.
          Ninjas: We're on it. You want the head in a jar again for your collection?
          Steve: Sure, can you maybe grab his liver too... you never know...

          Disclaimer: I am an Apple user, so this is probably not accurate. I'll bet Phil Schiller handles the ninja calls.

        • some years ago, my backpack's zipper failed and thus unloaded my 15" iBook down a whole flight of stairs; my heart stopped as I watched it bounce up and down every couple of steps (on its edges), all the way to the ground floor!

          Once I unbent the hook that would normally lock it when closed, it worked just like new!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nahdude812 (88157) *

        You may find that with such a blemish, any AppleCare warranty support is now void.

        My brother's MBP had a video card with a known issue where some times the video card would not output any video (either to the LCD or to the display port). He had the exact model number which experiences this problem, and supposedly every MBP with that model video card is affected and eligible for free repair even out of warranty.

        He took them up on it (he was still under AppleCare, having bought the extended version), but bec

    • Did they compare the Dells to regular Thinkpads? They're not officially ruggedized, but they can take an awful lot of punishment

      Depends on your definition of "awful lot". My brother-in-law's previous company has used thinkpads as their primary laptops for years and the consultants there managed to kill plenty of them. A shocking number actually. I agree that Thinkpads have historically been well constructed - I've had several myself. But they aren't *that* tough. Certainly not much tougher than most other non-ruggedized machines.

  • by BetterThanCaesar (625636) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:03AM (#29964328)
    Laptops are weak. They should be able to defend themselves against dangers such as smashing into the ground, like this experimental Lenovo model [youtube.com].
    • They should be able to defend themselves against dangers such as smashing into the ground

      As well as loganberries, grapes, cherries (both red and black), passion fruit, oranges, apples, grapefruit (whole and segmented), pomegranates, greengages, lemons, plums, mangoes in syrup, bananas and of course, a raspberry.
  • Notsotoughbooks (Score:4, Informative)

    by juanhf (167330) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:08AM (#29964390)

    We used to believe that the ToughBooks were the end all be all of ruggedized computers; that is until the day someone actually managed to break one!

    If you read the warranty statement from Panasonic you will see the following under Section 3 - Limited Warranty Exclusions [panasonic.com]

    "Failures which result from alteration, accident, misuse, introduction of liquid or other foreign matter into the unit, abuse, neglect, installation, maladjustment of consumer controls, improper maintenance or modification, use not in accordance with product use instructions"

    That means that if your coffee somehow spills on the laptop and fries the motherboard Panasonic will not repair it under warranty!

    On the other hand if you purchase a Dell or an HP ruggedized notebook with the accidental damage protection the notebook will be repaired with no questions asked.

    Considering the cost of the Panasonic ToughBooks, I would take a Dell XFR + CompleteCare any day!

    Besides, regardless of what notebook you own, if you roll over it with your vehicle (by accident) and it happens to break, would you not rather be covered?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kagato (116051)

      Panasonic, just like Dell and HP, has an accidental damage plan.

      Consider this. What's worth more the laptop or the data on the laptop? You're in a rugged location, you're off the grid and can't back up your data until you get back to civilization, which laptop would you want? I'm going to opt for the one that doesn't let moisture seep inside.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I am going to get two laptops. Then when in a fairly ok situation, say inside a tent backup from one to the other. I will then keep the backup laptop always inside a large ziploc bag.

        Nothing replaces redundancy.

    • Re:Notsotoughbooks (Score:5, Informative)

      by darkmayo (251580) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:34AM (#29964768)

      You are comparing a base limited warranty with an ADP warranty, apples an oranges.

      Panasonic has ADP warranty as well which like the rest of the brands has to be purchased, I am not aware of any company that has accidental damage protection as there baseline warranty for a laptop.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by daveime (1253762)

      I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would

      1. Leave a valuable possession on the ground
      2. Promptly forget about it
      3. And then drive over it with their car
      4. ?
      5. Profit !

      If that is their attitude to their posessions and life in general, seems like they'd be better just getting an insurance policy for being a "accident-prone forgetful dumbass".

      • by Marcika (1003625)

        I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would

        1. Leave a valuable possession on the ground
        2. Promptly forget about it
        3. And then drive over it with their car

        Clue #1: They might get used by the military (where I've frequently seen things like this happen)
        Clue #2: They might get used by the military (where 1. and 3. might not be the same person)

      • You are assuming a relatively calm environment.

        How about if you are attempting emergency repairs during a tropical storm? Or a construction site in general? PEOPLE get hit/run over in those situations, so it's not unlikely that a laptop could encounter that situation.

        Also, how about if you leave the laptop on the end gate of a 5-ton truck? The driver hops in to move the truck and never even notices the laptop, or that the end gate is down. Even if THEY don't run it over, someone else might.

        Now, to be fa

      • I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would

        1. Leave a valuable possession on the ground
        2. Promptly forget about it
        3. And then drive over it with their car
        4. ?
        5. Profit !

        If that is their attitude to their posessions and life in general, seems like they'd be better just getting an insurance policy for being a "accident-prone forgetful dumbass".

        You clearly don't drink that much, do you?

      • Probably not the actual user scenario.
        1)Take your laptop and coffee to your car parked outside Dunkin donuts
        2) Leave the laptop on the roof of the car to have one hand free to open the car door.
        3) Get in close the door and drive, forgetting that laptop on the roof
        4) Laptop falls down and driven over by the next sleep deprived, coffee swilling, late for office driver behind you
        ?
        5) Profit
      • by Rary (566291)

        I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would

        1. Leave a valuable possession on the ground
        2. Promptly forget about it
        3. And then drive over it with their car
        4. ?
        5. Profit !

        You'd be amazed what a little alcohol can do. I know someone who did precisely what you described (well, there was no step 5), only the valuable possession in question was not a laptop, but a Gibson Les Paul.

    • by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:39AM (#29964836)

      Considering the cost of the Panasonic ToughBooks, I would take a Dell XFR + CompleteCare any day!

      You are missing the point. If you happen to work in any sort of extreme environment (very hot, very cold, very dusty, etc) your Dell is going to die pretty quickly if it even works at all. Furthermore there are jobs where equipment failure has serious consequences. The point is that it doesn't die in the first place, not that you can replace it. Take a standard laptop on a polar expedition or into the middle of a desert and getting your laptop serviced isn't exactly going to be an option you can exercise. And thanks to our good friend Murphy odds are it will break at the least convenient time possible.

      Ruggedized laptops aren't for office workers. They are for people who work very far from climate controlled offices.

    • First of all, Panasonic has an accidental damage replacement plan. You just have to buy it. Pretty much all the manufacturers have such a plan if you're willing to pay for it. So your point is pretty much moot.

      Second, a Toughbook isn't really purchased because it will stand up to occasional catastrophic damage. It is purchased because it will stand up to the everyday wear and tear that would eat other laptops alive.

      Toughbooks are designed to work in extreme heat and cold, in dirty, dusty, wet environmen

    • A Dell with additional warranty is better covered than a Panasonic without additional warranty. Was I supposed to be surprised?

      "Protection Plus" is the comparable additional Panasonic warranty that you should have bought in the first place.

    • Considering the cost of the Panasonic ToughBooks, I would take a Dell XFR + CompleteCare any day!

      Protecting against damage isn't the usual reason for buying a Toughbook, it's availability.

  • General Dynamics (Score:2, Informative)

    by GrBear (63712)

    I dunno man, I'd rather buy a notebook [gd-itronix.com] from a company [gdls.com] that knows how to make things rugged [gdls.com], verses a company that makes VCR's and questionable quality audio products.

  • So much for the "DoD's MIL-STD 810F heat, dust and vibration requirements"*
    It looks cool as shit, but that's about it. I guess the only requirement to meet DoD specs is testosterone appeal.

    [*] -
    http://www.engadget.com/2009/03/09/super-rugged-latitude-e6400-xfr-is-tougher-than-you/ [engadget.com]

  • by UncHellMatt (790153) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:58AM (#29965084)
    I work for a small police department, and did considerable research before choosing the Toughbook. They're certainly not made for speed, and they're heavy and ugly. But they're not made for that, they're made to take the abuse that is almost inevitable in the hands of people who are, shall we say, not exactly delicate flowers.

    Before actually mounting these computers in our cruisers, I dropped the Toughbook while holding it above my head (I'm about 5'10"), I punched the back of the screen (only succeeded in giving myself a bloody knuckle), poured hot coffee on the keys, and generally did things you would REALLY not want to do to your laptop. They took it with just little scratches here and there, but no issue other than cosmetic.

    One thing I did find is was that, of course, the screen is tough but it's still a laptop screen. The clamps used to mount the laptops on a swing arm in the cars goes slightly over the sides of the Toughbook. If the screen is slammed hard, that can actually cause a crack. Fortunately I'd paid the extra dosh for a better warranty covering such things, and was able to remind the officers that they need to be aware of that issue.

    Dells offerings are really GOOD laptops, and not bad if you need rugged, but not insanely durable. I finally settled on the Toughbook not just because of the abuse I put them through, or just from asking other local PDs what they used. One of my users, a recent hire only a year or so out of the Army Rangers, told me that the Toughbook are what they jumped out of aircraft with. The abuse a grizzled old geek like myself can throw at a computer is pretty much NOTHING like what an Army Ranger could do.

    So far, the TBs have been worth every penny we spent.
  • The five-finger discounter. One operation bought two of the $3,000 beasts and one walked. They got another and it walked too! The last one they got I got them a cable lock and LoJack service. I slapped LoJack stickers all over both of them. That put the kibosh on the thefts.

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