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Rugged Laptops 58

redbeard writes "The NYTimes (requires free login) has an interesting write up on "ruggedized" laptops, these things can withstand tornados, being run over by trucks and being submerged in water, among other things. Panasonic is planing on a scaled-down line for consumer use, kind of like the Hummer vs. HUMVEE." If it lasts more than 6 mos in my hands, I consider it rugged...
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Rugged Laptops

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  • by Alphix ( 33559 ) on Thursday May 20, 1999 @08:30AM (#1885348) Homepage
    Topic says it all.....
    L/P: cypherpunk
  • Where's the accontability in the moderation system here?

    It's here in the form of rule-of-the-masses; if a moderator unjustly scores something, then other moderators will reverse it. This only applies if most moderators are fair, but it seems to have worked fairly well so far IMO.

  • > Tough laptops are cool, but this line: "A belly
    > flop off a desk, however, would mean a force of
    > 1,000 to 3,000 G's at impact." is a howler.

    I dunno. Metal block, concrete floor, it could happen. Division by really little numbers.

  • I have recently gotten a Panasonic ToughBook 71 (300 Mhz PII, 64 MB Ram, 6GB Hd, 13" display, CD, USB) and am very pleased with it.

    It is not fully ruggedized, it has the magnesium shell and gel-padded HD/display, but is not a sealed unit (it has an air vent for the CPU). I don't think I'll try standing on it (300lbs), but it has taken some rough handling already.

    I'm running Debian 2.1 and Win 95. Linux compatibility is great, but I'm still working on sound (The 2.2 kernel has the an OPL3-SAx driver, but I haven't played with it much).

    Word of advice, go ahead and order the "optional" cable that lets you use the floppy and the CD-ROM at the same time (this SHOULD be standard...).

  • by Graymalkin ( 13732 ) on Thursday May 20, 1999 @11:58AM (#1885355)

    a gel or foam insulation between the outer casing and interior casing. This would distribute and dissipate the kinetic energy from a fall or impact. If you used an insulating foam or gel it would also help the interior survive heat and cold much better. If I were gonna build one of these I would use a magnesium alloy case with gel insulation between the case and the interior case and I would also put a large guage plastic sheet behind and in front of the LCD display. This would prevent one of the worst forms of damage to your laptop, death of the LCD. The thick plastic would been the LCD mechanism secure between the sheets-the damage occurs when the LCD is bent-and would also keep people from pushing too hard on the screen and making you slap their hands. BTW, the being run over with a HUMVEE isnt THAT spectacular, the weight is distributed over most of the area of the case. I'm more impressed when they drop it onto concrete with no damage.

    You want rugged? How about a 40 pound steel monster made by our friends at Northgate. Yeaaaaaaaaaah.

  • I have had toughbooks for work. I find they are quite rugged, (infact our panasonic rep dropped one from eye level onto the floor of our tech area, and picked it up, brushed it off and booted it!) but i find the floppy/cdrom swapping to be extreamly annoying, and i also like the Thinkpad trackpoint system better.
    The screen is quite nice and the keyboard, as far as laptop ones go, it quite good. They are definatly my fav laptop!

  • I have seen ruggedized laptops for some time in the back of some trade papers.. But previously, they were more specialized... as for people who have to work in harsh environments... Geologists, land surveyors...etc. They were usually much bigger and bulkier too... Its nice to see that they are making the regular laptops more durable... They have always been too delicate in my opinion.
  • by InThane ( 2300 ) on Thursday May 20, 1999 @08:32AM (#1885358) Homepage Journal
    ...back when I was in IS at a local public utility company. The survey engineers would take the things out with them, run over them with trucks, drop them from telephone poles, and just generally pound the crap out of them.

    We only ever had one fail, and that was because it got hit straight on by a pickaxe. Went right through one side of the case and out the other. The casing does great against distributed pressure, but it don't do to good against impaling attacks...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Amen on the Motorolas, brother! When I was in college, I worked security at an amusement park in the summer. We used Motorola hand units.

    I have seen (and occasionally been responsible for) those things coming off the belt of a running officer and landing hard on the concrete. They always worked.

    The worst one happened when I dropped a Motorola Expo while running. The thing hit the concrete at full speed in front of my feet. I kicked it (running, remember?). It slid about 20 feet, ricocheted off of the security office (I'm talking hockey puck here), slid another ten feet, bounced off another building, and came to a rest.

    (Me on aforementioned radio, knowing I was probably in big trouble): "773 to 700 10-1? (radio check)"
    (Security dispatch): "10-2 (receiving ok) 10-1?"
    (Me, VERY relieved): "10-2"

    I had a new respect for Motorola's engineers after that.
  • Remember too that Cmdr. Taco is ever-vigilant listening for and booting moderation abusers.
  • Thiers a company near me (like a 5 min drive) that makes rugged laptops. Arbor Systems [arborsys.com], they have pictures of coustomers driving trucks on to the laptops. I was going to check them out when i get some money for a new laptop, maby being weather restistant it might last.

  • This reminds me of a comment made ten or twenty years ago by a photographer on the definition of a perfect "professional" camera: One which he could use to take pictures Monday through Friday, and as a hockey puck on the weekends. It was funny when he said it, but these days I suppose one could easily produce a ruggedized CCD camera that would survive a slap shot.
  • by UncleRoger ( 9456 ) on Thursday May 20, 1999 @09:35AM (#1885367) Homepage
    The first ever clamshell type portable computer was the GRiD Compass [sinasohn.com], a ruggedized computer with an alloy case and bubble memory (no moving parts.)

    Since then, GRiD [grid.com] has continued making ruggedized laptops, including Tempest models for the military. There are other manufacturers out there as well, including the Rocky [nichetech.co.uk] and Terradat [geotechnology.co.uk] laptops.

    Personally, I plan to put a GRiD Convertible (identical to the AST PenExec [sinasohn.com]) to work as the navigation and journal-keeping system in my 1959 Land Rover 109" [sinasohn.com]. It's not ultra-rugged, but it will do until I can afford a truly rugged machine.

    P.S., that trick of driving over something isn't as impressive as it looks -- you get about 1/4 the vehicle's weight, which is evenly distributed over the entire area of the tire meeting the ground -- say 40 or so square inches (6" x 7"), so even my Rover, fully loaded, would only put about 25 pounds per square inch of pressure on the laptop.

  • Well, the interesting thing was that the Powerbook in question is a PB 1400, a very common mid-range model. All durability features that allowed it to operate while were/are standard across the board. The Itronix laptop is a peculiarity among PC laptops, available through special channels.

    And BTW, the Itronix laptop was moved 20 feet, not 20 miles. And it was inside a Ford van, not flying around on its own.
  • Even with a rugged laptop, how do people use these things in the field? Can they be hooked up with a modem via cellular or satallite networks? That combined with a GPS unit could be a really, really big help to people like park rangers and rescue workers who sometimes have difficulty with finding trekkers.
  • Yeah, the GRiDs used to be quite nice and widely available. I was on a help desk years ago when the GRiD sales droids came by to deliver about 25 laptops for our sales force. They impressed me with the confidence they had, telling me stories about them dropping off file cabinets onto concrete and so on.

    What really got my attention was when one guy grabbed a GRiD by the screen -- the screen, mind you, which was open and vertical -- and slammed the computer down on the workbench. Wham!

    Didn't even blink.

    Then Tandy bought them, there was a giddy few months when they were sellling them in their storefronts, then bam! Tandy gets out of the computer business. And for another ten years it was nigh impossible to find ruggedized laptops for a reasonable price.
  • The AST PenExec [sinasohn.com] was made by GRiD -- it was the GRiD 2260 "Convertible" [haggle.com] with AST's name on it. I put the link to the AST Page because I don't have one ready yet for the GRiD version.

    While not truly ruggedized, like some of the other models, the Convertible is fairly robust, and its design makes it ideal for the dual purposes for which I plan to use it. In slate mode, I will have it mounted near the dashboard to display maps and directions; in notebook mode, I'll use it in bed, under a tree, or whereever convenient for recording the days events [sinasohn.com].

    In general, however, I agree -- I have not been impressed with AST laptops (or Compaq, for that matter, who knows nothing of their computers more than a year or two old, so don't lose those driver disks!)

  • I'm glad these are available. The NEC notebook at work is outdated and is in need of replacement. Its case is falling apart due to being dropped, kicked, and dragged behind the electric cars.

    Speaking of destroying things, we once had a 15,000 lb forklift drive over a Motorola pager and it survived. Our radios; however, suffer from routine abuse as they are heavier and break away from the belt clips. They have been dropped from 40 feet to a concrete floor. They also sometimes take a swim in oil. The rubber antennas are often disfigured. They usually survive.
  • I'll have to say...they should have sent one to me, if it lasts one month under the "care" of my younger brothers it's really tornado safe =)
  • by ghibli ( 38720 ) on Thursday May 20, 1999 @10:46AM (#1885376)
    Several posts mention the "old" rugged laptops which have been used by certain military servicemen for years. But they were usually off-the-shelf laptops retrofitted to meet various durability standards and resold to the military. However, this article points to a relatively new trend: a MAJOR VENDOR has a line of laptops specifically designed for harsh environments that is available to the general public.

    The technology, materials and manufacturing processes used by these laptops will eventually filter through the channel to other vendors (who will copy them once they see the demand --- and smell money to be made) and then down to slightly less expensive models.

    Of course, I don't really think that these rugged electronic lunchboxes will ever be needed by the "general public." If you are stupid enough to drive your Hummer over your laptop (warranty or not), you should not be allowed to roam around in public. And if you can afford a Hummer, you probably won't be worried about a notebook's price or the loss of data!

    What's the going rate: 3 heavy-duty laptops = 2 Hummer wiper blades = 1/2 tank of Hummer-grade gas?
    But I must admit: dropping a laptop 6 feet and using it afterwards is COOL!
  • I have seen these at a Government convention they were dropping them about 4 feet. Then having 200 pounds guys stand and jumb on them. The screen got a little screwed up sometimes but that was it. I would love to have one of these babys.
  • Sure, Sattelite phones will get you on-line as on a friend's recent trip [mgmtconsult.com], or you can use a ricochet modem [ricochet.net] like I do [sinasohn.com], and this guy [fluentnet.com] does, if you're in range.

  • If anything, the HUMMER is a scaled-*UP* version of the HMMWV M998A2. Better suspension, better seats, a radio... etc. Minus the kevlar weaved into the fiberglass, mind you.
  • This is not on topic but I wanted to post anyway because people are always commenting on how the Hummer is a "scaled down" version of the Humvee. This is plain wrong. Even though Slashdot has a link to www.hummer.com they failed to actually read the site:
    "The civilian Hummer has the same basic design and
    components as the Humvee military truck. Many
    creature comforts have been added to make the Hummer the world's most serious 4x4 vehicle."
    (Bold text by me.) So as you can see, if anything, the Hummer is a scaled up version of the Humvee.
    And yes, I am somewhat torqued by this because I actually do own a Hummer.
    Just needed to rant.
    No, I haven't tried driving over a laptop with it.
  • The Air Force has some ruggedized Sun workstations they use. (The components are bought by a third company from Sun, repackaged, and then sold the to military.) The quote from my buddie in the armed services is that "It could be dropped from an airplane and keep on going."

    I have to wonder how many packets per meters/second it generated.

  • Rugged machines, therefore, keep their interiors sealed but avoid spontaneous combustion by using the surrounding magnesium case as a heat sink.

    Sounds like a good idea, but what if you overclock these things, just how quickly is that magnesium case going to catch fire? ;]
  • I like the idea of a submersible laptop. I would buy one just to use in my pool. Think about it! grab an oxygen tank, some goggles, a laptop, and go Scuba Diving High-Tech! The idea of being able to pund the crap out of it to no avail is good too. (How many times has YOUR laptop pissed you off enough that you want to throw it across the room? NOW YOU CAN!)

    THAT should be touted as a feature.

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • I was just wondering the same thing. What gives?
  • Excellent comparison, read on.

    This time 4 years ago I was working on a US Army vehicle maintenance project, using the Panasonic CF-44.

    All hardware was off-the-shelf. The idea to use the CF-44 was from their use by geologists and in the oil industry (BP was already using them, as I recall).

    The model we used was an i486-66, 8meg(?) RAM, forgot HDD size, 2 PC slots, hot-swappable battery/floppy bay, plus a 2x CD tucked under the flip up keyboard. Had a kewell trackball pointer and a titanium top (the bottom of case was plastic).

    These machines were issued to mechanics in Army motorpools, along with barand new "electronic technical manuals", i.e., maintenance manuals on CD. The computer was the vehicle to bring the new manual format into the motorpool.

    The first major indication that we had picked the correct hardware was... a mechanic knocked a running Panasonic off the hood of a HUMMWV and it lived, no damage.

    However, they were not Officer proof. Later a Lt. dropped a power supply into a lake, he had to buy a new one.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Check out their AMD based 133Mhz number.

    Not anything that you could actually use for doing programming but seriously rugged, great for those vertical market solutions.

    * All solid state disks.
    * Magnesium case.
    * Immersible.

    They say they can survive a 2M drop onto concrete.
  • by webslacker ( 15723 ) on Thursday May 20, 1999 @09:02AM (#1885396)
    The article's over at Ogrady's. [ogrady.com]

    Too bad they didn't mention this one in the NY Times article.
  • This is exactly what would be required for
    "Burger King to offer Internet Access" [slashdot.org].
    If this thing will be able to withstand few months of this environment at all. All I wonder is if they tested the thing not with passive water, but actively corrosive stuff like Coke.

    Actually, I would like to have this notebook (if it was not THAT expensive) to play some jokes, like spilling my coffee in refectory so people would be horrified.

    http://www.investigatio.com [investigatio.com]

  • my thinkpad POS 380D is still running... but i wouldn't say it lasted more than 6 months.. battery is dead, cdrom is fooked... yeah.
    then again its in a plastic case too... stupid IBM.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I found the CF-25 Mark II in the Microage Outlet for $1800. Panasonic was asking about $3500. I now have the 2.1GB hardrive partitioned to dual boot Linux (RH5.2) and Win95B (Came with it). It is a great laptop. It has survived a couple of drops (3 ft or less) while running. The case is a magnesium alloy, the screen is protected so that you can't make casual contact and cause that distorted look most LCDs get when you push on them and the hardrive is shock protected with some gel padding. If you have the money I would definitely recommend these laptops.
  • Consumer Reports did an article on laptops last month. They concluded the same thing about the Dell after their spill test. Yup, they spilled it on purpose.

  • I carry a PowerBook around with me all the time, am not too careful with it, and I've never had any problems. Granted this is not tornado country.

    The feature that appeals to me about this would be getting a waterproof laptop that I could use in the bath. I do my best thinking underwater. :-)
  • Maybe one of these could have survived my Dell laptop's recent experience with Orange Juice.

    Needless to say the Dell faired poorly.

  • so don't register....

    use the cypherpunk login

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