GETTING EQUIPED: Rugged Computers for Rugged Work

The newest nifty piece of hardware from Apple, the MacBook Air, certainly has the “cool” factor going for it. Measuring a hair over three-quarters of an inch at its thickest point and weighing a mere 3 pounds, the “world’s thinnest notebook,” as Apple touts it, is the ultimate in portability. But when it comes to mobile computing hardware for utility field workers, thin isn’t necessarily in.

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Utility workers need a mobile device that can stand up to the extremes of the field environment. Utility trucks can get dusty. Hardware invariably takes a jarring. Drops are not infrequent. Field techs need a computer that’s built like a tank, and that’s where the latest offerings from companies Panasonic, GD-Itronix and Getac really shine–in building mobile devices that can withstand a beating.

New Toughbook Offerings

With its Toughbook line, Panasonic has set the bar for rugged mobile computers. Two new products in that line–the 52 and the 7 series–offer varying degrees of toughness

The Toughbook 52 (pictured on page 56) offers all the processing power of a desktop replacement notebook in a form factor engineered for mobility. It is constructed of magnesium alloy and includes a shock-mounted screen and easily removable hard drive for extra physical data security. With a battery life of approximately four to six hours, the semi-rugged device is certified to the MIL-STD-810F standard, tested to withstand drops of up to 2.5 feet on all six sides. The hard drive itself is tested to withstand a drop of 3 feet. The Toughbook 52 also includes a spill-resistant keyboard.

Toughbook W7, T7 and Y7 from Panasonic.
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The 52 comes equipped with Windows XP Professional SP2 or Windows Vista Business running on either a 1.8 or 2 GHz Intel Core2 Duo Processor. Either a 80 or 120 GB hard drive is available, and all Toughbook 52s feature a 15.4-inch widescreen active matrix color LCD display.

Connectivity is provided by four USB ports, a Firewire port, 10/100/1000 Ethernet and a 56K modem. All the popular wireless connectivity options are available too, including Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi.

The Toughbook 52 measures 2 inches by 14 inches by 11.3 inches and weighs in at 7.4 pounds. Surprisingly affordable for a device in this class, the 52 can be had for $1,649 to $2,499, depending on configuration.

Although not built to withstand the same type of battering the 52 will take, Panasonic’s new business-rugged 7 series of notebook computers are designed to meet the demands of mobile executives, walking workers and road warriors. The 7 comes in three flavors: the W7, the tablet alternative T7, and the thin-and-light Y7.

The Intel Core 2 Duo-based W7, T7 and Y7 notebooks offer a combination of the latest computing power, light weight (from 3.0 to 3.7 pounds) and long battery life. Panasonic says its 7 series is more durable than any other business notebook. They are drop-tested using both the MIL-STD-810F methodology common to rugged notebooks as well as additional Panasonic factory drop tests. They are also spill-resistant, have strong magnesium alloy cases and chassis, shock-mounted hard drives and LCDs, and internal flexible connectors for additional protection. The Panasonic spill-through keyboard design protects against liquid spills of more than 6 ounces, and both the lid and base of the notebooks are designed to withstand more than 220 pounds of pressure.

In addition, the 7 Series offers a range of embedded wireless options, including 802.11, Bluetooth 2.0 and optional built-in 3G mobile broadband solutions from AT&T (HSDPA), Sprint or Verizon Wireless (EV-DO Rev. A).

The Toughbook W7 notebook weighs 3 pounds, has an 80 GB hard disk, and battery life of approximately seven hours. The Toughbook T7 is a tablet-alternative notebook with a touch screen, stylus and screen rotating software. It features a 12.1-inch touch-screen LCD, weighs 3.3 pounds and delivers up to nine hours of battery life, depending on operating environment. The Y7 features a bigger screen than the other two models at 14.1 inches, but still weighs only 3.7 pounds. The Y7 offers five hours of battery life.

The 52 series and 7 series both feature a three-year limited warranty. For more information, visit

Lightweight Tablet and Notebook

At the recent DistribuTECH 2008 Conference & Exhibition, GETAC Inc. introduced its ultra-lightweight GETAC E100 tablet PC and the “bright-as-you-need-it” GETAC B300 notebook PC.

E100 tablet PC from GETAC
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Despite its diminutive size at 3 pounds, the GETAC E100 is designed with field service applications in mind. It meets U.S. Army MIL-STD-810F and IP54 standards for durability and protection against dirt, dust, water, motion, vibration, temperature and other factors that would severely damage or disable a commercial-grade PC.

The E100 offers field workers an 8.4-inch TFT SVGA transmissive display with integrated touch screen panel and customizable numeric keypad. Optional features include a bright 800 Nit sunlight-readable display and an array of expandable “mission boxes” designed for customized market applications that utilize RFID, barcode and magnetic strip readers or digital cameras.

B300 notebook PC from GETAC
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The GETAC B300 notebook PC, meanwhile, takes sunlight-readable display technology to its logical next step by introducing the industry’s first 1,200 Nit screen and optional night vision capabilities, as well as a standard automatic brightness control that conserves battery power and maximizes screen readability. The B300 also introduces patent-pending technology designed by GETAC to meet the U.S. Army’s MIL-STD-3009 standard for night vision.

Both the E100 and B300 are contained in watertight magnesium alloy cases that are vibration and drop-shock resistant and meet MIL-STD-810F and IP54 compliance standards. (The B300 is available with optional salt fog and/or MIL-STD-461E compliance.) The E100 includes 802.11b/g wireless LAN and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity as standard features; EV-DO and GPRS/EDGE networks and integrated GPS are available as options. The B300 includes 802.11b/g wireless LAN connectivity. Bluetooth 2.0, EV-DO and GPRS/EDGE networks and integrated GPS are available as options.

All GETAC rugged products come with a three-year limited hardware warranty. For more information, visit

Ultra-viewable Tablet

Combining powerful processing power with an ergonomic tablet design for one-handed operation, the Duo-Touch II from General Dynamics Itronix enables rugged, high-performance computing for mobile professionals in industries such as public safety, telecommunications and utilities.

Duo-Touch II from General Dynamics Itronix
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The Duo-Touch II features patent-pending DynaVue display technology. The DynaVue touchscreen design increases outdoor viewability and fine detail definition, even in direct sunlight, by eliminating the internal reflections which can wash out display clarity in other touchscreen displays. DynaVue technology provides the critical balance between brightness and contrast, resulting in optimum viewing for outdoor work environments as well as indoor and in-vehicle use, without sacrificing the battery life and processor performance that come from simply increasing screen brightness.

To ensure reliable computing with either a pen or the touch of a finger, the Duo-Touch II is equipped with both an active digitizer and passive touchscreen modes. The active digitizer allows for accurate signature capture and adding notes to drawings or maps, while the passive touchscreen mode can be used for simple navigation in Windows and other custom applications which utilize user-friendly selection “buttons.”

The Duo-Touch II Tablet PC employs an ultra-low-voltage Intel Core Duo Processor U2500 at 1.2 GHz with 2MB of L2 cache memory. With multiple integrated wireless technologies, including support for EDGE/GPRS/UMTS/HSDPA/ HSUPA, EV-DO, 802.11 a/g/n, Bluetooth, and GPS networks, the Duo-Touch II can support up to three RF modems and GPS simultaneously.

The Duo-Touch II can be mounted on a desk or in a vehicle via a docking station and can be paired with an optional keyboard. It is also equipped with a Kensington lock slot, serial port, USB, and external monitor connections. The die-cast magnesium unit has been crash-tested for in-vehicle safety, meets or exceeds MIL-STD 810F durability standards, and is sealed against water and dust intrusion. The unit has a limited three-year warranty and a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $3,595. For more information, visit

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