Laptop computer on the edge of the beach getting wet

Why IP rating is important (and may not mean what you think it means)

You hear it more and more: companies these days are bragging about their devices’ IP ratings, and no, they don’t mean Internet Protocol. Recently, many devices aimed at government also have arrived with IP ratings prominently displayed. And no, they don’t mean Intellectual Property.

Ingress protection ratings preview image

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So what is an IP rating? It’s a standard whose use came out of nowhere it seems — at least in terms of IT equipment — and may become more important than the MIL-SPEC-810 is today, even though it measures different parts of a rugged rating. As the devices used in the public sector become more mobile, with an accompanying emphasis on ruggedness, it’s a term users will be hearing more often.

The IP standard measures Ingress Protection. It grew fairly organically, and now has letter designations following the IP numbers to represent specific tests. For example, the letter K means the material (typically paint) was tested against pressure washing. But for most electronic gear, you only need to know the basic IP numbers to determine how a piece of equipment could be used.

The IP designation, sometimes called IP Code, is a two-digit number. The first number represents how well the material resists solid objects getting into the housing. That number runs from 0, indicating no protection, to 6, which keeps out even dust and fine particulates. The second number designates how well a device keeps water away from the vulnerable electronic components inside, running from 0 for no protection (basically an open hole) to 8, which means that the device can remain deep underwater for long periods of time without failing.

Generally, the higher the numbers, the more protected a device is against either solids or liquids. Most electrical components in your home or office, such the plugs along the wall, are IP 22, meaning they can prevent small objects like a child’s fingers from entering them, and don’t fail if water is dripped vertically across their surface.

Use of the IP ratings standard will probably continue to grow. It’s a good test and quite reliable at determining how rugged a device is against foreign objects getting inside.

Interestingly, there is also a dropping (shock) component to the IP ratings, but for feds and most everyone else, the MIL-SPEC-810 document is still the standard method for testing that aspect of rugged gear. As such, most rugged devices will have a MIL-SPEC rating for shock, vibration and most everything else, except for solids and water ingress, which will have IP designations. Knowing what these numbers mean can keep you and your data from getting all wet.

Check the accompanying chart to get a read on what each rating means.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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