Rugged notebooks don't leave speed behind

Box Scores

Itronix GoBook III

Getac MobileForce M220

No matter how you slice it, portable computer sales are catching up to desktop sales. Alfred Toussaint, federal marketing manager for Intel Corp., said that in 2005 his company expects for the first time to sell more mobile chips than desktop chips.

As prices of notebook systems have come down, performance has gone up and wireless communications enabled better mobile computing, buyers have grown comfortable with the idea of a notebook as their primary platform. Of course, notebooks continue to present unique security challenges, such as how to protect WiFi networks from hackers and prevent mobile systems from introducing viruses to agency infrastructures. And if you're lugging critical information around, you need to make sure you can get it, even if you bang the system against your desk or the airline check-in counter.

It's not surprising to us, therefore, that more innovation is happening in portable computing than anywhere else, particularly in the area of rugged notebooks.

Itronix GoBook III

In the past, rugged notebook users had to settle for something less than the cutting edge when buying their portables. Apparently there was a perception that rugged notebook users didn't need a lot of speed because their primary concern was surviving harsh environments. But Itronix Corp. figures the quicker the job gets done, the faster users can come in from the cold tundra or the scorching desert.

The result is the GoBook III, a notebook that's rugged and fast. The system and its 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M processor performed well in the GCN Lab, scoring 6,651 on the GCN/Alterion benchmark tests. That number is in line with some of the fastest nonrugged notebooks we've tested.

Our unit also came with a full gigabyte of RAM and a 64M ATI Mobility Radeon graphics engine. Its screen, although just 12.1 inches in diagonal'on the low end of today's power notebooks'is exceptional. It uses Itronix's ColorVue technology so you can read it better outdoors or under bright conditions. We also like the glow-in-the-dark keyboard for working at night.
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The GoBook III can accommodate up to four wireless radios simultaneously, including IEEE 802.11g, Bluetooth and wide area networking technologies such as General Packet Radio Service. And it supports an optional integrated global positioning system, plus add-in smart-card and fingerprint readers.

The GoBook III isn't some semi-rugged notebook either. It's a fully rugged unit that passes all the MIL-SRD 810F military specification tests. And it sells on the GSA schedule for $3,623, which, although quite high, is in line with other rugged notebooks that offer much lower performance.

Getac MobileForce M220

Notwithstanding the GoBook III, the Achilles heel of most notebooks'regular or semi-rugged'is the LCD screen. But we're ex- pecting that loophole to close this year on most rugged models.

In December, the GCN Lab had a first hands-on look at the latest in rugged notebook computing from Getac Inc. of Lake Forest, Calif. The MobileForce M220, which comes out this month, runs on a low-voltage 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M processor, can hold as much as 2G of DDR-SDRAM and comes with a selection of 40G, 60G or 80G quick-swap hard drives. It scored 6,312 on the GCN/Alterion benchmark tests, which is hardly a surprise next to the GoBook III because its processor isn't as powerful. But it was the M220's display that caught our eye.

Although other rugged PC companies encase their LCDs in sturdy materials, we noticed that the LCD on the M220 doesn't react to violent thrashing as much as the screens of its competitors. The secret is that the LCD is heavily protected by the polymer case. It really cradles the screen better than do most rugged units, which often rely on the basic protections of the notebook's shell to suffice.

The M220 comes standard with a 14.1-inch screen but offers the option of a 15-inch LCD, which is one of the largest screens available for any rugged notebook.

At $3,000, the M220 doesn't give you the speed or bells and whistles of the GoBook III, but it should last a long time under harsh conditions.

About the Authors

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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