Mobile computing: Rugged on a budget

Looks can be deceiving. The Durabook is actually quite rugged.

Twinhead Durabook is full-featured, sturdy enough for most users

In a recent Ask the Lab column, someone inquired about buying rugged notebooks for their office. We responded by saying that for the most part, rugged notebooks were too expensive and bulky for most agencies to consider for business use. But what if you could get a fairly normal notebook at a normal price that also happened to be rugged?

To that end, the GCN Lab took a look at the $1,976 Durabook N15RI from Twinhead Corp. On the surface, it looks like a regular notebook, although slightly on the heavy side, at 6 pounds 12 ounces. But even though the case looks like standard plastic, it is actually a magnesium alloy, which in our rugged testing is about 10 to 20 times stronger than normal notebook plastic. There is also shock-absorbing material around both the LCD and the hard drive, though you won't notice them by looking.

Shock value

The N15RI is not fully military rugged, but does pass 810f testing for one very important factor: shock. About 90 percent of the people who need rugged notebooks need shock protection, not weather defenses. Here, the N15RI shines. It passed our modified test suite in which we repeatedly dropped the notebook onto plywood over concrete from a height of 21 inches. The N15RI came through without a scratch and was able to boot up after each of 10 drops on every surface and corner.

According to Twinbook, the N15RI can survive drops from even higher. We only perform tests up to 21 inches because if our system breaks, the review's over. The system also has a spill-resistant keyboard and touch pad.

The N15RI we tested came with a 1.8GHz processor and an impressive 2G of RAM. It achieved a 6,805 in our GCN/Alterion benchmark testing, which isn't the fastest mark we've seen, but it's on the higher end of the scale, especially for a rugged system.

In battery tests, the N15RI acted more like an ultraportable than a desktop replacement system. Our battery tests are extremely hard on notebooks. We run a movie off the hard drive and disable power-saving features to get a worst-case scenario result.

But the N15RI still lasted for three hours and 56 minutes, one of the most impressive times we have ever recorded, and easily the best for a system with a full-size, 15.1-inch screen. Granted, our system came with a nine-cell battery (a similarly powerful six-cell is standard), but the fact that the high-capacity battery didn't add much cost or heft to the system is very encouraging.

And the Durabook N15RI doesn't skimp anywhere either. It has an internal DVD-RW drive, built-in 802.11a/b/g wireless, a FireWire port and Gigabit Ethernet. For the price, you can't get much better than this full-featured, ruggedized system. To the reader who asked us about rugged notebooks in the office, we say give the Durabook N15RI a look.

About the Authors

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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