Semitough, all good
Tough enough: Dell's ATG D620 is sturdy enough for many environments that aren't good for regular notebooks.
Part of the problem with trying to decide on a semirugged notebook PC is the fact that nobody has decided officially just what semirugged means. Some follow selected Mil-Std 810F military standards and not others, while other manufacturers develop their own specifications. Of course, without an official standard, vendors are free to go by anything they choose.
Dell's Latitude ATG D620 is a good example of what semirugged should be. It follows the military standards where possible and uses its own standards where that isn't feasible.
As we have come to expect from Dell, the ATG has a modular media bay, which will accept any Latitude D-family peripherals. Although the model we tested had an 8x DVD +/- RW optical drive, it is capable of accepting other optical drives, floppy drives, hard drives or even a second battery. This sort of versatility is heightened by the existence of VGA, serial, modem, network, PC card and four USB ports.
Security for the ATG is above the standard fare for notebooks with wireless. An integrated smart-card reader and a biometric fingerprint reader easily allow for the use of multiple authentication methods.
As we mentioned earlier, the ATG D620 does meet the military standards for vibration, humidity and altitude. Note that this does not mean it passes the specification for impacts. However, its shock-mounted hard drive and display and its magnesium alloy chassis should afford it a bit of resilience in that department. It should otherwise do just fine in any humid environment with a great deal of vibration.
Even with all the structural reinforcements, the ATG D620 weighs in at 6 pounds and 11 ounces, which is only a few ounces heavier than your average business class notebook.
There are task lights mounted on top of the LCD, which are angled to shine downward and illuminate the keyboard quite well. Dell chose to make the lights red instead of a more typical blue, and we noticed that while it provided as much usable illumination in the immediate vicinity of the keyboard, the red is less distracting for others at greater distances.
The 14.1-inch WXGA display shines at 500 nits, which is almost twice as bright as a typical notebook display. This allows it to be seen clearly in all but the brightest and most direct daylight. It also makes the glare from the task lights nearly invisible when looking at the screen.
The ATG's 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor with a speedy 667 MHz front-side bus backed by 1G of memory managed to pull out a decent showing in our Alterion benchmark tests. With a score of 8,116, it performed about as well as any fully rugged laptop we've tested and nearly as well as most business class models.
In our battery life test, the ATG ran for 4 hours and 18 minutes. This is half an hour to an hour better than we have come to expect from most notebooks with 9-cell batteries and no low-voltage components. When operating on batteries, the ATG will lower the brightness of the display slightly and automatically disable the RJ-45 network port if it isn't being used, thus giving the notebook a bit of extra life.
We found the consumer price at $3,123 to be right in between the range of fully rugged and business class notebooks, which is right where we had expected it to fall. The average GSA price of $3,085 is a slight improvement, but either price is pretty good for what you get.
If you are going to need computing in overly humid or shaky environments but don't need to spend more money on the full military specification, then Dell's ATG D620 may be the notebook you need.