Rugged individuals

GCN Lab review: Seven diverse, military-ready devices prove that practically any product can get tough

WE DON'T KNOW if you've noticed it, but the world is
not very soft. It's littered with rocks, packed dirt, trees
and all manner of unfriendly objects. And that doesn't take
into account all the man-made junk we have littered the Earth with,
such as tables, chairs and sports utility vehicles.


And then there is the environment itself. Sometimes it's
blisteringly hot, sometimes freezing cold. It rains. It snows. It
gets dark. And if your job requires you to be outside, there is not
much you can do but throw on a sturdy raincoat or a trusty pith
helmet and hope for the best.


Likewise, for a piece of electronic technology, it's rough
out there. How can a little PDA, laptop PC or cell phone survive in
a world filled with corrosive salt fog, deadly vibrations,
scorching heat and clumsy users who sooner or later are going to
drop it onto a hard surface?


For people who need to work amid the elements, the rugged
computer was created. Whether that fight is against driving winds
and rain or the potholes in the road, there are devices
specifically designed to survive just as long as you can ' in
some cases, even longer.


The rugged market has expanded rapidly during the past couple of
years. Even though government is still the biggest buyer of all
things rugged, regular consumers are starting to come on board.
Someone who drops a laptop PC once in a while just might decide
that paying a higher price for a rugged model could pay off in the
long run.


And why confine this protection to just laptops? Companies are
making ruggedized versions of just about every piece of equipment,
from cell phones to universal power supplies.


So this year, we wanted to test a good variety of rugged
equipment. We rounded up two differently configured rugged laptops
and a rugged PDA, cell phone, UPS, digital camera and portable hard
drive. All of these devices were tested based on their rated
specifications, so if a unit was not designed for salt fog, we
didn't throw it into the salt fog chamber. Judging from the
devices in this review, the chances are good that you'll find
a rugged device that can survive your environment and help you get
even the tough jobs done.


Testing methods

Devices were tested according to their ratings. The GCN Lab held to the Mil-Std- 810F and Mil-A-8625 standards as closely as possible.

SHOCK: Shock testing was performed by dropping devices at six-inch increments onto two inches of plywood sitting over concrete, using each surface as a
point of impact at each level. The devices were inspected for damage following each drop. We performed the test at a maximum height of 48-inches, unless otherwise specified by the company's rugged specifications.

TEMPERATURE: Devices were kept in a heat chamber where the temperature was 120 degrees Fahrenheit, unless otherwise noted. One device required us to raise
the temperature to 140 degrees. For cold environment testing, a 20-degree Fahrenheit freezer was used.

VIBRATION: Units were powered and set on top of a machine that vibrated rapidly on a 3-degree axis for 10 seconds, every 30 seconds.

HUMIDITY: A humidifier was used in a sealed chamber where the average humidity could be raised close to 100 percent. When appropriate, this test
was combined with heat temperature testing.

WATERPROOFING: Three devices claimed to be totally waterproof. All were submerged, while powered, into a tank of water. They stayed inside the tank
for eight hours, or until the water shorted their internal circuits.

SALT FOG: The newest lab test took place in a salt fog chamber using a 5 percent saline solution that was pH balanced to fall between 6.5 and 7. Depending on the coatings you are testing, the MIL-A- 8625 specification calls for devices to be in the chamber for as long as 300 hours. However, they were in place in our tests for a maximum of 48 hours.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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