Like a good scout, this subnotebook's prepared

Like a good scout, this subnotebook's prepared

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

The rugged Scout2 subnotebook PC might be small, but it's not delicate. And at 5.5 pounds, the 2.8- by 6.5- by 9.2-inch unit from Melard Technologies Inc. is easy to carry.

It passed every one of the GCN Lab's torture tests for ruggedness: shock, high and low temperature extremes, and even an hour in a rain forest environment.

A rubberized coating called Santoprene protects every corner and edge. The coating adds almost an inch to overall dimensions. It does an excellent job of absorbing shock.

I dropped the Scout2, turned off, a dozen times from a height of 35 inches.

Afterward I found no signs of damage and could boot and begin processing right away.

One snag did turn up during a series of powered drop tests, however. The Scout2's battery was not secured well. The rubberized coating kept it from popping out of the unit, but its only inner restraint was a small metal clip.

During drops, the battery often was jarred out of contact and the computer immediately stopped working. I would have to open the battery case door and pop the battery back in before rebooting. I initially thought I had broken the Scout2. Fortunately, jiggling the lithium-ion battery back into place worked every time.

The rain forest test used a steam humidifier inside a sealed box.

The Advanced Micro Devices 233-MHz K6 processor is more than powerful enough to run the subnotebook's applications, and 64M of RAM is also adequate. The 10G hard drive is downright generous.

My test system came with Microsoft Windows 98 preinstalled and could execute all operating system functions.

The tiny sizes of the screen and keyboard will likely turn off some potential users. As the name indicates, this subnotebook is more a scout than a full expeditionary force. It has no CD-ROM drive; applications must be loaded either by docking with another computer or by attaching an external drive.

The keyboard is rather difficult to use. I doubt touch typists will like it. You have to press the Fn button plus a number button to use a function key, as there is no dedicated row of function keys.

Fit survivor

The 7.2-inch display is minuscule, although its touch-screen capability made up somewhat for the size. I found the touch screen accurate when used with the included pointer. As a bonus, the screen's coating makes the Scout2 readable in direct sunlight, something I have not seen any notebook maker get right before.

As for ruggedness, the Scout2 is ready to do battle with the elements. It survived, fully powered, for several hours inside a freezer room at 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Box Score


Rugged, portable subnotebook

Melard Technologies Inc.; Armonk, NY;

tel. 914-273-4488;

Price: $4,165

+ Small and sturdy

+ Long battery life

- Tendency for battery to dislodge

- No USB port

The maker claims the unit can survive, while running, at temperatures down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

I also conducted a rain forest test by exposing the Scout2 to heat and moisture. I placed the open, powered unit in a sealed box with a running boiling-water humidifier. During one test, I also added burning candles to raise the heat.

The box had a small hole for a digital camera that monitored the Scout2 for possible failure. During the hour-long test, the temperature inside the box reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The Scout2 never blinked.

Melard said the unit could be used in 10 centimeter-per-hour rain blowing at 40 miles per hour. Although the rain forest test was not nearly as violent, other notebooks I've tested have not survived it.

Battery life was quite long, averaging two hours, 50 minutes when the Scout2 was using all available system resources. Of course, the absence of a CD-ROM drive extended operating time.

Several extras make the subnotebook useful for field work. There's a half-wave dipole antenna for remote access. The antenna is rugged and has a rubberized coating. Other pluses include a Type III PC Card slot, a modem jack, and serial and parallel ports. I was surprised not to find a Universal Serial Bus port. It would be the ideal connection for an ultraportable unit running Win98.

Few subnotebooks match the rugged performance and tiny footprint of the Scout2. If you can get used to the small keyboard, this is the unit to pack for your next trip to, say, the Amazon. The possible uses within the government are plentiful: on a Coast Guard cutter, at a National Weather Service hurricane observation site, aboard a Navy cruiser, at a Forest Service wildfire station.

Environmentally, there's little the Scout2 can't handle.


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