Combat-ready laptops for the ultimate road warrior, or klutz

Designers of portable computers for military personnel are giving soldiers more options to take into the field

Designers of portable computers for military personnel are giving soldiers more options to take into the field, including tablet PCs and fully functional notebook devices so small that they can fit into someone's pocket. But one thing the vendors aren't giving users is Windows Vista.

For instance, defense contractor General Dynamics doesn't sell retail PCs, but it offers a line of laptops aimed at the military, police officers and other workers whose occupations require the use of PCs in extreme environments.

Last June, the company's Itronix unit introduced what it claims is the smallest ruggedized notebook PC, the GoBook MR-1. General Dynamics claims that the MR-1 is small enough that military users could carry the PC in a pocket on their combat fatigues. It has a 5.6-inch display, a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 processor, a variety of wireless connectivity options and GPS capabilities. Pricing begins at about US$4,450.

Jan O'Hara, vice president of federal markets at General Dynamics, said at the FOSE 2008 Conference and Exposition here this week the US Air Force helped develop the MR-1 and is using the system to call in bomb strikes.

The MR-1 comes with Windows XP installed on it, and it was hard to find Windows Vista among the systems that vendors were displaying at the FOSE show. The military, in particular, still relies on XP. O'Hara said that because of application porting issues, it could be two years before federal users of products like the MR-1 move to Vista. "Federal is all XP," she said.

Panasonic, which makes ruggedized Toughbook laptops, had one machine loaded with Vista at FOSE. But Jan Ruderman, senior director of the government sector at Panasonic Computer Solutions, said there's no real demand for that operating system. "Right now, customers are saying they don't want it anytime soon," he said.

Ruderman said there are government customers who still use even older versions of Windows than XP, such as Windows 2000. For those customers, all that Panasonic can provide now are drivers, not the operating system itself.

Ruggedized PCs vary in size and shape, but they're all designed to meet the military's [xref:http://www.dtc.army.mil/publications/milstd.html|MIL-STD 810]] technical specifications, which set standards for durability. The systems generally don't have air vents and are designed to be used in extreme conditions, such as tropical rainstorms, snow, desert sandstorms and intensely bright light.

A key feature is their ability to survive impacts. If you leave one of the PCs on the roof of your car and drive off, there's a chance it may still be working after you hear it bounce in your driveway. That requires the ability to survive, at a minimum, a three-foot drop.

For instance, Getac equips its systems with an accelerometer that can detect if a fall and then park the disk drive head into a safe position. Joe Chernof, a technical sales manager at Getac, said the accelerometer technology was adapted from products in the aerospace industry. Getac recently added a tablet PC called the E100 to its collection of ruggedized systems.

Scott Nettleton, president of Ridgeline Technology, a reseller of military grade laptops in California, said the purchasing options are growing for buyers. "In the last three years, we've started to see more competition for ruggedized products," he said. Prices generally range from US$2,400 to $3,700 for the ruggedized systems, according to Nettleton, who said users are pushing vendors for lighter and more secure products.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?