Dell enters rugged notebook market

'All-terrain' laptop designed to handle rough use, including vibration, humidity and dust

Dell Inc. launched its first semirugged notebook PC and plans to compete with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Panasonic for customers who need a computer that can cope with abusive vibration, humidity, altitude and dust. Dell began selling its Latitude ATG D620 notebook today as an "all-terrain grade" product that could live up to rough use by construction workers, military and police officers, or ambulance and firetruck drivers.

The computer has a shock-mounted, 80GB hard drive surrounded by rubber so it can protect users' data if dropped off a table. Other rugged features include a spill-resistant keyboard, port covers and an extrabright 14.1-in. LCD.

Dell said it hopes that customers will choose the ATG because of its Core 2 Duo processor from Intel Corp. and that IT managers will choose the notebook because it shares common parts with the Latitude D620, said Gregory Dvorak, product manager for Dell's Latitude PCs. Using shared components makes an IT technician's job easier, he said. Both versions of the D620 can share spare parts, including the docking station, batteries, power adapters, optical drives, BIOS and driver software, wireless LAN and integrated mobile broadband.

One drawback to the design is that the ATG's ultrabright LCD uses extra battery power. In order to be legible in daylight, the screen uses 500 nits of brightness, far above the 200 nits of a typical corporate notebook, Dvorak said. Each nit equals one candela per square meter.

"If you run it at full brightness, there will be an impact on battery life. That's a trade-off to meeting that customer requirement," Dvorak said. Aside from turning down the brightness, users can upgrade from a six-cell battery to a nine-cell battery, add a secondary battery in the media slot, or mount the notebook on a vehicle dashboard and plug it into auxiliary power.

The Latitude ATG D620 has a price tag of $2,499.

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