It's a hard-knock life: 3 rugged notebooks take a beating

We dropped, drowned and shook these fully ruggedized notebooks to see if they could hold up. Not all survived.

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Getac M230

Big and bold, the Getac M230 is the largest rugged system in our gang of three, but it leads in terms of the features it brings to the party. On top of having the largest screen of the bunch and the best array of connections, it's the least expensive.

Housed in a black magnesium-aluminum case, the M230 has protective rubber bumpers on its corners. At 12.8 by 13 by 1.9 in., it's a lot of notebook and barely fit into my bag; the system's depth can be reduced to 11 in. by taking off the handle. It weighs 9.2 lb., but that rises to a travel weight of 10.6 lb. with its AC adapter.

Clearly the largest and heaviest of the three rugged systems, the M230 has the largest screen of the group. The 14.1-in. display works well in direct sunlight and is fed with images by Intel's 945 graphics engine.

Getac M230

Click to view larger image.

Because it lacks a cooling fan, the M230 is the strong, silent type. Relying on passive cooling, it never got hot. The system we looked at came with a 1.6-GHz Core Duo processor, an 80GB hard drive and a CD-RW/DVD optical drive rather than a DVD drive, putting it a step behind the Toughbook 30. The test unit came with 1GB of system memory, and it can accommodate up to 2GB of RAM.

Compared with the XR-1, the M230 is second best on security. It not only lacks a fingerprint reader, but its optional smart-card reader takes up one of the system's PC Card slots.

What it does have is room for the best assortment of ports this side of a desktop PC, all of which are sealed. On top of a pair of USB connectors, the system has plugs for microphone, headphone, modem and external monitor. It's a blast from the past with parallel, serial and PS/2 ports, as well as an infrared port for wireless data transfers. The system has a pair of PC Card slots but neither a flash card reader nor FireWire port, as is the case with the Toughbook 30.

The M230 unit we looked at came with wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi, and it has an external antenna plug. Like the others, the system can be ordered with cellular network capabilities.

Without a fan, the M230 was able to run for 4 hours 25 minutes on its 7,200 milliamp-hour battery pack, second only to the Toughbook 30's run time. Unlike the others, its cells have LEDs that show the charge level — but since you can't see them when the battery is installed, there's not much point to it.

The system's performance profile is a mixed bag. It was equipped with the slowest processor and recorded the lowest score on the PCMark05 benchmark. The M230 redeemed itself with a score on the PassMark Performance test that was midway between the Toughbook 30's and the XR-1's.

When it came to the torture tests, the M230 did well at first. It survived the drops, the spraying, the shakes, and the heating and cooling without a problem. However, it succumbed to the dunk test — afterward, water droplets were visible behind the system's display (a sure sign that it wasn't fully sealed), and it would no longer boot.

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Drop-testing the Getac M230 rugged notebook. Click arrow button to play video. (Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers may require two clicks to start the video.)

Other than Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 2 updates, the M230 came with virtually no software. It has a three-year warranty.

Bottom line: Unless you plan to drop it in your pool, the M230 is the system to get if your work requires a large screen.

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