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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How we tested

To get a good idea about the performance potential and survivability of these rugged systems, I first ran them through a series of performance and battery tests, and then tested the mettle of each by dropping, drowning, shaking and generally abusing them.

I used two benchmarks to gauge each system's performance potential: Futuremark's PCMark05 and PassMark's Performance Test 6.1. Together they provide a good workout, exercising all components and reporting overall scores.

I also ran each notebook streaming an Internet radio station over Wi-Fi and timed how long it took to drain the system's battery. (Since most computers aren't used this consistently, expect real-world use to be roughly double the result.)

The drop test

While my rugged testing didn't fully meet the military's 810F test method standard (PDF), it mirrors real-world situations that can destroy a notebook. First, to simulate a fall from a desktop or from being held by its handle, I started up each machine and, with the lid closed, dropped it onto its spine and bottom from a height of 29 inches. Then, with the machine turned off and in a notebook bag, I dropped each system from 60 inches to replicate a fall from an airline luggage rack.

The good news is that all three notebooks survived this key test of toughness — one that would generally do extensive damage to traditional notebooks. The bad news is that the Itronix XR-1 not only opened on one of the drops but was scratched along its spine. However, it ran fine.

Good vibrations

Using a vibration table, each notebook was set into a wooden box and shaken vigorously for 5 minutes. Then, using fine white sand, the systems were buried and shaken for another 5 minutes.

The XR-1.

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Again, the XR-1 suffered some minor damage — two keys were shaken loose (they were easily snapped back into place), and the cooling fan started making a grinding noise every so often. The Toughbook 30's power switch caked up with sand but was easily cleaned.

Cold and heat

To imitate the sudden freezing, thawing and overheating of a notebook, I put each system into the freezer at 25 degrees Fahrenheit and let it sit there for 15 minutes. After they were allowed to warm up, I put them into an oven set to 175 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.

The Toughbook 30.

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All survived the temperature swings without any serious problems. The Toughbook's port cover for the power connector came loose, indicating that its material softens when heated.

Rainy days

With the system on and running the PCMark05 benchmark, I subjected each notebook to a simulated rainstorm. Using a paint gun set at 100 pounds per square inch, I doused each with a half cup of sprayed water. None sustained any damage.

I then went a step further and dunked each system underwater for 15 seconds. After allowing them to drain, I dried them with an air gun and then, more lightly, a blow dryer.

The M230.

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This test caused the most damage — the M230 picked up water droplets behind its display and would not boot. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't revive it.

After being dried, the other two worked fine, except that the light on the XR-1's AC adapter started blinking, indicating a potential fault in the notebook's power system.

In the best of all worlds, your notebook wouldn't have to survive these kinds of conditions — it would never be dropped, or caught in a rainstorm, or accidentally shaken around in the trunk of your car. But then, we don't live in the best of all worlds, do we?

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