Ruggedized laptops don't have to be tanks -- with monstrous price tags and plodding speed to match. Take the $1338 Gammatech Durabook D15TS, a semiruggedized unit that offers extra protection without sacrificing looks, weight, affordability, features, or performance. It might not be armored heavily enough for a war zone, but the extra padding the D15TS does have will take knocks that the average laptop might not survive.
Although I didn't conduct any sledgehammer tests, the D15TS can certainly withstand a day knocking around in a Jeep, for instance, or boating on the lake. The matte-finish 15.4-inch screen is readable indoors or out. The silver lid has heavily ridged, rubberized black corner pieces that should do an excellent job of preventing screen damage. The DVD burner sports a lock so the tray doesn't accidentally eject. The 160GB hard drive is nestled on shock-resistant foam railings, and a removable rubber plug covers the modem and network jacks.
Despite all of the armor on this unit, its weight is reasonable at 7 pounds (not counting the power brick). What's interesting is that this machine wears its durability on its sleeve (okay, lid) and also has a hard-drive head-parking safety feature (like that of ThinkPads and some other models) in case of a drop. While not quite as tough, HP's Compaq 6530b -- a business-oriented, semirugged machine -- offers some of the same features.
Speedwise, the Durabook is no slouch. Equipped with a 2.10-GHz Core 2 Duo T8100 processor and 2GB RAM, the D15TS managed an above-average WorldBench 6 score of 82 in our performance tests. It can handle with aplomb any kind of application except 3D games; it couldn't even leave the gate in our games tests because the D15TS uses Intel's anemic integrated video memory instead of a dedicated graphics card.
The battery life was pretty impressive for a ruggedized notebook, as the D15TS lasted 4 hours, 18 minutes in our tests. It wasn't the top performer in the latest all-purpose pack -- that title currently belongs to the Lenovo ThinkPad SL400, which survived a little over 5 hours with a six-cell battery -- but it's certainly long-lasting enough.
Typing was a pleasant experience overall. The keyboard's touchpad is on the small side, but the mouse buttons are really comfortable thanks to a neoprene-type finish of some sort that is very soft, almost like velour. A big, can't-miss-it oblong button ringed in the same electric-blue LED as the power button turns Wi-Fi on and off. And, of course, as a ruggedized machine, the D15TS has a spill-resistant keyboard. Don't go dumping a gallon of water on it, but if you accidentally splash the laptop with a couple ounces of coffee, it'll survive. Anything more than 100cc, and you could be in trouble--half a cup of coffee could do it in. Not quite as rugged as we would have liked.
In addition to standard laptop features, such as FireWire, three USB ports, an SD/Memory Stick slot, and an ExpressCard/54 slot, the D15TS has a SmartCard slot for security and a user-accessible SIM card compartment on the front for adding mobile broadband connectivity. The audio, which emanates from speaker outlets in the lower screen frame, is pretty good for a portable. The volume is adequately loud and of a decent enough quality for movies. The only wart on this semitough unit: two ugly little screws in the hinges.
If performance wrapped in extra durability sounds good to you, take a look at the semiruggedized but fully functional -- and fairly attractive -- D15TS.