Defining a Rugged Computer

What is Rugged Computer

The 'Durability Challenge'

If all rugged computer suppliers claim to meet or exceed Mil-Std 810F durability standards, Mil-Std 461E emission standards and IP54 or higher dust and moisture ingress protection ratings, then why do some customers only buy Opentecs after trialling other products?

In 2006, we asked (the then) ROAM consumer electronics magazine to challenge other portable computer and PDA suppliers to participate in a Durability Challenge. The aim was to highlight why claims about meeting certain industry standards was no guarantee that products were equally 'rugged'.

After supplier asked to participate - bar one - withdraw from the challenge after being told they were being pitted against us. The two challengers then handed over stock standard notebooks - in our case, an RPC 13 notebook computer. The competition supplied a similar product, rated by them as being 'RUGGED', 'Mil-Std 810F compliant' and 'IP54 rated'. ROAM then set about attempting to 'destroy' both products (they advice to us) via a series of 'ultra-rugged simulations'.

TEST #1: Being buried in sand 
This exercise involved two notebooks being buried in the sand dunes at Kurnell, on the south side of Sydney's Botany Bay. They were then buried in wet sand on the beach adjacent. 

The Opentec RPC notebook 
Not having fans to clog, or any pathway via which sand could get inside the chasis, and with a resistive touchpad and touchscreen (an option), the Opentec notebook continued to function without fault. It didn't overheat, and despite being caked in sand, its (totally membrane sealed) keyboard, (resistive) mousepad and (resistive) touchscreen were still able to be used unimpeded. 

The Competitor's notebook 
The product tested overheated and shut down within 20 minutes as a result of the fans clogging. Further, the keys were rendered unusable because of sand getting under the individual keys.

TEST #2: Immersion in salt water 
This exercise involved sitting both notebooks on the beach at Kurnell and allowing waves to break over them (note that the waves at Kurnell on that day were only small, simulating an accidental dunking in a river or as a result of a wave crashing over the bow of a small boat). This is what most manufacturers would consider 'unfair wear', and while not recommended, any IP54 rated device should cope with heavy rain or splashes of water across their screens and keyboards (these devices are supposed to be used in the outdoors, right?).

The Opentec RPC notebook 
While not designed for full immersion, the RPC nonetheless did not leak (even though we only rate it to IP54 levels). However, the test technician purposefully left the removeable battery partially unscrewed, which allowed salt water to penetrate between it and the chassis, across the terminals, causing a short circuit of the battery. When the notebook was reconnected to a 240VAC power socket, it booted up without any problems, because the on-board transformer and protection circuitry remained undamaged. An inspection after the test showed no internal leaks, including around the HDD, DVD or through any of the other ports.

The Competitor's notebook 
The other product tested suffered a catastrophic failure as a result of water entering the chassis and creating a short circuit.

TEST #3: Being dropped 3 metres onto a concrete driveway

The Opentec RPC notebook 
The RPC was dropped from 1 metre, then 2 metres then 3 metres, before a fault occured that caused the unit to power down. The fault was identified as the HDD cassette coming slightly loose. After being reseated in the HDD bay, and after a 20 minute healthcheck by our technician that confirmed no other damage, the unit booted up, good as new.

The Competitor's notebook 
After being dropped from a height of 1 metre, then 2 metres onto concrete, the unit failed to reboot, despite corrective action by a technician.

The ROAM technician conducting the field trials commented, "Not only did I fail to destroy  (the Opentec RPC), to try would simply have been gratuitous vandalism!" No dents were found in the case, and apart from a short circuited battery, the chassis and all electronics remained undamaged.

We market the RPC notebooks as 'Super Rugged'. Our competitors claim to meet the same standards and market their nominally equivalent notebook as 'Rugged'. Other vendors of 'Rugged' devices declined to submit their product for comparative testing, or worse, offered their product up for visual inspection on the condition it could not be tested; obviously hoping that 'looking rugged' was enough to convince the people at ROAM they had an equivalent product. To get round the fact that they didn't submit to the independent testing, they paid for an 8-page advertising spread, extolling the virtues of their RUGGED gear.

In short, when we market a product as 'Super Rugged', 'Rugged' or 'Semi-Rugged', it's a self-applied classification based on not only meeting a set of standardised tests, but on proving its worth in the field in a range of geneuinely 'rugged' applications. But don't just take our word for it.