Adventures With Dell's Rugged PC Line-Up

Adventures With Dell's Rugged PCs

One of the many perks of working at a publication like HotHardware is that we get to attend a wide array of different technology-related events. GPU Tech Days, the Consumer Electronics Show, processor deep dives, smartphone launches -- you name it, and we're there.

dell rugged days 1
This Notebook Still Worked After Being Thrown Off The Boat Onto The Rocks Below...

At many of these events we get hands-on time with the latest and greatest gadgets and components, sometimes in exotic locations, but there's typically a predictable cadence. Arrive, get situated, learn some new things, maybe have a bit of fun, and then head home. But every once in a long while, things get a little crazy. Like, trying to destroy a $5,000 laptop by throwing it off a boat kind of crazy. Don't believe us? Check this out...

Watch This And Prepare To Cringe
We recently had the chance to spend a few days learning about Dell's line-up of rugged devices at its HQ in Austin, Texas, and part of the event involved trying to break some of the company's highest-end machines by throwing them off a boat, pouring water on them, dropping them, and generally beating them up. Needless to say, it wasn't a typical tech-event.

In addition to all of the debauchery, however, we also got a better understanding of Dell's intentions in the rugged market and why -- we quote -- Dell thinks it's "kicking Panasonic's ass".

Panasonic's Toughbook line is synonymous with rugged PCs. There are a handful of smaller manufacturers that make more focused devices for niche markets, but Dell has been playing in the space for quite a while too. However, with all of the consolidation in the PC space the last few years, in addition to the re-privatization of the company, Dell believes – as the only tier 1 manufacturer making rugged PCs – that it is uniquely positioned to addressed the largest parts of the market, not only with the rugged products themselves, but with the entire family of Dell systems and devices. The market seems to already be responding too; Dell’s rugged shipments have grown 33% over the last four quarters.

dell rugged days 7
Robotic Hinge Testing In Action

Getting Rugged
Building a fully rugged PC requires a ton of testing time, qualification, and numerous redesigns. Dell performs the bulk of the work at a facility in Austin, Texas, where a combination of robotic and human-controlled tests beat-on and violate the machines in a number of ways. From dropping them at different heights and angles, to working the hinges thousands of times, spraying them with water, and subjecting them to various environmental elements and dust, Dell puts devices through their paces and then some. Dell’s rugged test scenarios actually go beyond rugged MIL-810G testing standards and procedures, and every Latitude rugged device is independently tested and certified by an accredited 3rd party agency.

dell rugged days 9
This Is What Happens To An iPad When Exposed To Salt Water

If you watch the video at the top of the page, you'll get a small taste for the kind of testing that goes into Dell's rugged PCs. Over and above the hardening of the system boards and components though, the chassis and materials are all tested -- separately and together -- to ensure the PCs can handle harsh environments, significant bumps, and drops, extreme heat and cold, and that they're usable in conditions where regular PCs are not. Even the materials used in the displays are less reflective and refractive so the panels are visible in direct sunlight, without excessively bright screens, which ultimately saves power and improves battery life.

dell rugged history

Dell’s rugged mobile line-up is forever evolving, but the nature of the testing involved for the products and the customer’s need for stable platforms usually means rugged systems don’t feature the same cutting edge hardware as more mainstream consumer systems. Dell’s current rugged line-up, for example, features Intel Skylake processors, whereas consumer products have begun migrating to Kaby Lake. Eventually, Kaby Lake will make it into the rugged product line-up, but it’ll simply take more time to do so.

dell rugged line up

The current rugged line-up is pictured above. We’re not going to run down the individual models because they all launched a few weeks / months back. Suffice it to say they’re base specifications are similar to Dell’s non-rugged Inspiron counterparts, which brings up an interesting point that’s sometimes lost when searching for ruggedized systems. Because Dell makes more than rugged systems, and there are similarities between non-rugged and fully-rugged Inspirons, a single OS image can be deployed across both platforms. Dell notes, conversely, should an IT department opt for Panasonic Toughbooks for one set of users, and a more mainstream product for another group, they’ll have to manage two images for the systems.

In addition to the machines themselves, Dell also has a wide array of accessories available, ranging from docks, to vehicle mounts, to external keyboards, chargers, carry straps and styluses. And many of those accessories are designed to work across multiple generations of products – the pogo pin configurations s on the bottom of the rugged notebooks, for example, has remained unchanged for a few generations, so docks and vehicle mounts will continue to work properly as deployments are upgraded.

Support is a big part of the story too...

Tags:  Dell, Mobile, Rugged

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