When you start doing research and heading down the rabbit hole of rugged hardware providers you are met with a great abundance of options and different solutions to look in to. Now instantly this turns what often starts as a simple quest into a much more complicated task of narrowing down the options and trying to design what exactly your requirements are, further than ‘we need a rugged laptop’.
Generally, you want to be matching your requirements against six different sections;
DURABILITY – HOW RUGGED DO YOU NEED YOUR RUGGED LAPTOP TO BE?
The levels of durability in the range of rugged laptops available on the market are quite broad so you need to consider just how rugged you need your rugged laptop or tablet to be.
Typically, if you are looking for a laptop or tablet that is suitable for military use (whether that be for the Army, Navy, Air Force or Special Forces) you will need something that is specified to a Defence or Military Standard for durability and electromagnetic compatibilities, such as MIL-STD-810/ DEF STAN 00-35 and MIL-STD-461/ DEF STAN 59-411.
These tests, developed by the US Department of Defence (DOD) and the UK Ministry Of Defence (MOD) respectively, cover several different assessments and stress tests in their 800+ pages of documentation. The main tests you will want to know about however are:
- High Temperatures – First, devices are exposed to high temperatures while turned off to test the durability of the materials used for manufacture. They are then turned on to determine resistance to heat whilst running. If intended to be used near an artificial heat source, they will be exposed to a constant temperature for a while.
- Low Temperatures – The device first undergoes a test to determine its capability to be stored at low temperatures. Then it is tested to assess how it will function at low temperatures. The temperature is gradually lowered and the device is kept at that temperature for at least a two-hour period to see if it continues to function.
- Shock and Drops – There are eight procedures specified in the standard although the transit drop is most commonly cited. Computers undergo 26 drops, four onto each of its six faces, 12 edges, and eight corners, from up to four feet, however during this test you are allowed to change the device up to 5 times. Military and rugged laptops should have protective casings to withstand this type of punishment. One thing to note is that you should always check the distance a device has been dropped: many computer manufacturers test up-to much shorter distances and use the full 5 changes allowed. To ensure peace of mind, we go above this test and check all of our equipment from a height of 1.5m using the same device throughout the entire test.
- Vibration – Vibration occurs through operations and transportation, and especially impact on Air Force equipment (whether it is in the air or in the hanger where testing and repair of equipment takes place) or for tracked vehicles. Most tests involve laboratory shakers that simulate vibration in various forms.
- Humidity – Testing for humidity simulates conditions that take place during transit, storage, and functionality in adverse environments, and is conducted over three periods of 24-hours. Further testing expands the heat and humidity for short periods beyond what is normally found in nature. The latter is considered to be an “aggravated” procedure and is sometimes chosen because it produces results more rapidly.
- Blowing Sand and Dust – Testing is conducted on each surface of the computer for blowing particles for two six-hour cycles at different speeds and temperatures. To simulate proximity to an aircraft, wind speed is increased and larger particles are introduced while the testing time is reduced to 90 minutes for each face of the device.
- Ingress Protection – Devices are tested to see if they can function during and after being submerged or partially submerged in water, or even withstand being splashed. The effect of temperature on seals may also be tested. If immersion of more than a meter is required, additional independent testing is required. IP ratings designate the level of protection. For instance, we test all of our equipment to a minimum level of IP67, this rating indicates that the device has a rating of 6, meaning that it provides complete protection against dust. The 7 indicates that it can be submerged into water up to a depth of 1 meter. IP testing will also indicate the effect of water temperature on the seals.
- Rain – Military and rugged laptops are tested with cold water and what equates to blowing rain for 30 minutes. For those not normally exposed to falling or dripping water, the top surface is exposed for 15 minutes.
- EMC – Does the laptop/device conform with appropriate EMC Standards? For military applications, you will want a device that is compliant with the DOD’s MIL-STD-461 or the MOD’s DEF-STAN-59-411. EMC stands for Electromagnetic Compatibility and defines how much ‘noise’ an electronic device gives off when observed under various situations, such as infrared light, with smaller amounts being better. Like our hardware, most rugged laptops and devices that are compliant with one iteration will be compliant with the other however it is always worthwhile checking with the manufacturer just in case.
SECURITY – DOES THE LAPTOP NEED TO COMPLY WITH ANY SECURITY REGULATIONS?
When we look at security in rugged and military laptops and computing, it can mean a couple of things. Firstly; cyber-security and how safe the laptop/device is from external attacks, does it have effective password security or offer a TPM? Can the Hardware be configured with pinned military connectors to prevent the plugging in of standard USB Drives?
Secondly; does the laptop/device conform with the appropriate TEMPEST standards? TEMPEST defines how hard, or easy, it is for the device to be spied on and have its information recorded through the emissions the device gives off. If you require a device for military use you will want to ensure that it can pass the more stringent of these standards, TEMPEST SDIP-27A or SDIP Level B, which states that the device is safe from 1m and 20m respectively.
PERFORMANCE – WHAT INTERNALS DO YOU NEED? DOES THE LAPTOP NEED TO PERFORM AT CERTAIN TEMPERATURES?
Even if you have a highly secure and incredibly durable laptop or device you will still be at the mercy of its capabilities in terms of performance and it’s suitability for your specific needs. Do you need a device that is high spec and comes with multiple features such as Solid-State Drives (SSD’s) for fast loading or high capacity processing power that can run intensive programmes without issue? Or are you simply looking for something that can run basic software in the harshest environments without concern?
When determining what you want you should consider the following features:
- Processors – What processing power do you need from your device? Do you need something with top of the range processing power or can it be more basic?
- Memory and Storage – What sort of RAM and internal memory do you require? Do you need a device with removable hard drives?
- Battery – How long do you need the battery to be able to last? Do you need your device to run from Battery or do you need a Battery to act as a UPS? Do you need something that can hot-swap batteries to eliminate the risk of device switch off?
USABILITY – WHAT FUNCTIONALITY DO YOU WANT THE HARDWARE TO HAVE?
When you look at usability you have to think about what the end-user will require and what will make their life easier? Typically, rugged laptops and devices are not used in standard environments so you will want to take into consideration the design and functionality of the device for situations that are not the norm. Something that you might want to look in to are:
- Display – More likely than not, the viewing conditions are going to be less than perfect so you will need to look for displays that have features such as night time viewing, low light or sunlight conditions. Another thing to consider is the quality of the screen and the size and resolution. If intrinsic detail needs to be seen you will need a larger screen size and definition level than basic images would require. If you can select a resolution built for your sensor or video input, the work to integrate the software can be much less.
- Mouse/touchscreens – How is the mouse set up? Does it use a trackball that is at the mercy of dust or sand stopping it working or an enclosed thumbstick? Is the device touchscreen operated, and if so, how well does it really operate in the wet or when used with gloved hands?
- Interface – Can the device be fitted with unique interfaces or does it only allow basic USB/ethernet/power connectors? For instance, all GRiD hardware can be fitted with either Military D38999 connectors, individually configured to connect to external hardware and machines, or standard commercial connectors should military spec not be required.
- Extra Features – Can the devices be fitted with things such as straps or sunscreens to make prolonged use more comfortable?
CUSTOMISATION – DO YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO CONFIGURE UNIQUE INTERFACES?
An important aspect of rugged or military devices is how adaptable they are to the unique requirements that they may be used for. Thus, the ability to customise and alter both external features (such as connectors) as well as internal ones (such as expansion slots within the device) is something to consider, as most off-the-shelf devices that have been adapted into rugged laptops or tablets do not have this capability built-in.
COST/VALUE – WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
As with all things, the cost of a device and the value you receive for that price will have an important role to play when you are narrowing down your choices. With military and rugged laptops the value you receive is typically a combination of the price; functionality, reliability, supportability and longevity of the device. For instance, rugged laptops which fall on the cheaper end of the scale may require replacing more often than rugged laptops that fall on the higher end of the spectrum. As a good rule of thumb, the cost of a laptop is proportionate to the durability, ruggedness and longevity of the device.
Depending on the budget for the project this may price some devices out of the running instantaneously, so having a good idea of the total budget available before you start your search is a key factor.
SO, WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT?
Each section is as important as the one above and below it, narrowing down these sections and working out your particular requirement from each will help whittle down the field of prospective providers, ideally leaving you with a clear option that satisfies all of your requirements.
If you’re interested in seeing what our rugged devices can deliver or would like more information on the points discussed here then get in touch with us on +44 (0)1628 810 230 or click here and one of our team will get back to you.