Is TwinHead's Durabook Pro Tough Enough?

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

The Durabook Pro from TwinHead's GammaTech division takes a licking and keeps on ticking. But is it any better than existing rugged computers by market leader Panasonic?

TwinHead’s GammaTech is looking to alliances with solution providers to take on the big names in rugged portable computing, a market dominated by the Panasonic ToughBook series and heavyweight contenders Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

That means GammaTech has some serious competition in what could be defined as a niche market. Luckily for GammaTech, the Durabook Pro D15RP rugged laptop is up for the challenge on several fronts. With pricing starting at around $1,700, the Durabook Pro proves to be very competitively priced against the big players in the market, which average more than $2,000 for similarly equipped units.

The D15RP came pretty well-equipped with an Intel Core Duo T8300 (2.4GHz) CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard disk, a 15.4-inch WXGA display (1,200 by 800), a Super-Multi Optical Drive and a plethora of ports. Integrated 802.11a/g/n, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a built-in fax-modem round out the communications capabilities. Buyers can add 3G wireless broadband via a PC Card or USB broadband networking adapter available from most major wireless carriers.

With a near 8-pound travel weight, the D15RP is a little on the heavy side. But one has to consider that the unit has a magnesium case, shock-mounted components and a spill-resistant keyboard. The unit is built to be compliant with Military Standard 810F, which defines PC ruggedness. We put the D15RP through its paces by dropping it on a tile floor from 4 feet several times—we also knocked it off a desk a couple of times and even let it tumble down a couple of carpeted steps. The D15RP was no worse for the wear, except for a rubber plug that covered the LAN and modem ports, which insisted on flying off at every opportunity.

The unit came with Windows Vista Business Edition preinstalled and offered decent performance, considering the use of on-board graphics. The D15RP netted a PassMark rating of only 619.5, somewhat disappointing for a $1,700 system but not unexpected due to the Intel GMA 900 video subsystem. Discrete graphics probably would have made a big difference in performance. Although the unit features a large screen, the maximum resolution offered is 1,440 by 900 (WXGA+). A nice touch would be offering a screen compatible with 1080p resolution or higher such as those found on some Lenovo ThinkPads, which offer resolutions as high as 1,920 by 1,200.

Battery life was also somewhat disappointing for a system this heavy, as benchmarks using PassMark’s BatteryMon showed that on the average a user could only expect 2¾ hours of battery life under normal use. Of course, enabling maximum power savings could extend battery life, but at the cost of performance. In all fairness, similar ruggedized notebooks’ battery lives aren’t any better.

Those in the field will appreciate the unit’s integrated Webcam, which proves very useful for impromptu videoconferences over Skype or other softphone technology. The D15RP offers a few other nice touches, such as a lock on the optical drive so it doesn’t open accidentally, rubberized edges that help to protect the system and a lid that shuts firmly yet does not need a cumbersome latch.

Security-conscious users will appreciate the D15RP’s included disk encryption software, which enables the Seagate Technology full-disk encryption hard drive. This is an important capability, since ruggedized notebooks are more frequently used out in the field than not. Encrypting the hard drive can protect against data loss or theft if the D15RP turns up missing and should help those carrying sensitive information avoid fear, uncertainty and dread if the worst should happen.

TwinHead/GammaTech does offer a partner program that includes respectable margins and support options. Most of the company’s products are also available under the GSA schedule for federal government sales, but solution providers should be able to beat those prices ever so slightly, enabling them to sell into their government customers.

Durabooks may not be the best notebooks on the market, but they do prove to be an economical alternative to some of the bigger names around and do offer a feature mix that many will find appealing.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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