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Dell wants to show its customers that its notebooks can be tough too.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker is launching on Jan. 16 its first-ever “semi-rugged” notebook—the Latitude ATG (all-terrain grade) D620—which will compete for market share against well-known rugged models such as the Panasonic ToughBook and General Dynamics’ Itronix GoBook.

In creating a semi-rugged notebook, Dell is looking to capture customers in public safety fields, such as policemen, firefighters, EMS (emergency medical service) workers and the military. These notebooks are also designed for workers who spend a considerable amount of time outside, including those in construction and the natural gas and oil fields.

The ATG D620 notebook, which is being produced under Dell’s Latitude line of notebook PCs and will have a starting cost of $2,499, has been built to standards used by the U.S. military to resist the dangers posed by shock, vibrations, humidity and altitude, according to Dell officials.

In September, Dell officials alluded to a rugged or semi-rugged notebook at a show in New York. At the gathering, executives said there is a large enough market for Dell to seriously consider designing and selling this type of notebook.

Click here to read about Michael Dell’s keynote address at CES.

“Our customers very clearly told us what they were looking for in a semi-rugged notebook,” said Greg Dvorak, product marking manager for Dell’s Latitude series.

“What we are giving our customers is a notebook with a little more robustness,” Dvorak said. “It will resist vibrations if it’s mounted to an emergency vehicle, for example. For construction workers, it has dust protection. These are very key problems in these types of environments, and we wanted a notebook that met those needs, and we believe we have created a very robust solution.”

The semi-rugged notebook fits with Dell’s so-called “2.0” program, which launched in September as a way for the company to reconnect to its customers by offering more services and better designs for its PC products.

Unlike standard commercial and consumer notebooks, rugged and semi-rugged notebooks have their internal components, such as the hard drive, protected in shock-resistant casings.

That is true of the Latitude ATG D620, which has its hard drive protected in an magnesium alloy enclosure with an extra rubber layer that will help protect the hard drive and other components from shock and the elements. In addition, the notebook’s LCD screen has been designed to absorb 30 percent more shock than a conventional notebook, Dvorak said.

The notebook’s 14.1-inch display offers 500 nits of brightness, compared with the typical 180 to 200 nits of a conventional notebook screen. As a result, the display is 1½ times brighter than a conventional notebook screen, Dvorak said.

Not only will this specially designed screen allow better nighttime viewing, but it will also help deflect glare during outside, daytime use. The screen also features an ambient light sensor, glass overlay and anti-reflective coating for better viewing at night and during the day.

The ATG D620 features a spill-resistant keypad, and all external ports have been re-enforced to guard against the elements. In addition, Dell used special paint that resists chipping and cracking.

The ATG D620 notebook is compatible with the standard Latitude 620. It uses the same motherboard, graphics card and other configurations found in the 620, which will make it easier for IT managers to get replacement parts, Dvorak said.

Click here to read about Dell offering AMD-based notebooks.

Like the Latitude 620, the ATG D620 can come equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 processor, which runs at 2.33GHz. The notebook can also support up to 4GB of DDR2 SDRAM (double data 2 synchronous dynamic RAM).

The Latitude ATG D620 comes with a 100GB Serial ATA hard drive and a choice of an Intel GMA (graphics media accelerator) 950 or a Nvidia Quadro NVS 110M graphics card as well as the same wireless capabilities found in the standard 620 notebook.

Although the notebook comes with Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, it can be upgraded to Vista.

The Latitude ATG D620 is available in the United States now and will become available in other countries in a few weeks, a Dell spokesman said.

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