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D&H Distributing wants to get tough with its VARs.

The Harrisburg, Pa., IT distributor announced on Dec. 4 that it would start carrying Panasonic’s line of Toughbook rugged and semirugged notebooks.

Rugged or “ruggedized” notebooks are built with special metal cases that are designed to withstand shock and exposure to the elements. The internal components, such as the hard drive, are typically mounted in shock-resistant enclosures.

These types of notebooks are generally used by police departments and the military, as well as in highly specialized vertical fields, such as gas exploration, where users are subject to harsh environments for long periods of time.

However, Dan Schwab, D&H’s vice president of marketing, said he sees rugged notebooks finding a home with SMBs (small and midsized businesses), such as real estate firms, insurances companies and local government agencies.

Click here to read more about D&H and its focus on SMBs.

“We really have seen a dramatic increase in the number of mobile solutions out there and we want to bring these new technologies to our users,” Schwab said.

While Schwab conceded that such notebooks are not meant for everyday office use, there does appears to be a growing market. According to study released by ABI Research on Dec. 6, the market for semi-rugged notebooks is expected to grow 16 percent between 2006 and 2011.

The study also found that there will be demand for rugged and semirugged notebooks in verticals such as health care, emergency services and utilities.

Mike Shay, president and owner of Affordable Computers in Hanover, Pa., said he has sold only a handful of Toughbooks so far, but he sees the potential for growth. He said one untapped market is auto mechanics, who could appreciate a more rugged computer.

“It’s something that they feel they won’t need until they have a lesser notebook and it gets broken,” Shay said. “By the time they get it back, they could have spent the extra money on a Toughbook.”

Dell may enter the rugged notebook market. Click here to read more.

D&H has a previous relationship with Panasonic Corp. of North America, and Schwab said the company only sells rugged notebooks made by Panasonic. While the company did not have margin numbers, Schwab said the rugged Toughbooks sell for about $3,000 and the semirugged models sell for about $1,500.

Click here for exclusive channel research from Amazon Consulting.

While those prices might look intimidating to users, Schwab said VARs can justify the price by selling the notebooks’ unique features.

“It’s paying in advance for the technology,” Schwab said. “If you drop it a couple of feet, it’s not going to break. It’s a one-of-a-kind product.”