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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.