• United States

Extreme computing

May 10, 20044 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* Rugged PCs for extreme conditions

When it comes to computing, we are an increasingly mobile society.  We love to take our notebooks, tablet PCs and handheld devices wherever we go – as long as conditions are “just right.”   You wouldn’t want to expose your expensive portable PC to rain, sand, sea water, snow or other harsh physical conditions, would you?

For many on-the-go workers, conditions are rarely just right.  These workers need their mobile computers to work reliably out in the field, no matter what the environment or conditions.  Firefighters, marine biologists, utility linemen, police officers, pipeline inspectors, field engineers – these are just a few of the occupations that require rugged mobile computers that can withstand the rigors of bad weather and rough working conditions.

And speaking of bad working conditions, can you imagine trying to use a notebook PC in the deserts of Iraq?  Now more than ever, the U.S. military is depending on computer networks and portable PCs to support our soldiers’ needs in the field.  Needless to say, these computers must be able to withstand wind, rain, sand, heat, and being bounced around on Humvees.

The military has taken the lead in designing specifications for rugged PCs, although these devices might just as well be deployed in commercial operations, too.  The standard military specification for rugged computers is known as MIL-STD-810F.  This specification defines an acceptable range of operations under extremes for pressure, temperature, temperature shock, rain, humidity, contamination by fluids, sand and dust, explosive atmosphere, acceleration, pyroshock and other nasty conditions.

Another measure of the ruggedness of a PC is its Ingress Protection (IP) rating.  An object’s IP rating specifies the environmental protection an enclosure (i.e., the PC’s case) provides.  Commonly expressed as a two-digit number, such as IP 54, the first number rates the case’s protection against solid objects, and the second number rates protection from liquids.  

Suffice it to say that if a notebook PC can live up to these two standards, it’s ready for just about anything.

A company called LXE has a white paper to help you understand the specifications for a rugged mobile computer.  The white paper is free, but you do need to register to download it.  Visit LXE’s Web site at  to read a copy of “Can Your Rugged Wireless Computer Really Handle That?  A Buyer’s Guide to Understanding and Interpreting Rugged Mobile Commuter Specs.”  While you’re on LXE’s Web site, check out the case studies for rugged computing.

HP just entered the rugged computing market with both a notebook and a tablet PC, engineered from the ground up for extreme conditions.  Both offer extensive wireless features, including high performance simultaneous wireless WAN, LAN and personal-area network.  This portfolio of integrated wireless connectivity options allows for seamless roaming capabilities.  This would be great for vehicle-mounted PCs, like in police cars, fire trucks or ambulances.

Continental Airlines is one of the first customers in line for the HP rugged portable PCs.  I can see how those technicians on the tarmac do face extreme weather conditions as they service the planes, especially in the summer at Continental’s Houston hub.

Because of the extensive engineering and materials that go into making a rugged PC, you might think the cost would be quite high.  Yes, some can get expensive, but they need not be a budget-breaker.  For instance, the HP Rugged Notebook nr3600 starts at a list price of $4,099, with many options available.  The HP Rugged Tablet PC tr3000 has a base price of $3,449. Civil organizations such as fire or police departments can begin to get the computers they need at a relatively reasonable price.

For mobile computers that truly do go anywhere, look at the ruggedized models on the market today.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at