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Durable Laptop Suggestions for the Desert?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the portable-GHz-in-the-sandbox dept.

Portables 82

glarbl_blarbl asks: "My brother is assigned to the 82nd Airborne in the US Army. His last laptop was a Sony Vaio whose power jack and hard drive both failed after about three years, and it didn't see anything worse than a state college dorm. He has just been ordered back to Iraq, and as the family computer geek I have been trying to help him with some general advice - but I have no experience with laptops in exotic environments. Does anyone know which brands/models would be better suited for life in the desert?"

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Ummmm (0, Flamebait)

j0nkatz (315168) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505765)

Etch-A-Sketch?
Also, I think Toshiba makes some nice "rugedized" notebooks.

Re:Ummmm (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13507977)

As long as it is an genuine Intel-processor notebook, it should be all good.

AMD's processors cannot be recommended for a hot climate, since they tend to crap out.

No matter what laptop you get.... (2)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505776)

If it's mission critical and you might be stuck without spares, change out the hard drive every 2 years. They wear out.

If it were me, I'd safely pack and carry a preloaded backup drive.

Ruggedized laptops (4, Informative)

Bastian (66383) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505778)

The keyword you're looking for are "ruggedized." If he's going to be in a really dusty place, you might want to look into getting one that's envrionmentally sealed, but those aren't the best things because they generally have very low-power CPUs, rubber chiclet keyboards, and the like in order to get rid of all openings in the case.

The only major consumer line I know of is Panasonic Toughbooks.

Just get 5 cheap ones instead (2, Interesting)

marcus (1916) | more than 8 years ago | (#13508925)

For the price of a Panasonic Toughbook, you could buy 5 or more cheapo laptops and just give them away as they start to come apart. Since he's not going to be working in truly hazardous conditions, ie dust only, he should be fine for months with any cheap LT and a vacuum cleaner.

Besides, he'll have a ready made beowulf cluster and backup space!

Re:Just get 5 cheap ones instead (2, Insightful)

Grab (126025) | more than 8 years ago | (#13511004)

I doubt your average squaddie has enough baggage allowance to carry 5 laptops.

In a dusty, sandy environment, the most important thing *has* to be that it's sealed. If not, you can guaranteed that all the shit that gets inside it will kill the fans, CD/DVD and possibly hard drive in pretty short order.

Plus a ruggedised laptop will be squaddie-proof - throw it across the room, drop your bags on it, throw it out of the truck or whatever, it'll survive. The same could not be said of any five regular laptops! :-/

Grab.

Grab.

Re:Just get 5 cheap ones instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13511693)

Super. So I put my 5 cheapo laptops into my duffle and the first day, someone throws it off the truck and all 5 are hosed.

No thanks. Mil spec exists for a reason. 1) You can't carry 5 of anything. 2) The logistics of constantly re-ordering replacements is expensive. 3) Failures, even if they can be cheaply budgeted for, are very expensive and time consuming. Daily/hourly backups, knowing your cheapo laptop will fail imminently? No thanks.

Panasonic Toughbook. (4, Informative)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505779)

Panasonic Toughbook. At least that's what we send, but we're only Air Force. Though I have seen them bounce down the stairs from the flight deck to the cargo area of a C-17 a few times and work just fine. Seem to hold up to moderate grit as well.

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (4, Informative)

xyzzy (10685) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505807)

Hands down, Toughbook, CF-73. Buried one in the dirt in Hawaii at a military exercise last summer, with a DVD. Played the DVD fine the next morning, AFTER DRAINING THE WATER OUT OF IT that accumulated from the dew overnight.

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13505838)

Yeah, I have a friend who uses a toughbook for his personal business (carpet cleaning), and he drops his all the time and thrashes it pretty hard. It's not a desert environment, but it gets a lot of abuse and seems to hold up well.

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13507140)

I'm in the US Marine Corps and we use the same thing. If a piece of gear can't be broken my a bunch of dumb jarheads, you know it's built to last.

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (1)

Nosferax (836254) | more than 8 years ago | (#13508809)

And yet, where I work (National enregy provider here) the guy in the field broke 3 in one month. One even came back with the casing broken in two... Don't ask me how they did it...

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (1)

martin (1336) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507365)

Another vote for these. The UK gas engineers (that's natural gas not gasoline) use them, so they get moved about alot, in dirty environments (boiler rooms etc) and they survive that fine..

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (3, Funny)

biglig2 (89374) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507435)

Ditto. Did some training with an RAF guy, his toughbook looked like it ate ibooks and crapped ipod shuffles.

Re:Panasonic Toughbook. (1)

biglig2 (89374) | more than 8 years ago | (#13517047)

Heh, maybe that's where Steve got the idea for the nano from.

Panasonic? (1)

^me^ (129402) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505781)

the ToughBook [panasonic.com] from panasonic looks like it would do the trick, though it's rather slow and expensive.

The MIL SPEC laptops (3, Informative)

jmauro (32523) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505786)

These ones will take a lot of abuse. I use them in the California and Arizona deserts every so often without too much trouble.

Itronix GoBook [itronix.com]
Panasonic Toughbook [panasonic.com]

They are more expensive than your average notebooks but the extra costs means they take a beating from a baseball bat and still be fully functional. Also unlike some of the other types of MIL SPEC notebooks these actually look and function similar to a regular notebook.

... or at least an ATA flash drive (2, Insightful)

deanpole (185240) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506490)

If a ruggedized laptop is too expensive, and you try a disposable $1000 laptop, consider replacing the hard drive with a flash device. Besides eliminating most of the moving parts, it will reduce heat and increase battery life.

Here is my first froogle hit [logicsupply.com] but many others exist. Many modern laptops can boot from a cheaper USB flash device too, but an external gizmo may be undesirable.

some flashes have limited write-life (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 8 years ago | (#13512665)

Be careful with this. Some flash devices have a limited number of times any one memory section can be written to. Even a write-life of 10,000 writes is a lot.

If you go this route, turn off swap and set up a ramdisk and configure your OS to use it for temporary files.

Re:The MIL SPEC laptops (2, Funny)

HaydnH (877214) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507451)

From the Itronix site: "...as well professional "road warriors" whose notebook must *reliably* endure the tumultuous and often unpredictable conditions that come with using a notebook on the go." "Itronix recommends Windows® XP" Surely those 2 phrases should not be on the same page????

Re:The MIL SPEC laptops (1)

Ratbert42 (452340) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507718)

It's been a few years since I worked with them, but when I did, the Panasonic was not as well sealed as the Itronix. Unless things have changed, I'd be more worried about sand and water getting into the Panasonic. Hammerhead [walkabout-comp.com] tablets are probably the best sealed I've seen.

Re:The MIL SPEC laptops (1)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 8 years ago | (#13513091)

The Itronix GoBooks look pretty good.

We are in the process of rolling them out to our ~200 field techs right now.

We need them to work in pretty much any weather that Canada can throw at us, both indoors and outside.

Also, these are the laptops that our local (Winnipeg.MB.CA) police have in their cars, and they seem happy with the laptops' ability to absorb abuse and resist ... fluids.

On the other hand, the RCMP uses Toughbooks (the ruggedised version) and seem happy with them. Our field techs have also been using Toughbooks (standard, not the same level of hardening as the police ones) and in 5 years, there haven't been a lot of failures due to mechanical abuse (several hard drive and CD drive failures in the last year, though)

Panasonic Toughbook!(?) (1)

thecampbeln (457432) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505801)

I remember reading something about the Panasonic Toughbooks being used in all sorts of horrible enviroments. A quick Google retieved these links...

Panasonic(R) Toughbook(R) 29 Wins Laptop Magazine Torture Test [prnewswire.com] ,
Panasonic's own case studies [panasonic.com] .

I can't seem to find any links Re: military/sand, but again I seem to remember something about the Toughbooks being used in Iraq (#1, #1.5 or #2, I'm not sure). I've never used one myself, but it may be a place to start!

How many kids will he kill? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13505809)

This is important info in the decision making process.

Look for dustproof design and heat tolerance. (4, Informative)

Myself (57572) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505869)

The magazine Pen Computing [pencomputing.com] has a nice lean towards ruggedized machines. You can always count on them for brutally honest, brutally violent reviews of the latest from Panasonic, Melard, Itronix, and whoever the latest challenger seems to be.

The issue currently on the stands is the 2005 Buyers' Guide, which deserves a read. A few issues ago, they paid a visit to a durability testing lab. The photos of the shower stall, drop test, hinge exerciser, button pusher, and screen scratcher were hilarious.

My personal go-everywhere machine is a Toughbook CF-M34 [wikispaces.org] . It's tiny, doesn't weigh much, and takes whatever I dish out. The other day I had it standing on top of my car when a gust of wind shoved it over the edge. A little chunk of metal was liberated from the hind corner when it hit the concrete, but the running apps didn't crash, and there was no cracking of the case beyond the ding. Thank goodness for padded hard drive mountings!

The main concern you have with desert operation is dust. A washable keyboard will let you simply rinse the grit out from under the keys. Rubber port covers will keep gunk out of the PCMCIA slot, for instance, when it's not in use.

There's an option in the BIOS of my '34 for "high-temperature operation". What it does is stop charging the battery when it reaches 80%, since operating a lithium-ion battery above its rated temperature is as simple as derating its maximum charge. Going to 100% at high temperature would significantly shorten the cycle life of the battery.

Re:Look for dustproof design and heat tolerance. (5, Funny)

Solder Fumes (797270) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506621)

"Gust of wind" you say.

We all know you forgot it on top of the car when you drove away.

Re:Look for dustproof design and heat tolerance. (1)

DarthStrydre (685032) | more than 8 years ago | (#13522716)

Gust of wind, or not, it survived, and probably chipped the pavement as well.

The laptops do not stand up to hollowpoints, though reportedly they have limited casualties from stray rounds fired in Iraq from some lower energy rounds and ricochets. (Doh! there's that word again!)

Working in the field, Toughbooks fare better than Fieldworks (who have seemingly bad keyboard designs) and some other 'ruggedized' laptops/luggables.

For some manufactured... ruggedized seems to mean adding some rubber pads to the corners of a traditional laptop, with screws that snap clean off at the first sign of shock. For others, it means a bolt together frame of steel that makes the thing heavy enough to do itself damage just from the immense forces of coming to a sudden stop after brisk acceleration. Panasonic seems to balance the two extremes and produce a nice truly rugged package.

A Few Tips (1)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505892)

First off, you want to get Alcohol 120% and learn to use it. If he plays games and such, you don't want him swapping discs unless he absolutely needs to. Every time you open the drive, you let in sand.

Next, look for all the openings. The RAM cover, HD cover, battery cover; anywhere sand might creep in. Tape all thoes closed with duct tape or strapping tape. That will keep sand from creeping in.

Get more tape and some cheesecloth/filter paper. Find the vents for the heatsink and the modem/LAN jacks. Cover and tape filters over all thoes.

One thing you can't do anything about will be the keyboard. Bring lots of canned air and use it liberally.

Re:A Few Tips (1)

Sancho (17056) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507157)

I'm not sure a normal notebook is a good idea in the desert, and certainly not one capable of playing anything resembling a modern game.

The main problem will be heat. Ok, you're in a desert. That's one strike. Now you need to keep the thing sealed. That's going to include intake and exhaust. That's a very serious strike. We have to almost completely discount any notebook which is going to require a fan and which doesn't have any measures already in place to seal the inside of the intake/exhaust. That's going to be most of them, because that sort of thing just isn't necessary unless you're looking at ruggedized notebooks. Low power/heat notebooks might be okay with sealing, but it's going to be important to do some serious testing to make sure, and I certainly don't think modern video cards are going to be a possibility.

Re:A Few Tips (1)

Thag (8436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509717)

After googling, I am also reading suggestions that you take at least one spare power supply with you, as well as a spare battery. These tend to go bad in the field, and once they do, you're out of business unless you have a spare.

Take everything with you that you think you might need, it's much harder to get things once you're in Iraq.

And thank you for your service to our country.

Jon Acheson

Everyone is saying it... (3, Informative)

BrianRaker (633638) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505919)

And I'll say it too. Panasonic ToughBooks [panasonic.com] are the way to go. Used to service these things for the US Army back at Fort Campbell and the top end units you could have a HMMWV run over it and it would survive: LCD OK, powered on OK and booted straight into the OS. Got a couple back from NTC at Fort Irwin (tank training, in the middle of the desert) and all but one came back unscathed. The one failure was due to a crappy LS-120 drive.

FPS games (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13505942)

probably anything that will run a FPS type of game.
Then again, he'll proably be shooting real babies and inocent defenseless mothers etc. f'ckin US c'nts

Re:FPS games (1)

kristjansson (624846) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507387)

Ummm... we go to great lengths to avoid doing that. Really. It's a lot less painful for everyone involved if you don't go out with the intent of doing things that you can't forgive yourself for later. Or that you will see courts-martial over.

As an aside, the most popular game in my platoon during 1AD's extension last year was the Sims on GBA...

dongle (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 8 years ago | (#13505947)

Whatever laptop you get, I recommend you keep backups of everything on a jump drive. Plug the thing in whenever you set up the machine and make a batch file to do the backup. Those solid-state drives are pretty darn hardy and even a ruggedized notebook can suffer a head crash when slammed when the drive's spinning.

Exactly what is he going to do with it? (3, Informative)

GrpA (691294) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506006)

That's the question you need to ask. Once answered, you will find the right hardware.

Ruggedised stuff usually is not that cheap.

Aside from ruggedised computers, as a general rule, Toshiba stuff usually stacks up pretty well, but even Toshiba's break things like plugs and drives pretty commonly.

Aside from high strength, also consider small. Small size automatically improves structure (think inverse square law)... Half the size, means four times the structural strength... Although it's actually higher, because all you are really reducing is the form factor.

I have a small 90's era Libretto that I carry around to play GO on, so it gets very harshly treated. But it's suitable for travel as well. PCMCIA adaptors are small, hard to break (if you get good ones) and cheap to replace if they do. It gets dragged around with me everywhere, and it's still working. And I don't really take care of it. But I can log on to networks, comprise emails, play go and serve files... It's great.

Something similarly small, and perhaps second hand (newer palmtops often have overheating problems) makes a great PC with little weight or space taken up.

But maybe a PC isn't the best choice? Perhaps a games box, eg, PSP or DS.... Or even a palm device?

Again, the smaller, the easier to cart around, and the stronger.

Finally, what are his friends carrying around? Something similar is often a good idea, even if it's not the best choice.

Think of something to just get the job done. If it's just for a few years, consider something that will just last that long. Also field strippable can help (Seriously!).

And keep in mind that in a year or so, he'll know what he wants. Better then to get you to send it to him, so whatever he leaves with might only need to last a year.

Finally, keep in mind the operating system you choose. You want something he can fix himself, even if he needs to blow it all away, so being able to boot from a CD or USB you include and fix all might be a good idea too.

Just some thoughts.

GrpA

Re:Exactly what is he going to do with it? (1)

Penguin Programmer (241752) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506408)

I agree, ruggedized stuff is very expensive.

I work for a paving company, and our equipment shop uses a laptop for vehicle diagnostics. We bought them a Compaq two years ago or so (right after they were bought out by HP) and have had no problems at all with it. It's no battleground, but it is a fairly dirty environment (oil, grease, bit of asphalt, gravel, etc.. all over the place) and it gets tossed around a fair bit when it's being hooked up to and unhooked from machines all the time. People always bash Compaq on quality, but this laptop has really held up well.

Re:Exactly what is he going to do with it? (2, Funny)

fbjon (692006) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507468)

a small 90's era Libretto that I carry around to play GO on, so it gets very harshly treated

Harshly treated? Well, I guess if you scratch the grid onto the lid and really smash those stones when placing them, you could get some harsh treatment by playing go.

Miltope (1)

RackinFrackin (152232) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506032)

These guys [miltope.com] build rugged computers, but I don't know if they sell to individuals.

No fans (5, Informative)

strikethree (811449) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506113)

You will want a notebook that does not use any fans. I am in Iraq right now and the dust here is like an ultra-fine baby powder. It gets into EVERYTHING. If there are no fans, you will find less of this dust inside of your laptop. I have a Sharp Actius PC-MM20. It is awesome here. While other laptops have dropped dead from sucking in too much dust, my MM20 keeps rocking.

strike

Re:No fans (1)

Myself (57572) | more than 8 years ago | (#13508850)

Amen, brother. I've never owned a laptop with a fan, nor do I intend to. The magnesium-alloy case on my Toughbook isn't thermally ideal, but with the little heatpipe spreading things out, it works great as a heatsink.

I've seen models, I think from Itronix, that actually include a heat exchanger. The air inside the laptop is circulated by one fan, and outside air is blown across the exchanger by another fan. They achieve desktop-like CPU clocks, with no dust intrusion. When it gets clogged with dust, just hose it off. :)

Fujitsu P1120 (3, Informative)

jgartin (177959) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506134)

I used this notebook for 15 months in Iraq. It's small, easy to carry, and heat resistant. It doesn't have a DVD drive, though. The P2120 does--it's a very similar model. Both notebooks have a multivoltage power adapter--a very important feature for any notebook you're going to use overseas.

Re:Fujitsu P1120 (1)

LordMyren (15499) | more than 8 years ago | (#13512891)

You're right, the p1120 is an astoundingly durable extremely small heat resistant wonder of a laptop. Its also fanless which is also a benefit (reports of one 20mm fan for the PCMCIA card...?). However, I'd be a little hestitant about recommending it for use in a desert. I've dropped mine from all sorts of heights, accrued many "dramatic wounds" all over the case. Once I dropped it off the bunk bed and it fell onto some rebar I had sticking up... I call that wound Posiedon. Very strongly built, although the hinges do make me slightly nervous sometimes.

But sand? Whew... thats a tall order of buisness.

Great laptop. Its proven itself over a hundred fold to some of the cruelest abuse. But sand is serious buisness. And this laptop isnt exactly watertight.

Glad to hear it worked well for you though. I wonder howt he new P1510 compares durability wise.

Myren

Almost all laptops already come with multivoltage (1)

arete (170676) | more than 8 years ago | (#13526796)

Almost all laptops already come with multivoltage. In a small survey of a dozen or so I couldn't find one that didn't. Mostly the power bricks are rated for 50-60 Hz 100-240V - which covers everything commonly on the planet. Voltage conversion is the expensive electronic part of international power.

Then all you need is a _plug_ converter - that is, a piece of metal and plastic that makes it fit in the right holes. These are very cheap. For instance, a european/israeli plug is $0.99 from Bombay Electronics (online and on Devon in Chicago) The "international voltage kits" for laptops are usually just a bunch of of plugs/cables that have different ends, but don't pay too much.

Laptop makers ship the exact same converter with different ends everywhere in the world - that's how it works. Many of them have a removeable cord for the "to the wall" part - then they just use different cords. But you definitely don't need a "special" kit for most laptops.

Sun (1)

delirium of disorder (701392) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506183)

I always thought UltraSPARC based laptops were really unique and cool. Unfortunately, the military is just about the only market left for them.

http://www.rugged-systems.co.uk/pdf/V2%20Unix%20La ptop%20-%20RSL.PDF [rugged-systems.co.uk]

Tadpole even makes a dual processor UltraSPARC laptop, the bullfrog. It's quite a beast. You can order it with up to 16GB RAM. I got a quote on a fully decked out bullfrog:
List Price $46,933
Discount ($3,248)
Your Discounted Price $43,685
....An x86 machine is more economically realistic, but if you can find some way to cheaply get an UltraSPARC based notebook, you should definitely go for it.

holy crap (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#13511376)

16GB of RAM?
Its battery life must be... 10 seconds?

Those laptops are pretty darn rediculous.

Panasonic Toughbook (1)

Eil (82413) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506190)


I believe you're looking for a Panasonic Toughbook [panasonic.com] . These are standard issue in the Air Force for any portable computer not confined to an office setting. They even make one that's designed to military specifications. They are a bit expensive, but I've even seem some with armoured keyboards. They should be able to handle desert abuse with little problem.

Everybody Loves Hummers (1)

telstar (236404) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506212)

Hummer Laptop [engadget.com]

Check out these guys (1)

jessecurry (820286) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506422)

Sorry if this has been posted before, it's late and I have work to do.

http://itronix.com/ [itronix.com]

One with a warranty (3, Interesting)

zentu (584197) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506520)

Seriously, He won't be moving his laptop. My buddy, Aaron, who went just got a $700 Laptop, He didn't move it from the Air conditioned Dorms the entire time he was there, They have no reason to do anything out side of the complex, so he doesn't need anything 'ruggigized' it is just an extreem waste of money. Spend the money on a backup drive (teach him how to use it, and not to leave it plugged in) and a warranty just in case. Preference is one of those no questions asked, break me in three years to make sure you get your *free* upgrade.

Aaron had only one problem, he got a cheap referb, and 3 days after his 90 day warranty was up (and only like 10 days in the harsh environment), it died, the IDE controller died, and fried the HDD, there went all of his work on his book. So he went and bought another one, a $1000 Avaratech (that was twice the machine) but adding a $150 warranty upgrade.

When his brother, Nathaniel, got told he was going 3 weeks after Aaron got the new one, to join his MI National Guard Unit that was already over there, we asked what he needed, and Aaron said, "Decent power, a charger (with internatinal just in case), and an ethernet jack, you won't be wireless or moving it. Period."

When Nathaniel went he had no problems beyond the crap that was installed on the laptop when he bought it (a new model [cheap Toshiba with out wireless] from Ebay that had been gotten from BestBuy 2 weeks before school started that was cheap at the time [$650 after rebates] and gotten 1.5 months later for $700 with no rebates).

Nathaniel has returned with no problems, exept now that he is on a college campus, he wants WiFi, and Aaron, who is still over there for another 4 months at least, has had no problems (beyond Adware and the ilk, even war doesn't get you away from that crap).

MOD PARENTS UP! (1)

johansalk (818687) | more than 8 years ago | (#13523535)

Sooo right! He won't be taking it into battle. It would be staying in his room just like the dorm. Just get a regular laptop and don't buy something rugged and expensive like a toughbook.

Get a good warranty (3, Informative)

austad (22163) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506597)

My buddy went to iraq and got an HP business laptop. 3 year warranty with next day parts. Although when he called them, they said it takes them a couple days to get parts to Iraq.

Don't buy a crappy consumer model, order it from their website from the small or large business section to get what you need. Keyboards in the desert die every few months, and your cdrom won't last more than 2 months. Even if the thing is ruggedized, sand is still going to work its way in there and hose the thing.

Re:Get a good warranty (2, Funny)

rev_sanchez (691443) | more than 8 years ago | (#13508420)

abacus: light on features but big on reliability

I've seen them stay up and running for decades under very harsh conditions. There is no problem if you drop it in the water or sand. Replacement parts are cheap.

Re:Get a good warranty (1)

F_Scentura (250214) | more than 8 years ago | (#13550838)

"when he called them, they said it takes them a couple days to get parts to Iraq."

Somehow I doubt that.

something easy to blow the sand out of (1)

Goeland86 (741690) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506600)

I'd recommend you look at how easy the laptop cases are to open... Get one where it's easy to blow out the sand with a dusting can. I would avoid HP for that matter, although they do offer pretty sweet machines (mine's 2 years and only dead pixels on the screen have annoyed me 'til it was fixed) Hope this suggestion helps. Keeping a laptop sealed out won't work, at least not as well as one where it's easy for the sand to fall out. Consider that when looking at them.

Re:something easy to blow the sand out of (1)

David Horn (772985) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507353)

IBM are great for easy to open units. The keyboard, palm rest and trackpad come straight out on my T40 if you whip out a couple of screws, then you can hoover / blow out the insides with compressed air.

Even better, it doesn't void your warranty as you have to do all this to install a mini-PCI card. Of course, if you phone IBM and ask them how to get your RAM out of a hoover, they might get suspicious...

Going back with 101st Airborne myself (2, Informative)

Digital Dharma (673185) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506885)

And I will be taking an up-armored Panasonic Toughbook [toughonline.com] with me. We use them regularly in the field, and I've been impressed so far with their durability. I've seen them dropped, thrown, punched, kicked, pushed off tables, etc. No one can break stuff like we can ;)

iBook? (1)

BigZaphod (12942) | more than 8 years ago | (#13506976)

Depending on the circumstances, something like an iBook might even work fine. I know of at least one iBook that survived a tour in Iraq recently. From what I hear, it had some battle scars, but still worked fine when he got back.

Re:iBook? (1)

thebiggs (625489) | more than 8 years ago | (#13511169)

I love my iBook but...

I wouldn't call it rugged. I recently got a new-ish g4 iBook, and though it's more durable than my earier one (white g3 iBook; the plastic creaked when you picked it up and peripheral connections were made out of easily breakable plastic), I reckon it'd still be much more comfortable on a desktop than in a warzone.

Wha? (0, Offtopic)

Jukashi (240273) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507024)

We still have troops in Iraq? I thought we pulled them out when the war ended last year? You'd think the media would cover something like this if it was still going on..weird...

Twinhead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13507111)

Check out Twinhead - they do some very tough notebooks. Normal laptop keyboard, even.

Don't try this at home with your laptop (1)

Coppertone (10332) | more than 8 years ago | (#13507422)

Well... I haven't tried to take my thinkpad to anywhere exotic, so can't recommend it to you, but take a look at these "customer stories" for Thinkpads (the acting is rubbish!):

The Legends of Thinkpad [ibm.com]

but do armed forces run Linux? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13507450)

Also install damn small linux in USB stick. In case your CD/DVD drive fails.

He'll probably be driving/riding one, so... (2, Funny)

signingis (158683) | more than 8 years ago | (#13508451)

Why not a HUMMER [gizmodo.com] ? :)

Ask someone who's there... (1)

Galahad (24997) | more than 8 years ago | (#13508913)

You might want to ask someone who is there already. SGT Kobus is chronicling his deployment through Kuwait and Iraq at Lost In Iraq [lostiniraq.com] . I know he's gone through several digital cameras but all he's had to replace on his laptop was the power supply.

As an Iraq vet (1)

sockman (133264) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509277)

I had a Toshiba Satellite. It worked pretty well, but you have to blow out the fans and interior semifrequently. Sager makes good laptops, but the one that I knew of out there had pretty big problems with the power supply dying in the heat, and in general being very hot.

You can pick up Satellite's pretty cheap now (A15-S157 is my particular model). It's still going strong.

More thoughts (1)

sockman (133264) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509340)

Above it's posted that you can't have a laptop capable of playing games... Sure, in August, outside, it's too hot for that. But I played Battlefield on Veterans Day over there, I played Quake3 on July 4th. It's really not *that* bad of an environment unless you're in the south, closer to Kuwait (where the British are).

I really just recommend a semicheap laptop. Put it away when you are away, knock the dust out when you start hearing the fan grind.

Twinhead (1)

MrCJC (140323) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509492)

You might want to take a look at the Twinhead http://usa.twinhead.com/ [twinhead.com] . I haven't personally used one, but we did consider it, along with the Panasonic Toughbooks, for ruggized laptops.

Hard Case (1)

Doc Squidly (720087) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509512)

What work for me while I was in Iraq was a small notebook with a hard case.

Depending on you budget, this would be the best solution. A metal or plastic carring case with some foam padding will protect it during transport.

I learned this lession a few years ago. Most laptop damage won't occur while you're using it but, when its packed for transport.

Alphasmart Dana? (1)

Thag (8436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509523)

If all he wants to do is email, the Dana might be a good choice. It's a Palm device, it has no moving parts, it's tough, it can run off AA batteries or rechargeables, and it is available with WiFi. And it's relatively cheap at around $300.

If you want something to play games on or run normal software, of course, this isn't going to work.

Jon Acheson

Good Advice (0, Offtopic)

OmgTEHMATRICKS (836103) | more than 8 years ago | (#13509655)

A Sony VAIO lasting three years in the desert seems reasonable to me. Go get it fixed.

As far as good advice goes, I'd suggest telling him to get the hell out of Iraq and go help someone really in need in New Orleans.

Nobody wants us in Iraq except certain large corporations (UNOCAL, Halliburton) who've spent this coutry's national treasure, many thousands of US soldier's lives and killed nearly 100,000 innocent Iraqis in an illegal war, undeclared by congress (check the Constitution) to make billions for themselves.

Get a clue. Use some of brains between your ears and tell him to get the f out.

I'm a veteran of Vietnam and the first Desert Storm debacle. Believe me, twenty years from now this mistake in the desert and this administration will be an embarassing historical memory, but your brother's life and limb as well as the lives and families of the people of Iraq may be just as dead. Get some perspective.

Good luck,

Cato

Re:Good Advice (1)

glarbl_blarbl (810253) | more than 8 years ago | (#13513151)

Thanks for your service, even if it was in a couple of misguided campaigns.

While my brother and I completely agree with you on all these points, he has a plan and the Infantry is a big part of it. He graduated w/ a BS in Politcal Science a couple of years before he signed up, and could have gone straight to OCS... But his plan is to gain experience/respect in the Army now by doing their hardest (from what I hear) entry-level job, later he hopes to become a police officer in a large city (he already has an app in w/ the NYPD) and later still to go in to politics. I'm really proud of him for taking on these challenges, even if I abhor the policies of his commander-in-chief. When Doug was in basic training, the running joke was that the one liberal in the Army had died and Doug had to take his place.

I submitted this question more than a week ago, before he had shipped out. I waited a couple of days to see if it had posted, but he was due to ship out on the 1st so we went ahead and bought a refurbished Dell m700 with all the hardware he specified (DVD, wifi) - he was wary of ordering a computer once he was in country since the last time he went APO/FPO shipping tooks months.. My family has had mostly good experience with them (I still wish I could put linux on my Axim X30, but I'm not a developer and I'm patient - so there you go) and I didn't see anything about "Dell Hell" http://www.buzzmachine.com/index.php/2005/08/17/de ar-mr-dell/ [buzzmachine.com] until a few days after we ordered.... D'oh!

I'm starting to think this might be okay, he was reassigned to a headquarters company (the Army reasonably pulled him off of active patrols after he suffered two separate incidences of heat stroke during training at Ft. Bragg) and probably will not be leaving the base this time. I have forwarded the link to this story to him, and hopefully he'll read it and take some of the good general advice proffered here..

As far as fixing the Vaio goes... I'm going to be cannibalizing that for parts ;) ... I'm thinking about building it into some kind of funky case and making it into a network-booted piece of furniture... Wish me luck!

-g

Re:Good Advice (1)

teknomage1 (854522) | more than 8 years ago | (#13515163)

I'm sure his superior officers will enjoy hearing that he doesn't want to be in Iraq because the locals don't want him there. And after they finish laughing their asses off, he'll still be in Iraq. Seriously, I doubt this guy has a whole lot of choice where he goes til his service is up. Way to give useful advice.

Re:Good Advice (1)

turpie (8040) | more than 8 years ago | (#13516474)

I thought the same thing about the life of the laptop. It lasted 3 flipping years! Okay it could be better but thats not too bad for any pc.

My advice would be to teach him to make backups, even something simple like just burning his files onto CDs. (That reminds me I should make a backup tonight.)

First hand experience (1)

TheHawke (237817) | more than 8 years ago | (#13512034)

Here in south Texas we have semi-desert scrub conditions (sand, wind, heat, humidity). PLUS, we have contractors that work continually in sandy, gritty conditions. So the laptops are pretty much subjected to what you'll experience in Iraq and the other mideast countries.

The best laptop IMHO, for that climate would have to be Panasonic's Toughbooks. These dimwits would leave ordinary laptops in their trucks all day long with the windows rolled up (130F+!) and the LCD's would be black as night.. Simply put, ruined!

The toughbooks are rated to 120F working and 130 powered off so it can take the beating that they get down here and keep on ticking.

They are thin on protection when they are first bought (no AV or firewall). But loaded with the goodies needed for OTJ operation (long legged batteries, GPS/Wireless capability, gasketed doors on all connections and drives). They weigh a ton, but are as tough as a H1 Hummer, if not tougher.

The price? Better break out the wallet and prepare to pay for that mil-spec toughness... 4 grand for a well-outfitted unit, ready to rumble.

If you can, get a expense account to buy your gear since you are going to be working with it on the job.

No fans (1)

Eol1 (208982) | more than 8 years ago | (#13512224)

Somebody else said it but want to restate it. Any laptop should do as long as it is no fan / fan minimal. Also working in Iraq and using a regular IBM X40 . While it isn't *toughened*, it also runs low power / low heat ... fan almost never kicks in. Haven't had a problem with it the entire year I have been hear ... working like a champ.

As for the panasonic toughbook series, not worth the price in my book. Have used them in the past and just aren't worth the additional cost UNLESS you are dealing with water issues. Normal low fan laptops deal with heat / dust just fine. If dealing with water / mud / damp issues, go with the toughbooks. Not the cheapo fashionable toughbook models either, they still make (have to look for it on their site, don't advertise it well) a true toughbook. Water proof (not resistant), touch screen (so can use with gloves), etc etc. Its worth it though.

He wants something sealed. (2, Informative)

St. Arbirix (218306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13512366)

The computer doesn't really matter if you cover it right [protectcovers.com] .

Otherwise, I suggest a PowerBook. I beat someone with mine a couple of months ago and it still works fine.

Heat kills batteries (1)

UnapprovedThought (814205) | more than 8 years ago | (#13512448)

Store the batteries in a cool place (50-80F if possible) and they will last much longer and need fewer recharge cycles. There is no need to stick them in a refrigerator, but even that would be better than leaving it out in the sun... as long as moisture doesn't get 'em. Maybe next to the vent of an air conditioner.

Someday there will be battery chemistries where heat won't be a problem (demonstrated this year at a tech expo in Japan I think), but for the moment all common batteries perform better in moderately cool weather.

You can also play other tricks such as removing devices not used frequently that drain the battery and therefore cause it to heat up. For instance, if you can play all of your music or videos from the HD instead of CD or DVD you will save from having the DVD drive constantly drawing power. You can save even more if you can stream content from a network, as your HD may be able to spin down during a long movie.

xplore ruggedized tablets (1)

Audeo (165241) | more than 8 years ago | (#13514882)

im typing this on my xplore tablet pc. with a bluetooth usb connection to my sprint cell phone. internet practically anyhere.
waterproof and mostly drop proof. magnesium case. 9400 mha battery gives me 5 hours of unconected use.
with 2 of them i can go for most of a day of solid use.

price ouch!! start at about 2200 and go up from there.

but it is nice. i dont worry about breaking it much.

www.xplore.com

toughbook line (1)

gimione (913552) | more than 8 years ago | (#13516428)

I dig for dinasourse in the desert and I use a Panasonic Toughbook. It's great because the LCD is sealed against dust.

The Panasonic Toughbook will kick butt for ya (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13516633)

I've see hundreds of various laptop models. I've seen some pretty durable laptop-like varients as well (Military systems).

I'd have to say one of my favorites has been the Panasonic Toughbook http://www.panasonic.com/computer/toughbook/design _features.asp [panasonic.com]

The harddrive is enclosed in a sealed and HEAVILY padded chamber. The keyboard is fully sealed. The case is tough as shit... I bet you could drive a decent size truck over it and it won't break.

Definately expensive tho....

I recommend against anything from Fijitsu (they're stingy bastards that go with cheap low quality parts). Although IBM (Now "Lenovo" even though its the same amazing engineers) Thinkpads are built pretty solid... I can't recommend them for hash environment use.

canned air & ziplock bags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13569784)

To keep the laptop working every time he uses it, he should spray compressed/canned air in every opening and then seal it in a ziplock bag when done.
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