If you walk around looking into patrol vehicles today you are pretty likely to find a Panasonic Toughbook, in one variant or another, mounted in a rack accessible to the driver (patrol officer). I'd be careful doing that because you may also get an unfriendly greeting from the officer whose patrol vehicle you're peeking into. That Panasonic Toughbook is fairly common not only in police vehicles but also in military usage. Why is that? you ask (if you don't already know). It's because Panasonic has been making ruggedized laptops specifically for such use for quite a number of years and they've gotten pretty good at it. Recently, thanks to Rugged Notebooks, Inc. I received a Toughbook for testing. Given what I do to the stuff I test I appreciate their taking the risk of not getting it back in one piece. Let's see how it did...
First, let's get the "boring" stuff out of the way...
The model they sent for me to test was the Panasonic Toughbook CF-29. That model is (standard) equipped with:
- a 13.3" touch-sensitive XGA screen
- a Pentium 1.4Ghz Centrino processor
- 1 Gigabyte of RAM
- a 40 Gigabyte hard drive
- Windows XP SP2 software
It measures 11" x 9" x 2".
It has a CDROM drive.
It has two Type II PCMCIA slots.
It has a serial port, parallel port and an USB port.
It has both an internal ethernet network card for hooking up to the internet by hard connection, and it has an internal wireless network card.
As today's laptop computers go, at least in the capacities and processor performance, this is a very basic system. It's not as fast as some laptops, nor is the hard drive as large and many computers have more RAM. All that said, few of those other computers were designed and built to have cops pour coffee into the keyboards, drop them on the roadside or use them (when closed) as a catch-all shelf. I'm sure more than one arrestee has - in a traffic accident or other hazard - impacted the edge of the mounted Toughbook only to be injured rather than breaking the computer. But as I considered the impacts the Toughbook might have to endure, I figured it would be good to put it through some impact testing of my own.
Out to my patio I went. There, standing upright and holding the laptop by its integrated handle, I dropped it ten times. My height and length of my arm made that just under a three foot drop... ten times. It still worked without issue. The hard drive is shock mounted to help protect from damage due to such "accidents". Next on my list of abuse testing was the "catch-all shelf" test. Many laptops have such a flimsy top and screen that if you close the laptop and put anything on it you can damage the screen / display. The test Toughbook I had sat on my kitchen table on the end nearest the door. That meant that virtually anything we carried into our back door might get put on the Toughbook. Across the span of two weeks the Toughbook served as landing pad for:
- my son's saxaphone
- my son's book bag for school
- my range bag
- my armorer's kit
- one Rubbermaid container full of Beanie Babies
At least in the case of everything belonging to my son that was put on the Toughbook I know the items weren't put down gently. At the end of the two weeks I set it up, fired it up and it worked just fine. The display was not damaged.
In this case I was not at liberty to pour coffee or orange juice into the keyboard so I still say pour / spill liquids into it at your own risk.
I think the strongest case one can make for the strength and durability of the Toughbook is its longevity and respect in the field. The large majority of officers I know who have one in their cruiser swear by them. And knowing some of my friends who still work patrol daily I'm sure that those Toughbooks are getting pretty beat up.
For more info on Rugged Notebooks, Inc. visit them online.