Just a few years ago, all rugged notebooks were typically subjected to a common set of tests, each designed to determine a product's ability to survive in the real world environments that are common to rugged computing. Now, with a wider variety of products on the market that are tested to a diverse set of rugged specifications, the job of selecting a notebook has become significantly more difficult — yet more important than ever — as buyers must ensure that the level of durability appropriately matches the environmental requirements of the organization.
Some manufacturers will avoid discussions regarding product ruggedness and instead shift the focus to annual failure rates (AFRs). While annual failure rates are important, they do not accurately reflect a product's ability to survive in a given environment. This is because AFRs use a broad base of deployed units, assume that all environments and usage models are the same, and that every notebook in the field is exposed to the same amount of torture. In addition, this measurement is skewed by the lack of a standard definition of what exactly comprises a failure. Without this and a common usage environment for comparison, AFRs are not an accurate way to predict how a product will perform in your environment. The key is ruggedness. The question then becomes, how rugged of a notebook do law enforcement officers need?
Department of Defense Standard 810F establishes laboratory test methods that replicate the environmental effects a product will experience throughout its service life and, in turn, provides IT professionals a fairly straightforward way to predict how a product will perform in real world situations. The key is to determine which individual tests within the MIL-STD replicate the specific environment your notebooks will experience. Balancing the approach between ruggedness and price will ensure the notebook you purchase is tough enough for your environment and has the lowest total cost of ownership.
The following categories of MIL-STD tests provide a guideline to help assess which level of ruggedness is best for your particular environment.
Vibration is easily the most important rugged feature for vehicle deployed workforces. Not only does a notebook need to survive up to five years of constant vibration and jarring without coming apart at the seams, it has to be able to function while flying down the roughest of roads at high speeds. There are several vibration tests that simulate these conditions:
- MIL-STD 810F, Method 514.5, Procedure I, Category 24, Fig 514.5C-17 is a non-operating "general integrity" test that exposes the unit to multiple vibration frequencies to ensure the notebook remains in tact and operational over time.
- MIL-STD 810F, Method 514.5, Procedure I, Category 24, Fig 514.5C-18 is a non-operational test that simulates helicopter transport and exposes the unit to individual vibration frequencies to determine if any one frequency can cause structural damage over time.
- MIL-STD-810F Method 514.5 Procedure I, Category 20, Fig 514.5C-1 is an operational test that simulates 1,000 miles of transportation and ensures the notebook can function even over rough roads.
- ASTM 4169-99 Truck Assurance Level II Schedule E 11.5.2 is an alternative operating test that simulates truck transport.
During operational tests, i.e. MIL-STD-810F Method 514.5 Procedure I, Category 20, Fig 514.5C-1, the notebook's processor, graphics, memory and HDD/SDD are being accessed.
Temperature is a key measurement of ruggedness for law enforcement. Temperatures in a closed vehicle during a typical summer day can easily reach 140 degrees Farenheit. This high temperature can not only damage the HDD or processor, it can destroy displays and plastic components such as keyboard keys and palm rest areas. At the opposite extreme, cold temperatures can impact HDDs and displays and make plastic components brittle and more susceptible to damage. Fortunately, the MIL STD includes several tests that are designed to replicate these extreme conditions. When purchasing a notebook for any vehicle deployed workforce, make sure they have been tested to these standards: