HP designs new notebooks to take a beating

Feel free to drop this notebook on the floor, or leave it out in the rain overnight. Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (HP’s) first ruggedized notebook and Tablet PC are able to withstand those types of abuse by workers in demanding environments and military personnel.

The HP Rugged Notebook nr3600 launched Thursday, alongside the HP Rugged Tablet PC tr3000. Both products were developed in partnership with Itronix Corp., which has manufactured these types of notebooks for some time under the GoBook II brand.

Mobile workers such as appliance repairmen, police officers and utility workers need computing power as much as any business traveler or salesperson. But the demands of their environments require a notebook that can stand up to extreme weather conditions and frequent movements.

These workers also need to be in contact with their home offices on an almost constant basis. Both notebook and Tablet PC users can simultaneously operate up to three integrated wireless radios, including Bluetooth, 802.11 wireless LAN technology, and cellular technologies such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access).

If they choose, customers can also install other types of radio technology with replaceable radio modules, said Ben Thacker, a business development manager with HP. The notebooks are designed for three to eight-year lifecycles, and customers like the flexibility to keep up with changing wireless standards, he said.

The notebook uses a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor from Intel Corp. Faster processors are available, but because the nr3600 is sealed to prevent rain from leaking into the unit, it needs to operate without a fan directly over the processor, Thacker said. If HP had used a chip that ran any faster, it would be extremely difficult to remove the heat from the processor using the heat exchanger built into the notebook, he said.

Both the notebook and the Tablet PC were designed to exceed U.S. military specifications for rugged products, Thacker said. This involves dropping the notebook 26 times from a height of 0.9 metres onto a surface of plywood laid over concrete, and verifying the unit will operate in temperatures ranging from minus-23 degrees to 60 degrees Celsius (-10 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Other tests include water resistance, vibration endurance, and dust protection.

The nr3600 notebook has a list price of US$4,099, and comes with the 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor, 256MB of PC2100 (266MHz) DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 40GB ruggedized hard drive, a 12.1-inch touchscreen display, and Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP Professional operating system. It weighs 7.9 pounds.

HP will sell the tr3000 Tablet PC for a list price of US$3,449. It comes with a 933MHz ultra-low voltage Mobile Pentium III processor from Intel, 256MB of low voltage SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, and Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. It weighs 3.7 pounds.

Both units are available through HP’s Web site Thursday. HP and Itronix will continue to work on designs together as the market for ruggedized products grows, according to both companies.

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