Ruggedised notebooks were once the domain of just a handful of specialised manufacturers, but recently they've become more popular. Today it's not uncommon for long-time manufacturers of business and consumer-style notebooks to produce toughened notebook models, as well as other devices and peripherals.
Check out our slideshow of ruggedised products here
One such vendor is Pioneer Computers, which has released the Pioneer DreamBook Tough S15, a consumer-orientated ruggedised notebook. It's not a full blown industrial quality notebook for use in extremely harsh environments, but it does have tougher skin than your average machine.
The most obvious and prominent of the tough features is its magnesium alloy chassis, providing a harder shell to protect against physical damage when dropped. An acrylic screen covers the 15.4in (1280x800) LCD panel, which helps protect the screen from any unforseen bumps that would otherwise severely damage it. The screen itself shows reasonable brightness and contrast levels, but the cover does seem to dim it just a little.
For shock protection there's an optical drive lock, which prevents the optical drive from accidentally ejecting when the notebook is dropped. This is actually a physical switch, rather than a gyro-sensor, so you'll have to pre-empt potential drops, such as in a busy area, and lock it manually. There is also hard drive shock protection and a spill resistant keyboard, but these features aren't uncommon in regular notebooks. Dust covers for all the ports are missing, suggesting the DreamBook Tough S15 is not as well protected against dusty environments, so bare this in mind if you're planning on using it in a dusty work environment.
Outside the tough features, it's a fairly normal notebook with good performance up its sleeve. It's built on Intel's latest Centrino platform, initially codenamed Santa Rosa, and uses one of Intel's latest pre-Penryn CPUs, the Core 2 Duo T7250, with an 800MHz front side bus and a 2MB L2 cache. It has 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM installed and runs off the onboard Intel X3100 graphics chip, rather than a dedicated graphics solution.
Unlike many ruggedised notebooks, the DreamBook Tough S15 doesn't really look the part. Often ruggedised notebooks look like airplane black boxes or transport cases for large quantities of hard cash (once again we recommend checking out our slideshow), but instead the DreamBook Tough S15 looks like a fairly normal notebook, so you won't be embarrassed about taking it out in public. Regardless of its consumer-like design it is primarily aimed at the workplace and is installed with Windows Vista Business.
Our model includes support for Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g and draft-n standards, gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 2.0, but doesn't have 3G wireless Internet, though this is an optional inclusion for an additional cost. A webcam is built into the top of the screen as is a microphone, so you'll be able to make business or personal video calls over the Internet.
In our benchmarks this notebook did fairly well. It's not at the top of the list but it wasn't scraping the bottom of the barrel either. In WorldBench 6 it scored a total of 79, an above average score indicating it's capable of running most common applications and will even handle some video or photo editing, as long as it's not too heavy. In our MP3 encoding tests we saw results fairly indicative of the CPU. Converting 53 minutes worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files in iTunes took 83sec then 127sec using Cdex.