While virtual threats to our PCs rightfully grab most of the headlines — as viruses and cyberattacks can affect millions of computers simultaneously — our systems also face threats from physical damage that can knock them offline temporarily for repairs or permanently if the damage is catastrophic enough. Mobile devices obviously run a bigger risk of physical damage since they are picked up and moved around far more frequently than desktop PCs.
To combat potential physical hazards to on-the-go computing, manufacturers responded with what are known as “rugged” laptops — notebooks that can resist the bumps and bruises of mobility better than standard-issue portables. Minimum defenses rugged laptops possess include bumpers that can protect against drops and specially treated keyboards that can withstand liquids being spilled on them. If you’re working in more challenging environments — on a construction site or in extreme climates — there are rugged notebooks designed to handle those situations as well.
If your business requires the use of rugged laptops, we’re here to help. We’ve collected nine different notebooks that cover the gamut of offerings, from models with basic protections to rough-and-tumble outdoor warriors.
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One sign of a truly rugged laptop is if it passes testing for MIL-STD-810, which is a military standard for durability under a variety of environmental conditions. Dell’s line of Latitude Rugged Express laptops is all MIL-STD-810 certified, starting with the flagship 7424. It’s built around a 14-inch 1080p display that’s a resistive touchscreen, which allows it to be used with gloves or a pen, as well as equipped with 1,000 nits of brightness to be fully visible when used outside in daylight.
Rugged features include drop protection of up to 3 feet while in use and 6 feet when turned off and IP65 ingress protection, which means that it promises complete protection from dust and protection from jets of water. Not surprisingly, it’s neither small (7.6 pounds and up if you add a second battery or carrying handle) nor cheap (especially if you upgrade beyond the base configuration of Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD), but it’s probably as tough of a system as Dell offers.
$4,142 at Dell
As the name suggests, the 5420 lacks the “extreme” features of the 7424, such as the super-bright, resistive touchscreen as a standard feature (it’s an option, along with a 1,000-nit non-touch display). With IP52 ingress protection, it can protect (but not totally protect) against dust and provide limited moisture protection, and drop protection is 3 feet in transit.
On the other hand, the 5420 is thinner and lighter (4.9-pound starting weight) and much less expensive if you don’t need such ultra-rugged touches. It also comes with the same base specs as the 7424 and still features a magnesium alloy chassis and dual-battery support.
$1,399 at Dell
Need the 7420’s industrial-strength toughness, but want a little more versatility? Dell has you covered with the 7214, which combines the extreme rugged features of the 7420 with the popular convertible form factor. Instead of a heavy 14-inch system, 7214 includes a 12-inch display encased in a flip case that allows you to switch between laptop and tablet form factors.
It has the same IP65 ingress protection as the 7420, but the base specs are a little different. You get a sixth-generation Core i5 CPU instead of a seventh-gen Core i3 and half the RAM (4GB versus 8GB), but twice the solid-state storage (256GB versus 128GB). At 6 pounds, it’s also svelter than the 7420 while retaining the same drop protection — and similar high price tag.
$3,998 at Dell
A specialty producer of rugged computers, Durabook offers a rival to the Dell Latitude 7254 Extreme with its Z14I. With a similar 14-inch screen — super-bright and touch-enabled for gloves, stylus, and fingers — and MIL-STD 810G certified and IP65 rated, the Z14I can go pound-for-pound with the 7254 even if its starting weight is an ounce lighter at 7.7 pounds.
While its starting price is a little more than the 7254, the Durabook has a couple of advantages for that extra cost. First, its base configuration includes an eighth-generation Core i5 processor instead of a seventh-gen Core i3, along with 256GB of SSD storage instead of 128GB. Second, the Z14I is also MIL-STD-461G certified, giving it an extra level of protection against electromagnetic interference, which may be of particular interest for defense-related businesses.
Another specialty producer of rugged systems, Getac’s B300 is similar to other flagship laptops like the Z14I and Latitude 7254, though it is slightly smaller with a 13.3-inch screen instead of a 14-inch one. But it also goes beyond the 1,000-nit displays of its competitors, pumping out a whopping 1,400 nits of brightness.
The B300 also distinguishes itself with a five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, which sounds weird for a laptop until you remember that this type of laptop actually has bumpers for protection. That could provide an additional level of comfort beyond the MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-461G certifications and IP65 rating that the B300 also possesses.
If you just need a solid business laptop that can survive daily tumbles, the forthcoming ProBook x360 435 G7 convertible can give you peace of mind without many of the extreme features that turn other rugged laptops into literal heavyweights. According to HP, it’s passed 19 different MIL-STD-810G tests, including a drop test, while weighing in at just 3.3 pounds.
It also comes with a spill-resistant keyboard made of anodized aluminum, and keeps the inside of the notebook safe with the self-healing HP Sure Start BIOS. This ProBook is one of the first laptops announced that will use AMD’s latest 7nm Ryzen 4000 processors, which will be paired with up to 16GB of RAM, 512GB of solid-state storage, and a 13.3-inch full HD touchscreen display that uses Corning Gorilla Glass. Display options include a 1,000-nit super-bright version for outdoor use.
Like the HP ProBook, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon won’t be confused with the tough monsters from Durabook and Getac, but that doesn’t mean your business won’t appreciate the rugged features available in a conventional laptop. In fact, all ThinkPads are designed to pass 12 different MIL-STD-810G tests for durability.
While not as many as the 19 tests the ProBook has passed, ThinkPads also undergo 200 of Lenovo’s own quality checks. The result is that the X1 Carbon can handle spills, drops, extreme temperatures, and even zero gravity. Nonetheless, it manages to tip the scales at just 2.4 pounds, thanks in part to its carbon-fiber chassis. You still get powerful specs like 10th-generation Comet Lake Intel Core i5 and i7 processor options and a 14-inch display that has full HD resolution in the base configuration with an option to upgrade to a 4K version with 500 nits of brightness.
Once known for its stereos and televisions, Panasonic has pivoted to other electronics categories, including — of all things — rugged laptops. Its Toughbook line is perhaps the best-known brand in the market, and the Toughbook 31 is one of its best-known notebooks. A beast that weighs over 8 pounds, the 31 seemingly has every rugged certification you can think of: MIL-STD-810, MIL-STD-461, IP65, and even optional hazardous location certification.
One area where this Toughbook doesn’t match up well with its rivals is its 13.1-inch touchscreen’s resolution — an outdated 1,024×768 pixels — though it’s certainly bright enough outdoors at 1,200 nits. On the other hand, it does offer more RAM in its base configuration (16GB versus 8GB) than competitors, along with a Core i5-7300U CPU and 256GB solid-state drive. Panasonic throws in a handle to carry the magnesium alloy case, which it probably should, especially given the Toughbook 31’s hefty price tag.
Panasonic extended the Toughbook lineup with its 33 convertible laptop, which currently goes toe-to-toe with Dell’s 7214 2-in-1. The display of the 33 is improved over the 31, as the 12-inch detachable screen has a resolution of 1,920×1,200 (WUXGA) while retaining 1,200 nits of brightness.
Otherwise, this convertible Toughbook shares many of the 31’s features, such as the same components as well as MIL-STD-810G, MIL-STD-461, and IP65 certifications, though the 33’s drop protection is 4 feet as a laptop and 5 feet as a tablet compared to the 31’s 6 feet threshold. The 33 has also been designed to work with the vehicle docks that are available for the 31, making it convenient to secure the laptop while working on the move.