The Durabook Pro 15T will set you back $1339, and if you need a relatively light
notebook that has some rugged features, it might be a good investment.
However, this product strikes me as being just shy of ready for prime time. For a
price double or even nearly triple that of some non-rugged laptops with a 15-inch
display, this computer is certainly an acquired taste.
The Durabook Pro is a product from GammaTech, a Fremont, Calif.-based company that
claims 21 years in the computer market. Its manufacturing facilities, the firm's
Website says, are in Taiwan and mainland China; final assembly of the notebook I
tested was done, the firm claims, in the U.S.
The selling proposition of the Durabook is that it contains shock mounting and other
protection for the hard disc drive, the 15.4-inch display screen and other key
components, including a spill-resistant keyboard. Protection against accidental
damage is important, since most computer users are human and, well, things happen.
I've recounted here before one of the scariest sounds I've ever heard, that of the
cracking of a computer lid when the passenger in the seat ahead leaned back, with
their seat striking the open lid. Ouch.
But protection against screen damage is one thing, performance is another. If
performance takes a big hit, keeping the computer safe is less meaningful. In
testing the Durabook, I found several noticeable performance issues.
One of the first is in the area of video performance: the unit claims an Intel
Graphics Media Accelerator chip to power the display. But when playing streaming
video from the Internet on a Verizon FiOS connection, the quality was less
than desirable: in full screen mode, the video stopped at times while the sound
contined. I encountered this with videos from both Hulu.com and YouTube, short clips
and long ones. Perhaps boosting the computer's memory beyond the supplied 1 Gigabyte
would help, but if that's the case, I'd think the maker would have upped the RAM as
a standard feature.
In short, there's little excuse, in 2009, for a portable computer to have any issues
with graphic performance, particularly when it comes to streaming video. We may lug
our laptops to meetings and conferences, but in our off time, many of us want to
watch TV online. Decent video playback is essential now, and this computer has some
struggles here, at least in my opinion.
I also had hiccups with the built-in wireless networking, even though I tested it
within about two feet of the wireless router to which I was trying to connect.
Wi-Fi can have its issues, but these problems surfaced with routers that had what's
known as "WEP" encrypted connections and those without the protection. My
conclusion: there's an issue here. It might well be transitory, however, and I
wouldn't dismiss the Durabook for that reason alone.
The computer's keyboard is a bright spot: it's reminiscent of the old IBM
Selectric-style keyboards, kind of a "gold standard" for touch-typists, and if
the spill protection holds, it's a nice combination. The touch-pad mouse system was
fine, although the scroll feature of the mouse worked in word processing, hut not
with Internet Explorer. Sigh.
I think the Durabook Pro has some promise: it's lighter and more stylish than many
"ruggedized" Windows notebooks that I've seen, and typing on it for long periods
of time wouldn't be a problem. However, if I can't enjoy "30 Rock" online, or if
the Wi-Fi has gone "bye bye," it may be worth waiting for future models in the
firm's line. Information on the products can be found at www.durabook.com.