Rugged doesn't mean foolproof

The makers of ruggedized equipment do all they can to block out the elements, but no protection is 100 percent effective. Computer makers say they're always working to keep sand, dust, wind and snow from damaging the hardware.

"As technology improves, we're able to make tougher systems better and smaller," said Wally Starr, senior product manager at Itronix Corp., which makes GoBook, a ruggedized laptop that is waterproof, enabling users to wash sand away.

But no units are totally impervious to sand and particles, said Jan O'Hara, director of federal sales at Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. Vendors who build equipment that meets the military's standard for ruggedization aren't asked to make the units sandproof. But the standard does require units to be "dust resistant."

Sometimes nonruggedized computers are a better choice, according to Jim Watkins, Defense Department sales manager at MPC Computers LLC (formerly MicronPC). They are less expensive and usually more powerful, he said.

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