When rugged isn't enough

Itronix Corp. has just taken the ruggedized notebook to a new level: ultra-rugged. Its latest model, the GoBook Max, is a more powerful, feature-rich sister to the company's GoBook, and it can withstand even more abuse.

While the GoBook can endure 26 repeated 3-foot drops, which meets the military's 810E standard, the GoBook Max can withstand 54. In addition, the GoBook Max can operate in weather as hot as 140 degrees and as cold as 22 degrees below zero, which is 12 degrees lower than GoBook's limits.

In fact, the GoBook Max meets or exceeds the 810E military standard for shock, vibration, extreme operating temperature, water intrusion, condensing humidity, dust and salt fog. It can also be operated in aerospace flight line and hazardous materials environments because of its safety classification. It can be decontaminated and washed down after exposure to flammable or hazardous materials.

According to Itronix — we didn't test this — the keyboard, screen and die-cast magnesium case can resist direct exposure to 4 inches of blowing rain per hour, equivalent to typhoon conditions.

The GoBook Max distinguishes itself in other important ways as well. It comes with a 700 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium III processor — the fastest we've seen in any ultra-ruggedized notebook. Also standard are a shock-mounted 20G hard drive and 128M of memory (upgradable to 512M).

Another noteworthy feature is the unit's upgradable wireless capability. To offer customers the versatility to change with the technology, Itronix developed its Common Radio Module Architecture (CRMA), which enables users to upgrade wireless modems or switch network providers in the field.

Despite all the ruggedization, the GoBook Max weighs in at a surprisingly light 7 pounds, 5 ounces, with the battery installed. It's also not nearly as bulky as most ultra-ruggedized notebooks on the market.

In fact, the notebook's design represents a radical departure from the previous model. The GoBook's boxy look with square corners has given way to a more streamlined, modern appearance. Rounded corners, a curved front and notches on the sides of the lid give the unit a space-age aura.

Four metal rings, one on each corner of the unit, can be used to attach a soft handle or other types of securing equipment (for example, bungee cords or straps). The pointing stick is located below the keyboard, instead of in the middle like most notebooks, which makes it somewhat easier to operate because there is no need to worry about accidentally pressing keys.

The full-size keyboard is made of phosphorescent plastic so it glows in the dark, and the 10.4-inch TFT SVGA screen is anti-glare and viewable in direct sunlight.

The unique built-in, rubber-coated handle serves several purposes. As a carrying handle, it's comfortable and easy to grip. When the notebook is resting on a flat surface, the handle can be rotated to elevate the back of the unit to improve the typing angle.

But the most unique function of the handle is that it can be used to hang the notebook from a bookshelf, desk or ladder rung. This is extremely useful for users who do not have a flat surface on which to work, and it comes in handy for presentations, too.

Another design feature we haven't seen on any other notebook is dual stylus slots, one on each side of the unit. Imagine working atop a utility pole and dropping the stylus — it sure would be nice to have an extra one handy! Itronix also ships two additional styluses with the system, for a total of four.

The GoBook Max comes with Silicon Motion Inc.'s LynxEM+ graphics chip, which includes TV support and a feature that allows you to rotate the screen image 90, 180 or 270 degrees. This could be quite useful for presentations and word processing documents, except for the fact that the touch screen and mouse functionality is lost when the screen is rotated.

There is one catch to this otherwise well-designed system: the lack of built-in media bays. Unless customers buy external drives, they will not have a CD-ROM, DVD or floppy drive. Itronix told us that an internal media bay would compromise the ultra-rugged designation and render the system unable to withstand the 54 drops it currently claims to handle.

Itronix sells bootable, nonruggedized USB external CD-ROM and floppy drives, but we did not receive one with our test unit so we were unable to run benchmark tests for performance or battery life.

All ports are well-sealed except for the power supply connection and the RJ-11 fax/modem jack, which do not have covers. Other ports include one PC Card slot that accepts a Type I or Type II PC Card and supports zoomed video, two USB ports, an RJ-45 LAN Ethernet port, a VGA port and a serial port. Itronix also offers an optional PC Card extender that accepts one Type III PC Card. The microphone and headphone jacks are not built into the notebook; instead, they are mounted on a plug-in adapter.

We applaud Itronix for the design of the port covers. Often, port covers on ruggedized notebooks are difficult to open, but Itronix has found the happy medium: sufficiently sealed ports that are easy to access. In addition, all of the covers sport flexible hinges — a nice feature that precludes them from snapping off if bent in the wrong direction.

One annoyance we noticed was a rather loud hard drive. During bootup and some tasks, a loud whirring noise emanated from the left speaker, sounding like the hard drive was located there. In addition, bootup was unusually slow.

Our unit came loaded with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98 and Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat 4.0. The system is also available with Windows 2000.

At $5,995, the GoBook Max is an investment, but a good one — if you don't mind the lack of internal media bays. This model comes with a lot of innovative features we haven't seen on other notebooks, rugged or not. If those features are important to your agency, this system is worth the money.


Score: B+

Itronix Corp.
(800) 441-1309

The GoBook Max is available through various resellers for a suggested price of $5,995. A bootable USB external CD-ROM drive is available for $220 and a bootable USB external floppy drive is available for $125. RF modems compatible with Cingular Wireless, CDPD, Motient Corp., Ardis, Datatec Systems Inc. and Bell Mobility services are all available for $700.

This innovative, versatile notebook brings ruggedization to a new level. The lack of internal media bays might be an inconvenience for some customers, so consider this aspect carefully before buying.


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