Review posted May 29, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Rugged notebooks, with few exceptions, are heavy, less attractive and significantly more expensive than their less robust consumer brethren. Enter the Durabook, which isn't bad to look at, doesn't weight twice as much as a normal notebook and is several hundred rather than a few thousand dollars more. We received the Durabook D14RY which meets Military Standard 810F for drop and bump tests, vibration (truck transport-- military style) and spill resistance. The notebook's casing is made of magnesium alloy which Twinhead, the makers of the Durabook line, claim is 20x stronger than ABS plastic. It has a membrane under the keyboard to stop spills from making their way to sensitive electronics underneath (this does not mean you can go diving with it, but a careless conk of a Coke can won't destroy your investment). Even the speaker grilles on the wrist rest and the trackpad have been made more durable and spill resistant and the trackpad's buttons are rubber-clad.
The corners, both top and bottom, have a hard black rubber overlay to absorb impacts,particularly protecting the LCD and hard drive which are a notebook's two most vulnerable components. The DVD drive has a slider lock to prevent accidental tray openings when dropped or bumped and the hinges are very robust. While the Durabook might not be suited to the trenches of war, it strikes us as more than adequate for field workers, vertical market users and klutzes. We dropped it 3 feet onto a very thinly carpeted floor and the machine sustained no damage. In fact, the machine is hard and heavy enough that we feared it would have damaged the hard wood floors in our office!
The keyboard is roomy and it has dedicated page up and down keys as well as 4 arrow keys. There's a dedicated WiFi button above the keyboard that makes it quick and easy to shut down wireless when on a plane. The three button trackpad's center button acts as a scroll button: press it's top section to scroll up and press the lower section of the button to scroll down. The trackpad itself feels like a notebook surface rather than the usual slick touchpad. It's very easy to control and is responsive.
Performance, Graphics and Networking
The Durabook D14RY runs on the 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo dual core CPU, model T7200. That's a pleasingly powerful mobile CPU that should suit even demanding users. Graphics are the only performance drawback as the Durabook uses the integrated Intel 945GM chipset with 128 megs of shared memory rather than dedicated graphics. This significantly brings down the combined benchmark figure, as you'll see from our PCMark 05 test results below.
The D14RY manages a Vista Experience score of 2.7, again lower due to the integrated graphics. Microsoft recommends a score of 3.0 or better for Vista's Aero interface but the D14RY had no trouble running Aero. The Intel GMA 950 isn't horrid and is perfectly suited to business users and even light Photoshop work. But clearly the machine isn't meant for serious gaming or day-long immersion in Photoshop, CAD or video editing software. The CPU, hard drive and memory are fairly fast performers and test scores for those are good, though not cream of the crop when it comes to the CPU. And the machine is indeed responsive and Vista's Aero runs well. The T7200 has a 667MHz front side bus and 4 megs of level 2 cache.
The machine has two standard SODIMM memory slots and ours shipped with 2 gigs of RAM. The Durabook is available in a variety of configurations, from 512 megs to 2 gigs of RAM and it ships with DDR667 RAM. The notebook can handle a maximum of 4 gigs of RAM. Various hard drive capacities are available as well, from 40 to 160 gigs and ours shipped with the 160 gig drive. The machine uses a standard 2.5" notebook drive (ours had a Toshiba MK1637GSX) 5400 rpm serial ATA drive. Hard drive performance is very good as you can see from the benchmarks, and the 5400 rpm drive offers a good balance between speed and heat/noise. Anti-shock material surround the drive, memory and CPU (generally it's the drive we worry about since it has moving parts).
The Durabook D14RY is available with a DVD/CDRW, single layer DVD burner and a dual layer DVD burner. The optical drive door has a sliding latch to lock it shut (bumps can't accidentally open it when locked) and the machine comes with Cyberlink's DVD Suite for playing and burning DVDs. The notebook also has a flash card reader that can handle SD, MMC and Memory Stick cards.
The 14.1" "Dura-Brite" XGA 1024 x 768 display is the Durabook's weakness. Though the name might conjure up thoughts of various glossy, wide screen displays from other notebook manufacturers, the Dura-Brite looks like the average standard notebook LCD from years past. It's got the old computer 4:3 aspect ratio rather than a widescreen ratio, and the display is neither glossy nor particularly bright. It looks completely average, though we do give it points for resisting glare. This is a standard business LCD with no frills or temptations to watch DVDs all day rather than work. It is neither bad nor beautiful. The machine can drive an external monitor or projector via it's standard VGA port (no S-video out or HDMI).
Sound out through the built-in stereo speakers on the palm rest is adequate and not stunning. Again, this is the stuff of business, not multimedia madness. The Durabook has both 3.5mm stereo out and mono mic in jacks on the front edge, and audio quality is good when using stereo headphones. Like many recent Intel Core Duo machines, the D14RY uses Realtek's HD Audio controller.
The Durabook will keep you connected, be it at the desk or on the go. It has three USB 2.0 ports, one 4 pin unpowered Firewire port, VGA out, a Cardbus PCMCIA slot (no ExpressCard slot), gigabit Ethernet, a 56k modem and WiFi. The notebook uses the solid Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG WiFi 802.11a/b/g for wireless and has a dedicated on/off switch above the keyboard. Range and performance were good and average by notebook standards. For wired Ethernet Twinhead uses Agere's gigabit Ethernet module. For security-minded buyers, the Durabook has a Smart Card socket and support for an optional TPM 1.2 module.
The notebook comes with a compact charger that adds relatively little bulk and weight. The D14RY ships with a 6 cell Lithium Ion battery, and they sell an optional 9 cell battery. Battery life for the standard 6 cell battery is better than average when compared with other Core Duo 14 to 15" notebooks, and we got 3.75 hours with WiFi turned on and the connection kept active and screen brightness set at 75%.
There aren't many competitors in the semi-rugged notebook market, and Panasonic's Toughbook is other other major brand that comes to mind. While we love the looks and lightness of the "business-rugged" Toughbooks, their semi-rugged machines aren't as attractive as the Durabook and they lack the computing power of the Durabook (as of this writing, the semi-rugged Toughbooks still have the original Core Duo rather than the Core 2 Duo CPU). The D14RY is an all around strong package not only in terms of ruggedness but in features and performance.
Pro: Ruggedized but unlike most, it's not ugly, huge, heavy and incredibly expensive. Good performance for business users, and it can handle DVD and music playback well.
Con: XGA resolution display with old-fashioned 4:3 ratio is old and low by today's standards.
Display:14.1" 1024 x 768 XGA Dura-Brite display. Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics card with 128 megs shared video memory.
Ion rechargeable 6 cell battery (9 cell battery optional).
Core 2 Duo T7200 processor running at 2 GHz (two cores, one CPU). The CPU has 4 megs of level 1 cache and a 667MHz FSB. Intel 945GM chipset. 2 gigs of DDR2 RAM standard (two 1 gig SODIMMs, two memory slots total, 4 gigs max).
Drives: 2.5" 160 gig serial ATA 5400 rpm hard drive (ours was a Toshiba MK1637GSX) with 8 meg buffer, 12ms average seek time, 300MB/sec max transfer rate and SATA II interface. Lower capacity drives also available for a lesser price. 8x dual layer DVD burner. Plays and writes CD, CDRW, DVD, DVD +/-R and RW, dual layer DVDs. Also available with CDR/DVD drive and single layer DVD burner.
Size:12.3" x 10.12" x 1.46". Weight: 5.84 pounds.
in water resistant stereo speakers, , 3.5mm line-in for external mic, 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Realtek High Definition Audio.
WiFi 802.11A/B/G, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG. Agere Systems 10/100/1000 gigabit Ethernet and 56k modem.
Ports:Three USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire IEEE 1394 4 pin port, 1 stereo headphone, one 3.5mm microphone-in, VGA. Once CardBus PCMCIA card slot. Flash card reader (SD, MMC Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick). Smart Card socket, support for optional TMP 1.2 module.
Vista Business Edition operating system. Cyberlink DVD Suite.