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Best rugged laptop in 2021

Which rugged laptop is the best fit for your business? Whether you need a notebook that can handle run-of-the-mill drops and spills or one that can operate in extreme conditions, these rough-and-tough laptops should fit the bill.

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 (so-called semi-rugged laptops). 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 a handful of notebooks that cover the gamut of offerings, from models with basic protections to rough-and-tumble outdoor warriors.   

Dell Latitude 5420 Rugged

IP52 certification

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The 5420 may lack the "extreme" features of Dell's much pricier Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme, such as the super-bright, resistive touchscreen as a standard feature (though it is 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 3ft in transit.

Read the review: Dell Latitude 5420 Rugged

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. On the other hand, components haven't been updated for some time, which has left it at a disadvantage compared to a couple of newer semi-rugged competitors detailed below.

Durabook S14I

IP53 certification

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A specialty producer of rugged computers, Durabook offers a rival to the Dell Latitude 7254 Extreme with its Z14I. But with its new S14iI laptop, it has its sights set on the same midrange "semi-rugged" market as the Latitude 5420 Rugged. It shares the same starting price, although as an up-to-date configuration, it offers the latest 11th-generation Intel Core processors instead of the 8th-gen CPUs the 5420 tops out at.

It also features IP53 certification rather than IP52, which means additional weather and dust resistance as well as the ability to handle 4-ft drops instead of 3-ft ones. Acer's Enduro N3 likewise provides IP53-rated protection at a lower price point, though its processor options lag behind the S14I's by a generation.

Getac B360

MIL-STD 810G, MIL-STD 461G, and IP66 certification

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Another specialty producer of rugged systems, Getac has recently updated its flagship laptop that competes with the likes of the Z14I and Latitude 7254 (although with a smaller 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.

Read the review: Getac B360 hands-on

The B360 also distinguishes itself with a three-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's coupled with 10th-generation Intel processors, an IP66 rating and MIL-STD 810G certification, and even MIL-STD 461G certification for electromagnetic interference resistance.

Panasonic Toughbook 31

MIL-STD-810, MIL-STD-461, and IP65 certification

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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 1,024x768 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. 

Acer Enduro N3

IP53 and MIL-STD-810G certification

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A veteran of the laptop game, Acer is a rookie when it comes to the rugged market. One of its first models is the Enduro N3, a semi-rugged notebook with an appealingly low price to compete against the Latitude 5420 Rugged and Durabook S14I. Like the S14I, it features IP53 certification and meets MIL-STD-810G standards, though it comes with a choice of 10th-generation Intel Core CPUs rather than 11th-gen processors.

Acer is touting its Aquafan technology, which the company claims will help to repel water from penetrating the laptop; Gorilla Glass covers the display to provide additional moisture protection. It also protects your wallet, as its starting price is $300 less than its rivals.

More rugged laptops to consider: