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The best rugged laptops: Work anywhere, in any conditions

What is the best rugged laptop? Our top pick is the Dell Latitude 5430 Rugged. We tested and analyzed display, CPU, battery life, rugged certifications, and more.

While virtual threats to our PCs rightfully grab most of the headlines -- as viruses and cyberattacks can affect millions of computers simultaneously -- our gear also faces threats from physical damage. Mobile devices obviously run a bigger risk of getting damaged, since they are transported far more frequently than desktop PCs.

To combat potential physical hazards to on-the-go computing, manufacturers responded with "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 you require the use of a rugged laptop, we're here to help. We've collected a handful of the best laptops that cover the gamut of offerings, from models with basic protections to rough-and-tumble outdoor warriors.   

Dell Latitude 5430 Rugged
Image: Dell

Specs: Display: 14 inches touchscreen (1,920x1,080 pixel resolution) | CPU:  11th-gen Intel Core options  | Battery Life: 24 hours with dual hot swappable batteries | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810H, IP53 

The successor to the 5420 brings 11th-generation Intel Core processors and optional 5G connectivity with it. The 5430 may lack the "extreme" features of Dell's much pricier Latitude Rugged Extreme models, but it still offers IP53 rated ingress protection against dust and provides limited moisture protection. Drop protection is 3ft in transit. The 5430 is about a half-pound lighter than the 5420 at its 4.35-pound starting weight, and Dell says you can get over 24 hours of battery life if you use a pair of hot swappable batteries.

best-rugged-laptops-panasonic-toughbook-g2-notebook.jpg
Image: Panasonic

Specs: Display: 10.1 inches touchscreen (1,920×1,200 pixel resolution) | CPU: Intel Core i5-10310U | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB | Battery Life: 18.5 hours | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810H, MIL-STD-461G, IP65 

Panasonic's G2 adds a rugged 2-in-1 laptop to its highly-regarded Toughbook lineup. While its screen may be small at 10.1 inches, it features WUXGA resolution and touchscreen capabilities -- even through gloves. It also packs a solid Intel Core i5 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB solid-state drive inside. Outside, the magnesium-alloy chassis is strong enough to earn multiple rugged certifications, and it locks into an optional keyboard dock with a combo kickstand/carrying handle. 

Read the review: Panasonic G2 hands-on

Getac B360
Image: Getac

Specs: Display: 13.3 inches touchscreen (1,920x1,080 pixel resolution) | CPU:  10th-gen Intel Core options | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery Life: Not specified | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810H, MIL-STD-461G, IP66 

A specialty producer of rugged systems, Getac has updated its flagship laptop that competes with the likes of the Durabook Z14I and the Dell Latitude 7254 Rugged Extreme (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. The B360 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.

Read the review: Getac B360 hands-on

panasonic-toughbook-55-header.jpg
Image: Panasonic

Specs: Display: 14 inches | CPU:  Intel Core i5-1145G7 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB | Battery Life: 19 hours | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810H, IP53 

The Toughbook 55 confirms the trend toward "semi-rugged" laptops. There's clearly a tradeoff in durability -- though the 55 is still IP53 and MIL-STD-810H certified. You get a Core i5 processor and sizable amounts of RAM (16GB) and storage (256GB), not to mention claimed battery life of nearly 19 hours. The 55 doesn't keep pace on the screen front, however, as the 14-inch display requires an upgrade to get full HD resolution.

Acer Enduro N3
Image: Acer

Specs: Display: 14 inches (1,920x1,080 pixel resolution) | CPU: Intel Core i5-10210U | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery Life: 13 hours | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810H, IP53 

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. Like the S14I, it features IP53 certification and meets MIL-STD-810H 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.

DT Research LT330

Specs: Display: 13.3 inches touchscreen (1,920x1,080 pixel resolution) | CPU: Intel Core i5-10210U | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery Life: Not specified | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810G, IP65 

Those who like the versatility of the 2-in-1 laptop (but need a larger screen than the Toughbook 55) should take a look at this system from DT Research LT330. It comes with a 13.3-inch touchscreen with full HD resolution and 1,000 nits of brightness, and it also boasts MIL-STD-810G and P65 certifications. In short, it covers the durability needs for tough working conditions, Unlike the Toughbook G2, the LT330 includes a keyboard in an all-in-one unit, which means you don't need to spring for an optional accessory if you rely on keyed input.  

Read the review: DT Research LT330 hands-on

durabook-s14i-semi-rugged-laptop-notebook.png
Image: Durabook

Specs: Display: 14 inches (1,920x1,080 pixel resolution) | CPU: 11th-gen Intel Core options | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Battery Life: 10 hours | Rugged Certifications: MIL-STD-810H, IP53 

Another specialty producer of rugged computers, Durabook offers a rival to the Dell Latitude 7254 Extreme with its Z14I. But with its S14I laptop, it has its sights set on the same midrange "semi-rugged" market as the Latitude 5430 Rugged. It, too, offers 11th-generation Intel Core processors and IP53 certification for weather and dust resistance. The S14I can handle 4-ft drops instead of 3-ft ones as well.

What is the best rugged laptop?

The best rugged laptop is the Dell Latitude 5430 Rugged because of its highly powerful CPU and long-lasting battery life as well as being water and shock proof.

What does "rugged laptop" mean?

A rugged laptop, or sometimes listed as a "ruggedized" laptop, is a computer that is built specifically to handle extreme situations and weather conditions. Many rugged laptops are water and dirt resistant, resistant to drops and shocks, and can handle operating in both very hot and very cold temperatures. These kinds of laptops are great for anyone who has to work outdoors for any length of time, such as people at construction sites, on geological surveys, and in the military.

What does "military grade" mean?

A laptop that is listed as "military grade" doesn't necessarily mean that it was developed for use by the Army or other military branches. Rather, it has been tested against military standards for dirt and water resistance as well as resistance to shocks, drops, and operating temperatures. Laptops meant for military use are more rigorously tested against a laundry list of conditions, while commercially available laptops labeled "military grade" are only tested against a few of the MIL-STD-810 standards.

Does Apple make a rugged laptop?

At the time of writing, Apple does not have a ruggedized version of any of their MacBooks for sale, either through their official store or authorized sellers. You can, however, purchase rugged cases like the Urban Armor Gear for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Ibenezer case for the 13-inch MacBook Air, or the Pelican 1085 hardshell carrying case.

How did we choose these rugged laptops?

Laptop manufacturers helpfully label these systems as "semi-rugged" or "rugged," with a few niche companies devoting their entire business to rugged portables. This makes it easier to separate out rugged laptops from ones that may have some ruggedized features but aren't marketed to those who need specialized systems. The rugged laptops listed here are from major manufacturers in the space (Dell, Panasonic, Getac), including some with which ZDNet staff have had hands-on experience.   

Which rugged laptop is right for you?

Beyond the usual laptop features -- like screen size and price -- a rugged laptop requires you to consider how much ruggedness you need. Manufacturers try to make the choice easier by dividing systems into "semi-rugged" and "rugged" -- the former meeting many everyday durability requirements, while the latter provides additional levels of protection for the harshest conditions. All of these systems will have passed testing for military-spec ruggedness (MIL-STD-810G or the more recent MIL-STD-810H standards) and some level of ingress protection (from dust and liquids). Semi-rugged laptops typically have IP52 or IP53 ratings, while more rugged models will sport IP65 scores that indicate greater dust and water resistance.

In addition to the level of ruggedness, other things to consider in your purchase include the resolution and brightness (measured in nits) of the screen, along with how sensitive the touchscreen is. Some rugged laptops have extra-bright displays of 1,000 nits or 1,300 nits so they can be easily viewed in bright sunlight, and rugged touchscreens can often accept touch input through work gloves. Don't forget to research the brand's ecosystem if you're going to need docks, mounting solutions, or other accessories to complete your purchase.  

Are there other rugged laptops worth considering?

You don't necessarily need what a manufacturer calls a rugged or semi-rugged laptop in order to get some additional durability features. While you're shopping for a new laptop, keep an eye out for references to MIL-STD-810G or MIL-STD-810H testing that's been performed on the system. (Lenovo, for instance, touts the "MIL-SPEC testing" for its ThinkPad laptop family.) You'll be able to benefit from some minimal protection against drops and spills, though you shouldn't expect such a notebook to withstand the extreme conditions that semi-rugged and rugged systems can endure.

If you don't need to lug a big laptop around a job site or other extreme location, you could choose to purchase a rugged tablet instead. These will typically have touchscreens that can handle input through gloves, and many will have optional keyboards to offer 2-in-1 functionality like the Toughbook G2 and DT Research LT330 noted above. You can check out what we think are the best rugged tablets here.

If the laptops listed above aren't exactly what you're looking for, you should consider these options:

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