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Some working environments make more severe demands upon a portable computer than a standard office desktop, train carriage, airplane seat or car boot. If you're working in particularly hot, dusty or humid conditions, or the system is likely to suffer significant vibration and drop shocks, then you may need to consider buying a rugged notebook. You'll probably have to compromise on issues like portability, and also pay a premium price, but the £2,168 (ex. VAT) <a href="http://www.gd-computing.com/index.cfm?page=Products:XR-1">GoBook XR-1</a> from Itronix (a subsidiary of General Dynamics) shows that you don’t need to sacrifice any functionality.
Some working environments make more severe demands upon a portable computer than a standard office desktop, train carriage, airplane seat or car boot. If you're working in particularly hot, dusty or humid conditions, or the system is likely to suffer significant vibration and drop shocks, then you may need to consider buying a rugged notebook. You'll probably have to compromise on issues like portability, and also pay a premium price, but the £2,168 (ex. VAT) GoBook XR-1 from Itronix (a subsidiary of General Dynamics) shows that you don’t need to sacrifice any functionality.
With its lid closed, the GoBook XR-1 resembles a portable toolbox more than a notebook computer, thanks to its prominent carrying handle and solid die-cast magnesium chassis.
The system weighs 3.1kg, which is pretty hefty for a system with a standard 12.1in. display. It's also bulky, measuring 30cm wide by 24.5cm deep by 5cm high. Clearly, if you want effective protection for your notebook, you need to put up with considerable extra weight and bulk.
The GoBook XR-1 will very often be used outdoors, so the display has to be easily viewable in daylight, which we found to be the case. Although it isn't a Tablet PC, the XR-1's XGA-resolution screen is touch sensitive, making the system suitable for field-based applications such data capture tools that use a rapid-access tap-to-select interface.
The touch-screen mechanism is passive, meaning that any object, including a fingertip, can be used to drive it. Two styli, which live on either side of the screen, are also provided. These clip in and out of their housings easily, so you'll need to take care that they don't get lost. In a neat design touch the styli are double ended so it doesn’t matter which way you hold them, or which way you rehouse them.
The keyboard uses white keys built to Itronix's ‘NiteVue’ glow-in-the-dark specification, and they certainly do stand out against their black and grey surroundings. If this isn't clear enough, you can opt for a backlit keyboard instead.
We found the keyboard firm and responsive, and had no trouble touch typing. There is a large two-button touchpad beneath the keyboard, which, being black-coloured, can be a little difficult to see against the slightly darker wrist rest. However, this only really mattered when we were hunting for the horizontal and vertical scrollers embedded into the right-hand and bottom edges of the touchpad respectively. The GoBook XR-1 can also be configured with a fingerprint scanner, although this was not present on our review model.
The GoBook XR-1 is powered by Intel’s Core Duo T2400 processor running at 1.83GHz. Our review unit came with 512MB of RAM, which is expandable to a maximum of 2GB. Graphics are taken care of by a discrete 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X300 GPU.
There's plenty of scope for wireless connectivity. Our review sample was equipped with Intel’s PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Wi-Fi adapter, and you can optionally add Bluetooth 1.2, GPRS/EDGE/3G/HSDPA and GPS modules. Wired networking is handled by an Agere Systems Gigabit Ethernet controller.
The hard drive in our review unit was a 40GB unit spinning at 5,400rpm Alternatively, you can specify an 80GB drive if required. The hard disk lives in an easily removable shock-mounted assembly that includes a heater — not something that would normally be required, but definitely needed in a system designed to operate in temperatures as low as minus 23 degrees Centigrade.
The hard drive is not the only part of the Itronix GoBook XR-1 that has special protection.
All the ports and connectors are protected not only by external plastic covers but also by internal sealing that helps prevent water and dust particles from getting inside the machine. AS a result of these and other modifications, the GoBook XR-1 meets key standards for rugged notebooks — MIL-STD 810F and IP54/IEC 60529.
As far as security is concerned, as well as the optional fingerprint scanner noted above, the GoBook XR-1 incorporates a SmartCard Reader and a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 chip. The TPM stores keys, passwords and digital certificates securely, allowing you to safeguard vital data.
A tour round the edges of the GoBook XR-1 reveals that it's as well connected as any regular portable computer. On the left edge, at the front, is the SmartCard slot with a protective plastic cover that snaps shut and opens via a slider at the top. To the rear, behind a pull-open cover, sit the RJ-45 (Ethernet) and RJ-11 (modem) ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and an external VGA connector.
There are two further protective covers on the right-hand side. The larger, rearmost, one protects the singe Type II PC Card slot and the optical drive — which in our review sample was a slot-loading DVD-RW/CD-RW drive. This modular bay, whose cover uses the same slider mechanism as the SmartCard slot, can also accommodate a second battery if necessary. The pull-open protector to the front of the modular bay guards a serial port and three side-by-side USB 2.0 ports. The latter are very close together and, depending on the nature of the peripherals involved, it may not be possible to use them all simultaneously At the very back of the right-hand side is an uncovered FireWire (IEEE 1394) port.
Performance & battery life
In everyday use, the Itronix GoBook XR-1 behaved like a normal notebook running Windows XP Professional. It felt responsive and dealt efficiently with the range of tasks we threw at it. As far as usability is concerned, we had no problem viewing and using the passive touch-sensitive screen, even outdoors and in bright sunlight.
Itronix claims 4 - 6 hours' life from the standard 7,200mAh Li-ion battery, rising to 5.5 - 7 hours if you add the optional 3,800mAh battery in the modular bay. Field workers requiring a full day's work away from a main power source will certainly need to consider adding the extra battery.
We will add formal benchmarks to this review as soon as testing is completed.
Service & support
Itronix backs the GoBook XR-1 with a three-year warranty, and provides both a web portal and a 'one-call' client care centre that handles queries relating to orders, pricing and delivery, technical troubleshooting and returns, delivery updates and all invoicing and finance related issues. You can also contact sales and support staff via email.
If you need a notebook that will stand up to serious extremes of temperature, dust and humidity, and is likely to be dropped and otherwise physically abused, then Itronix's GoBook XR-1 looks an excellent choice. It's as functional as any regular portable, but you'll have to pay a premium for that ruggedness.