Lenovo Touts Semi-Rugged ThinkPads, Panasonic Wants More Details

The Lenovo notebooks that received the semi-rugged categorization include the ThinkPad X200, X301, X200s, X200 tablet, T400, T500, R400 and SL 300. The ThinkPads that were put through the wringer weren't necessarily designed to fit the rugged model, but were built and enhanced with durability features, including an air-bag-like protection system and roll cage.

Viewability is also an important part of the rugged designation, and to that the ThinkPad T400 now has the option for a 680-nit brightness panel.

"The truth is we've always built tough laptops that can weather extreme conditions from hiking the rain forests of the Amazon to flying in space. You don't need a PC that looks like a tank to excel in harsh environments and, unlike many of our competitors, we don't put an extra charge on toughness," Tom Ribble, Lenovo's executive director of worldwide ThinkPad product marketing, said in a statement that appears to double as a not-so-thinly-veiled jab at Panasonic and its Toughbook line of notebooks.

Kyp Walls, director of product management for Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, is glad that the word on durability testing is spreading throughout the community but does think Lenovo is taking a shot at his company's Toughbook.

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"It is interesting that Lenovo says it has taken existing machines and put them through some testing and are now calling them semi-rugged," said Walls. "Our approach is to build machines from the inside out in order to make machines semi- or fully rugged. If you're going to build a machine that holds up in mission-critical environments, a company needs to build them in their own factory—like we do—and do the research and development—that we do—to make sure machines are reliable."

Walls goes on to note that Lenovo's announcement may create some confusion about ruggedness testing and what that means to a customer. He suggests that more specific results, published for all to see, might be the next step for Lenovo.

"The results we've seen [from Lenovo] so far aren't very specific about the testing they did, how they passed it and at what level. We publish those results in detail, but we also publish our annual failure rates," said Walls. "We think other manufacturers should do that. It is one thing to pass a test in the lab, but it is another to pass the real-life testing that users experience. We would invite Lenovo to publish their annual failure rates to see how they hold up in environments where people use them because that is the most important test."

The line of Lenovo ThinkPads that are being identified as semi-rugged went through the Military Spec Test Against the Elements. That battery of tests puts potential notebooks through conditions that bake, batter, blister and blow with sand.

The notebooks were put through six specific tests including low pressure, which tests operation at 15,000 feet; humidity, which cycles 95 percent humidity through the environment; vibration, which jostles and jolts the system to make sure it can withstand the shocks; high temperature, which simulates heat conditions up to 140 degrees; low temperature, which tests operations at negative 4 degrees; temperature shock, which fluctuates temperature between negative 4 and 140 degrees; and finally dust, which blows dust into the system for an extended period of time.

The four built-in features designed to boost toughness in Lenovo's ThinkPads range from the active protective system, which temporarily parks the hard drive when it detects a fall or sudden movement—that's the built-in air-bag-like protection; a toll cage, which acts as a protective frame around internal components; a shock-mounted hard drive, which offers another layer of protection around the hard drive; to a spill-resistant keyboard, which withstands up to 2 fluid ounces on select laptops.

In addition, warranty and accident protection plans help ensure that a laptop can be replaced or kept functioning.