REVIEW: Semi-Rugged Durabook S15H is Super-Fast

GammaTech has done it again.

The company earlier this year impressed us with the Durabook SA14, a nearly indestructible laptop that outperformed not only other rugged laptops, but most non-rugged ones as well. Then the company unveiled the Durabook S15H, which turned in even faster benchmarks and is almost as rugged and doesn't look like a Hummer.

For review, GammaTech sent the CRN Test Center the S15H-HD, which incorporates an Intel Core i7-4600M dual-core Haswell processor running at 2.69 GHz and was outfitted with its maximum 16 GB of two-channel DDR3 RAM.

The "HD" indicates that its 15.6-inch, non-touch LCD is a high-definition screen. We found that slightly misleading since the base unit's native resolution is 1,366 x 768 and a 1,920 x 1080 panel is optional. Either way, video is driven by Intel HD Graphics 4600 and an NVidia Optimus GPU.

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The S15H is amply equipped in terms of other ports and slots. The left side (from front to back) is home to an Express Card 54/34 slot and a Smart card reader slot. Next are audio ins and outs, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, the full-sized HDMI output and power input. The DC side of its 90-watt power brick uses a right-angle connector to reduce vulnerability. On the right side we find an RS-232 port, lone USB 2.0, DVD-RW and Gigabit Ethernet port. The rear has nothing but a Kensington lock port. The front has the SDXC reader slot and a SIM slot that's behind a screwed-on cover. The tested unit also came with a mic and 2.0 MP web cam option.

For the service provider, GammaTech adds some nice touches.

On the underside of the unit are screwed-on covers that clearly indicate the locations of the 2.5-inch SATA or SSD storage, WLAN and WWAN card slots, CPU and SODIMM slots (of which it has two). Also found there is the drain hole for keyboard spills.

And while the S15H is not IP rated like its SA14 cousin, GammaTech says that the unit will keep running with flowing water anywhere on its keyboard face, and that even its lighted power and Wi-Fi toggle switch will be unaffected. Out tests mostly bore that out, but the unit did blue-screen once during testing. It restarted on its own and was fine.

The MIL-STD 810G-rated S15H is designed to withstand as many as 26 drops from a height of 2.5 feet onto plywood-over concrete. The hard drive and LCD panel are protected with anti-shock mounts. In our tests, the unit withstood four drops from a 30-inch high desk onto carpet over concrete, rebooting each time and eventually responding normally to input. However, on the fifth drop the unit went black and was unresponsive for about 30 minutes. When it finally did boot, the screen constantly flickered and the system was erratic. It's unclear whether this behavior was caused by the shock or the water.

What is clear is that the S15H performed extremely well in benchmark tests and moderately well in terms of battery life. Geekbench 2.4 reported a high score of 11,141, bumping the Durabook SA14 out of fourth place among the CRN Test Center's Top 10 fastest laptops. And in our battery test, its standard 9-cell Lithium Ion cell delivered four hours and 45 minutes of continuous media playback with screen brightness cranked up to full. That's not spectacular for a Haswell-based system, but enabling screen dimming would extend that time significantly.

On the whole, the Durabook S15H is a solid platform for deploying application-to-work environments that often go outside the office. While it's not impervious to incursions, it's built to withstand spills and the kind of shocks that are possible any time a laptop is yanked from the safety of its bag. And for a starting list of $1,399 with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and TPM 1.2 security, the S15H is likely to outlast its naked counterpart.