Review: GammaTech's Durabook S15AB Sports Big Display, Thin Body -- And Is Built For Abuse

Durable With A Dash Of Sexy

Rugged notebooks are following the overall laptop trend: They are getting thinner and lighter -- and sporting bigger and better displays. GammaTech's latest offering delivers all of that. Its Durabook S15AB, which began shipping this month, weighs in at nearly a pound less than its predecessor (S15H), is a half-inch thinner and adds over an hour of battery life.

GammaTech's upgrades come with a price -- the S15AB has a starting price of $2,000, compared with last year's comparable S15H model, which sells for $1,400. That's still a great price for a dedicated vertical-market rugged notebook. For the extra $600, GammaTech S15AB is a class act, delivering a stress-tested laptop that defies the stigma that rugged equals boxy, hefty and slow.

CRN took a closer look at the S15AB that targets manufacturing, government and mobile workforce markets. Here is what we found.

Speeds And Feeds

Specs for the S15AB unit we tested included Windows 7 Professional, a 15.7-inch (1920 by 1080) display and Intel's fifth-generation Broadwell U series Core i5-5200U 2.20GHz processor with integrated graphics and featuring 15W power consumption.

The base model features 8 GB of DDR3L RAM (expandable to 16 GB), 2.5-inch SATA HDD or SSD, Blu-ray optical drive, and 2-megapixel video camera. Dimensions are 14.7 inches wide, 10.7 inches deep and 1.1 inches thick. The laptop weighs in at 5.7 pounds.

The model CRN tested is priced at $2,200 and featured a 128GB SSD drive, 8 GB DDR3 RAM, the optional backlit keyboard, and Intel's i5-5200U 2.20GHz processor.

Ports Aplenty

The S15AB includes a variety of I/O ports with dust covers, including two USB 2.0 and 3.0 connectors, an RJ-45 jack for internal Ethernet, an HDMI Type A connector (resolution up to 4K), a D-sub 9 pin RS-232 serial port and a 15-pin D-sub VGA port.

Also included is a built-in SD card reader that supports SDXC cards, and a Smart Card reader that allows the card to be fully inserted. The latest model also comes with the upgrade option of a biometric fingerprint scanner.

Each of the ports, bays and readers (with the exception of a DC power port) has a dust cover.


GammaTech calls the S15AB rugged with a spill-resistant keyboard and chassis. What do these claims mean? GammaTech says its S15AB is tested to MIL-STD 810G for vibration resistance and to ASTM 4169-08 standard for truck transport. Translation: GammaTech says the notebook is designed to withstand 26 drops of up to 2.5 feet and four drops on its face of up to 4 feet on plywood-on-top concrete floors, and that its magnesium alloy case is 20 times stronger than ABS plastic used on non-rugged laptops.

The keyboard is full-sized with 88 standard notebook keys. Below the keyboard is a trackpad with two inset mouse buttons.

Solid Keyboard, Good Trackpad

Keyboards on rugged notebooks often feel bogged down by water-resistant membranes that make keys feel unresponsive. That wasn't the case with the S15AB. It's clear GammaTech paid a lot of attention to delivering a premium keyboard. While the keys didn't afford much travel between each other, the keys themselves were extremely responsive. The keyboard on the model we tested was backlit -- another nice touch.

After using the laptop for more than an hour, we started to notice how small the trackpad is. We found it hard to pinch and zoom with such little trackpad real estate. However, we did appreciate two very responsive mouse buttons below the trackpad.

Durability Test

Putting the S15AB through its paces, we dropped the laptop a few times from 2.5 feet with no malfunctions to the computer's operations and not a scuff to the case. We also dropped the laptop on plywood from 4 feet without incident. We also sprayed the open laptop lightly with water and were impressed that the dust covers sealed the ports from moisture.

We appreciated the S15AB's magnesium alloy case, a convenient handle and enhanced rubber lined dust covers for ports. These covers are adequate, but feel flimsy with questionable effectiveness when it comes to sealing out more prolonged exposure to liquids as well as dust.

Battery Performance

GammaTech's use of a 15W Intel fifth-generation Broadwell U Series Core i5-5200U processor shines when it comes to battery life. The S15AB's battery is rated at 8.5 hours in standby mode. That's an impressive improvement over previous models such as last year's S15H, which has 4.5 hours battery life, and the GammaTech 2013 model, which has 6 to 7 hours standby battery life.

Using the PowerMark battery benchmarking testing software from Futuremark, we found that the laptop has an estimated battery life of 5 hours and 48 minutes. Conditions for battery testing included a typical productivity scenario that includes Web browsing, word processing and the use of related office applications.

Test Center Benchmarks Performance And Battery Life

Benchmark testing of the S15AB unit under work conditions -- during simple office productivity tests including Web browsing, word processing, video and photo editing and video chat -- revealed solid performance. Using benchmark results from Futuremark's PCMark 8 testing revealed a score of 3771. According to Futuremark, that score lands the S15AB in the top 60 percent of all laptops tested by the Futuremark testing community between 2013 and today.


Compared with GammaTech's previous SA14, this latest model pushes the Durabook rugged envelope. The most notable feature is a larger 15.5-inch display, compared with the SA14's 14-inch screen. While the S15H did have a large display, it came with a huge price when it comes to battery life. The S15H had a 4.5-hour standby battery life, compared with the S15AB with an 8.5-hour standby battery life, according to GammaTech.

That battery life boost comes thanks to another huge improvement with this most recent model, namely Intel's fifth-generation Broadwell U series Core i5-5200U 2.20GHz processor featuring 15W low-power consumption. By comparison, GammaTech's S15H used a 35W Intel Haswell processor, which delivered impressive performance in CRN previous testing, but put a heavy tax on the battery.

Right Price For A Solid Rugged Notebook

Taking a look at the competition, GammaTech is blazing a trail for rugged notebooks with its large, 15.5-inch plus HD screens and thin-ish body. Durability is at the heart of this notebook.

Hinges are solid on this notebook. The rubber seals keep moisture out. The S15AB further blurs the line between rugged and a standard laptop. GammaTech delivers real value in the face of more expensive competitors. Differentiators include ample ports (including legacy ports) and affordability, making the S15AB an option for not just vertical industries, but any mobile warrior looking for a laptop that doesn't have to be handled with kid gloves.