- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

The Durabook Pro 15T will set you back $1,339, and if you need a relatively light notebook that has some rugged features, it might be a good investment.

However, this product strikes me as being just shy of ready for prime time. For a price double or even nearly triple that of some nonrugged laptops with a 15-inch display, this computer is certainly an acquired taste.

The Durabook Pro is a product from GammaTech, a Fremont, Calif.-based company that claims 21 years in the computer market. Its manufacturing facilities, the firm’s Web site says, are in Taiwan and mainland China; final assembly of the notebook I tested was done, the firm claims, in the United States.

The selling points for the Durabook include its shock mounting and other protection for the hard disc drive, the 15.4-inch display screen and other key components, and a spill-resistant keyboard. Protection against accidental damage is important, since most computer users are human and, well, things happen. I’ve recounted here before one of the scariest sounds I’ve ever heard, that of the cracking of a computer lid when the passenger in the seat ahead leaned back, with their seat striking the open lid. Ouch.

But protection against screen damage is one thing, performance is another. If performance takes a big hit, keeping the computer safe is less meaningful. In testing the Durabook, I found several noticeable performance issues.

One of the first is in the area of video performance: The unit claims an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator chip to power the display. But when playing streaming video from the Internet on a Verizon FiOS connection, the quality was less than desirable: In full screen mode, the video stopped at times while the sound continued . I encountered this with videos from both Hulu.com and YouTube, short clips and long ones. Perhaps boosting the computer’s memory beyond the supplied 1 gigabyte would help, but if that’s the case, I’d think the maker would have upped the RAM as a standard feature.

In short, there’s little excuse, in 2009, for a portable computer to have any issues with graphic performance, particularly when it comes to streaming video. We may lug our laptops to meetings and conferences, but in our off time, many of us want to watch TV online. Decent video playback is essential now, and this computer has some struggles here, at least in my opinion.

I also had hiccups with the built-in wireless networking, even though I tested it within about two feet of the wireless router to which I was trying to connect. Wi-Fi can have its issues, but these problems surfaced with routers that had what’s known as “WEP” encrypted connections and those without the protection. My conclusion: There’s an issue here. It might well be transitory, however, and I wouldn’t dismiss the Durabook for that reason alone.

The computer’s keyboard is a bright spot: It’s reminiscent of the old IBM Selectric-style keyboards, kind of a “gold standard” for touch-typists, and if the spill protection holds, it’s a nice combination. The touch-pad mouse system was fine, although the scroll feature of the mouse worked in word processing, but not with Internet Explorer. Sigh.

I think the Durabook Pro has some promise: It’s lighter and more stylish than many “ruggedized” Windows notebooks that I’ve seen, and typing on it for long periods of time wouldn’t be a problem. However, if I can’t enjoy “30 Rock” online, or if the Wi-Fi has gone “bye-bye,” it may be worth waiting for future models in the firm’s line. Information on the products can be found at www.durabook.com.

How rugged is your computer?

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.