HP Destroys PCs, Tablets to Make Them Better, Stronger

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2014-07-03 Print this article Print

HOUSTON—Hewlett-Packard's main campus here is a sprawling facility that includes more than a dozen buildings and 10,000 employees performing tasks that range from administrative duties and research and development to server assembly and customer service. According to HP officials, about 5 percent of those employees work in the tech vendor's various Science Labs, which are spread out over several buildings. In those labs, technicians put the company's range of products—from PCs to tablets to laptops to servers—through rigorous testing to find their breaking points and to ensure they comply with HP standards and government regulations. The systems and their components are frozen, heated, zapped with electricity, shaken, dropped, pulled apart, poked, put in a dust-filled room, immersed in a man-made fog, X-rayed, monitored and retested. "It's a little bit of shake, rattle and roll," said Bryan Van Alstyne, manager of the Environmental and Mechanical Engineering Support Center at HP. "We abuse stuff." In the end, the goal is to put products on the market that can withstand whatever they'll face and to keep customers coming back for more HP equipment. This eWEEK slide show gives a look at some of what was seen in a recent tour of the labs.

  • HP Destroys PCs, Tablets to Make Them Better, Stronger

    by Jeffrey Burt
    1 - HP Destroys PCs, Tablets to Make Them Better, Stronger
  • Entering Into the HP Labs

    The daylong tour started at the one of the several buildings on the campus that house the various labs.
    2 - Entering Into the HP Labs
  • HP Patents on Display

    Prominently displayed on a wall in one of the buildings are the various patents that have been awarded to HP scientists and engineers.
    3 - HP Patents on Display
  • HP Products Making an Impact

    HP engineers spend a lot of time seeing how systems and components react to shock and impact. They're put on tables that shake and are dropped from various heights. Here an optical drive is hooked up to a machine that tests it in an accelerated drop.
    4 - HP Products Making an Impact
  • More Shaking and Rattling

    John Emig, R&D electronic technician, talks about two tests—one on the floor, the other one being the blue rig—that can test systems and the boxes they're shipped in to see how they stand up to vibration.
    5 - More Shaking and Rattling
  • Being Hard on the Hard Drives

    Hard drives are put into this vibration table and shaken. "We want to check our vendors to see what they're giving us," said John Vijil, general engineer at HP.
    6 - Being Hard on the Hard Drives
  • Putting the Focus on the Boxes

    HP not only wants to ensure the systems are solid and reliable, but also that the boxes they ship in can stand up under the stresses they'll undergo. The boxes are put through compression tests—like here—and vibration to see how they stand up and at what point they'll fail.
    7 - Putting the Focus on the Boxes
  • Holding Up Under the Strain

    HP technician Doug Ward shows off a laptop that is undergoing strain tests to see how it holds under physical strain. The red wires attached to the system are strain gauges, which are used to measure how much strain the system is under.
    8 - Holding Up Under the Strain
  • Testing the Sound

    Systems are brought into this semi-anechoic chamber (semi-anechoic means that while sound-proof material is used on the walls and ceiling, none is used on the floor), where the walls and ceilings are lined with fiberglass wedges to absorb as much sound as possible. Microphones are aimed at the systems as they are tested to determine how much sound they emit.
    9 - Testing the Sound
  • How Systems Run in Hot and Cold

    Systems from PCs to servers are run in all sorts of conditions, from extreme temperatures to high altitudes. HP technicians have a number of chambers designed to test them in all environments. Here a laptop is in a machine that can adjust temperature and altitude conditions.
    10 - How Systems Run in Hot and Cold
  • Technology in a Fog

    Computing systems are also used in coastal environments that come with their own challenges. Test products are put in this machine, which can simulate a salty ocean fog.
    11 - Technology in a Fog
  • Seeing What's Going on Inside

    HP uses a range of X-ray systems to get a detailed look at what's going on in the system, from the quality of the metal and the solder used to keep the systems together to any non-metal substances on the device, including drinks, greases and food. This X-ray system gives engineers a real-time look at all facets of the systems.
    12 - Seeing What's Going on Inside
  • Taking the Temperature of Boards

    How systems perform in extreme temperatures is a key focus of the testing. These custom-made boards are used to test how memory systems react to temperature variations. They're put in machines that constantly change the temperature from 0 degrees Celsius to 100 degrees Celsius and are kept there until they fail.
    13 - Taking the Temperature of Boards
  • The Robots Take Over

    In HP's Reliability Lab, robots are built to test everything on systems. One robot opens and closes laptops 25,000 or more times, another drags points of arms across keyboards and touchpads, and yet another pokes constantly at the screen of a laptop. The robot pictured is testing the fittings in the water cooling system that will be used in HP's new Apollo 8000 supercomputer.
    14 - The Robots Take Over
  • Another Sound Test Chamber

    Here is another semi-anechoic chamber for testing the noise generated by systems. However, while the first chamber was used to simply measure the sound, this one in the Regulatory Lab is used to ensure it complies with various regulations and certification requirements.
    15 - Another Sound Test Chamber
  • HP's Own 'Stargate'

    The Satimo SG64 machine is used to measure how well notebooks and tablets with cellular connections are operating. The "SG" stands for Stargate, given how the setup looks so much like the one seen in the movie.
    16 - HP's Own 'Stargate'
  • Getting Servers Ready to Ship

    Among the many jobs at the Houston campus is getting servers assembled and ready to ship.
    17 - Getting Servers Ready to Ship
  • Keeping Compaq Alive

    The Houston campus was the headquarters for Compaq before HP bought the PC company in 2002, and there are still plenty of reminders of Compaq's presence. Here is one of a number of banners that hang throughout the buildings.
    18 - Keeping Compaq Alive
  • A Blast From the Past

    There are other relics from Compaq's past, from posters to—here—the occasional old systems that are stored here and there.
    19 - A Blast From the Past

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