Dell's Latitude Line Gets Rugged

The PC maker is launching a fully rugged Latitude notebook that looks to compete with Panasonic's Toughbook laptops.

Dell is making its Latitude laptop line a little tougher.

The PC vendor is launching a fully rugged notebook called the Latitude XFR D630, which goes on sale March 4 and looks to compete with other rugged models from Panasonic and General Dynamics Itronix.

The Latitude D630 follows Dell's Latitude ATG D620, a semi-rugged notebook the company launched about a year ago after hearing customer demands for a more-robust line of laptops.

The D630 meets the Department of Defense's MIL-STD 810F standards, which means the notebook can continue to function in extreme temperatures and is resistant to moisture and altitude, said Brett McAnally, director of Dell's Product Group.

"We specifically based this notebook on military standards to show that it could meet the demands of users who are working in extreme environments or extreme temperatures," McAnally said. "We are also looking to increase the mobile space beyond the types of notebooks that are available today."

Rugged and semi-rugged notebooks - they differ from standard notebooks because the internal components are protected in shock-resistant casing - are mainly used by the military, law enforcement and EMTs. McAnally also said companies that work in specialized areas such as oil and gas exploration also benefit from being able to choose from a wide array of notebooks that include both standard and rugged models.

"We wanted to offer these companies a way to simplify their deployments, which has a lot to do with offering a common architecture, so that if there are images to update or services, these companies can come to one vendor," he said.

Rugged notebooks represent about 2 percent of the U.S. notebooks shipments, according to IDC. IDC analyst Richard Shim said that while rugged notebooks remain a small part of the market, these PCs offer good margins for vendors - the starting price for the Dell D630 is $3,899 - and buyers of these laptops look for very specific features, which usually develops into a long-term relationship with a vendor.

The fact that Dell is trying to position itself as a one-stop vendor for its customers means that the company needs to offer the broadest array of products as well.

"[Having] a rugged notebook in your portfolio makes an OEM more of a one-stop shop for a client," Shim wrote in an e-mail. "This is significant because if the client has a problem with a product they have fewer calls to make to get a fix and if an OEM doesn't have as complete a portfolio as a competitor it weakens their contract negotiations."

The D630 offers a 14.1-inch screen that offers 500 nits, which makes the screen brighter than standard enterprise notebooks. The notebook offers a choice of several Intel Core 2 Duo processors, including the T7700 with a 2.4GHz clock speed, 4MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz front side bus. In addition, it offers up to 4056MB of DDR2 (double data rate2) RAM, an 80GB hard disk drive, Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics and four, 2.0USB ports.

Within the rugged market, Dell mainly competes against Panasonic and its Toughbook line, which includes the CF-30 model and offers the same amount of DDR2 RAM and hard disk drive capacity as the D630. The CF-30 has a 13.3-inch display with 500 nits, an Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 with a 1.6GHz clock speed.

The CF-30, which is built to the same Department of Defense standards as the Dell D630, starts at $3,533, according to Panasonic's Web site.