Lenovo ThinkPad Laptop Toughens Up Against Panasonic, Dell

Lenovo is looking to bring its ThinkPad laptops into the semirugged and rugged competition against laptop offerings from the likes of Panasonic and Dell. Lenovo announces that eight of its ThinkPad notebooks now offer the same type of military and industrial standards typically found in the Panasonic Toughbook line. In addition to blasting ThinkPads with sand, Lenovo heated several ThinkPad laptops in an oven to prove their rugged value.

Lenovo, in its quest to compete in the semirugged and rugged laptop market against competitors such as Panasonic and Dell, subjected eight of its ThinkPad laptops to a variety of tortures, including high heat, wild temperature fluctuations, exposure to massive amounts of dust and jostling.

The ThinkPad X200, X301, X200s, X200 Tablet, T400, T500, R400 and SL300 laptops passed eight military-grade standards for pressure, humidity, temperature, dust and vibration.

According to Lenovo, passing the eight military spec tests affords these laptops the designation "semi-rugged," meaning they are meant for use in vehicles or field work. Many customers who engage in such work require that their laptops officially pass such testing.

Click here to see images of Lenovo's semirugged ThinkPads and the testing process.

The Lenovo ThinkPad T400, which has a retail price starting at $1,350, includes an optional 680-nit "high brightness" panel designed to provide extra visibility even in bright ambient conditions, such as light shining directly on the screen.

Given that enterprise customers who engage in such field work, not to mention off-road or construction site activities, have a higher chance than the average office worker of inadvertently dropping a laptop, the semirugged ThinkPads include a number of internal elements designed to ensure the computer's survival in the event of a slip.

These include the Active Protection System, which encloses the hard drive in an air bag-like system in the event of a sudden drop; a shock-mounted hard drive; a spill-resistant keyboard that will drain up to 2 ounces of liquid beneath the keyboard; and, on the ThinkPad X301, a protective frame called a Roll Cage around internal components.

Market emphasis on semirugged and rugged laptops has been picking up, with Panasonic announcing that its Toughbook line would be undergoing a makeover. Also, Dell has entered the rugged arena with its Latitude line of laptops.

Rugged laptops tend to be relatively expensive. However, prime markets for such ready-for-anything laptops include the military, oil, health care and civil engineering, fields that can often absorb the higher costs.

"The market is somewhat esoteric, but most of those areas tend to be pretty well-funded," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said in an interview. "It's one thing to sell 1,000 notebooks to an enterprise with a budget of $800 per machine; but if you're selling $3,000 to $4,000 dollar machines, you can do quite well just selling a few here and there."

President Barack Obama's recently signed stimulus package could also provide a boost to this particular segment of the PC market, which could mean more money for areas such as health care IT, constructions and civil engineering.

"There's going to be a lot of road building, bridge building and civil engineering work going on," King said. "It could be a good thing to be in that market over the coming years."

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct a statement about the function of the 680-nit panel.