GammaTech Durabook D15RP Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Tough construction can take some knocks; Automatic full-drive encryption; Warm-swappable battery; Very good keyboard

The Cons

Generic styling; Mediocre performance; No fingerprint reader or dedicated volume controls

Verdict

This business-rugged notebook can take a beating without costing an arm and a leg.

GammTech's Durabook D15RP won't win any beauty contests, but its strength will win it some fans. If you need a notebook that can take the rigors of road use, and is less expensive than other business-rugged options, the $1,995 Durabook D15RP is a solid choice.

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Design and Keyboard

The silver and black D15RP weighs a not-so-insignificant 6.5 pounds and measures 13.0 x 10.8 x 1.6 inches; in general, it feels larger and heavier than other 15.4-inch models. The styling of the exterior and interior (a black keyboard set into a silver surround) is rather generic; the only design touch is a wide band of rubberized trim on the lid's rounded edges.

On the plus side, the roomy keyboard is exceedingly comfortable to type on thanks to its crisp, positive key action. Mouse buttons are a comfortable size and responsive without being stiff, but the touchpad is too small given the screen size. It has no multimedia control keys or even dedicated volume/mute buttons, even though the expansive keyboard deck has plenty of room for such niceties.

Display and Audio

The 15.4-inch screen in the standard D15RP has a relatively low (for the screen size) resolution of 1280 x 800, which doesn't make the best use of the available screen real estate; a higher-res panel would let you see more of your open windows at once.

The panel's antiglare coating enhances usability in challenging lighting conditions (in a school gymnasium lit by harsh overhead bulbs there was no annoying glare) but we did notice that the coating robs some clarity. Small text was not as crisp as we've grown accustomed to on glossy panels, and DVD movies had a soft-focus look.

Audio quality from the built-in stereo speakers was adequate. Music sounded thin and a bit muddy at higher volumes, but overall the sound was better than the transistor-radio variety we've heard on other rugged portables.

Ports and Webcam

Beyond the rugged features and encrypted hard drive, the features of the D15RP are, again, rather generic. You get a multiformat DVD burner, ExpressCard slot, 4-in-1 memory card reader, VGA port, FireWire, three USB ports, Ethernet and modem jacks, and a serial port.

The bundled Genesys Logic AMCAP camera utility is essentially useless. Upon launching the program, the preview window opens, but there are no icons for video, still, or audio capture as on most Webcam utilities. Choosing Start Capture" from the Capture menu along the top opens a File Open dialog box. Odd. (And the Help menu includes only an About box--not actual help.) The camera itself was decent. In normal lighting conditions, images were adequately sharp, though highlight areas tended to be blown out. That over-sensitivity comes in handy in low-light use, though, where we got a usable image when the subject was lit by a 6-watt desk lamp bulb.

Semi-Tough Features

The D15RP is a semi-rugged business machine, as opposed to a fully ruggedized unit. That means the D15RP isn't waterproof and its ports are exposed to dirt and moisture (a rugged system has sealed ports), but it is more impervious to drops and other hazards than a typical notebook. For starters, the D15RP is compliant with Military Standard 810F for shock and vibration, and it has passed a drop test of 26 drops (onto its base) from a height of 30 inches. The machine's keyboard is rated to handle a spill of up to 3 ounces of water without damage to the PC.

The magnesium alloy case offers more rigidity than plastic, and GammaTech has built in a layer of protective material between the back of the LCD and the lid, so it can take some G-forces without damaging the screen. All units come with a vibration- and shock-mounted hard drive, and buyers can specify a model with active hard drive protection. GammaTech even offers drives rated for extreme heat and cold for buyers with such particular needs.

Performance

The D15RP is powered by a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and integrated Intel GMA X3100 graphics. This combination won't win any speed races, but it delivers perfectly acceptable performance for business use. The D15RP's boot time of 54 seconds is in line with other Vista Business machines, but the unit scored just 2,686 on PCMark Vantage, which is about 10 percent below the average for all mainstream portables we've tested recently.

The 5,400-rpm speed and automatic encryption of the hard drive took its toll on the LAPTOP Transfer Test, where the D15RP notched 14.7 MBps (the average in this class is 17.8 MBps). The D15RP also slowed more than other systems in multitasking: It took the machine about 4 minutes to re-encode 2 hours of music in iTunes, but the same task required an extra 30 seconds to complete when a Windows Defender scan was running in the background.

Unsurprisingly, the D15RP's Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chipset is no match for demanding 3D chores. It scored 1,252 on 3DMark03 (which tests DirectX 9 performance) and an abysmal 448 on 3DMark06 (which tests DirectX 9 3D graphics, CPU, and 3D features). In F.E.A.R. we saw frame rates of just 17 fps at the panel's native 1280 x 800 setting.

Wi-Fi and Battery Life

One bright spot was wireless performance, which at 20.3 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point and 17.4 Mbps at 50 feet, showed slightly above-average performance. While there's no integrated mobile broadband option, the Durabook D15RP does come with Bluetooth 2.0.

Battery life on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) was 30 minutes longer than the average, at 3 hours 55 minutes. Still, it's much less than the Panasonic Toughbook F8, whose battery lasted 5 hours and 38 minutes. However, the D15RP comes with a field-friendly warm-swappable battery: If you're running out of juice at the job site (or in a meeting), you don't have to shut down to pop in a fresh battery. Just put the PC into sleep mode, and a small, built-in battery will provide enough power for you to make the swap.

Software, Security, and Warranty/Support

The D15RP is light on other preloaded software, which is appropriate for a business notebook; our unit came with Windows Vista Business and CyberLink's DVD Suite for burning and playback.

One welcome inclusion is Absolute Software's Computrace LoJack for Laptops. If your machine is lost or stolen, the hidden BIOS-level applet can be remotely awakened to "phone home," reporting its IP address so law enforcement can track it down. Other security includes TPM circuitry and a Smart Card reader, but not a fingerprint reader (which has become standard issue on business notebooks). For extra security, the unit comes with Seagate's new 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive that offers automatic encryption of all data written to the drive.

GammaTech covers the D15RP with a two-year warranty. You can upgrade the standard two-year warranty's 3-to-5-day repair turnaround time (for units returned to the company for service) to a one-business-day turnaround. You can also add extra years of coverage for $75 per year for standard turnaround or $100 per year for expedited service.

Verdict

While GammaTech says that the Durabook D15RP, starting at $1,950, is a business-rugged notebook, it's built to take more of a beating than most conventionally defined business-rugged systems. Like the smaller 14-inch HP Elitebook 6930p ($1,399 as reviewed) and Panasonic Toughbook F8 (starting at $2,499 but an even steeper $2,899 as reviewed), the D15RP meets the MIL-STD-810F durability standards, and like the F8, the Durabook wears those credentials on its sleeve when it comes to its design. If you want a 15-inch business-rugged machine that looks the part, the Durabook D15RP won't thrill, but it won't disappoint either.

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CPU 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 15.4
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVD+R DL
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel GMA X3100/384MB shared
Video Memory 384MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) serial
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Card Slots ExpressCard
Warranty/Support Two-year standard limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 13.0 x 10.8 x 1.6 inches
Weight 6.5 pounds
Company Website http://www.durabook.com
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