Computers are advancing every year. Just two decades ago we started seeing the first portable computers appearing on the market.
Today, tablets and laptops are widely used both for entertainment and work. That being said, there are environments and industries where regular devices just won’t cut it. Rugged computers, on the other hand, fit right in.
What Are Rugged Computers
Anyone who has even a basic understanding of how computers work knows that they are sensitive. Electronics contained inside can be extremely delicate, which is why you don’t go around using your laptop as a baseball bat. Fortunately for most people, the durability of consumer-grade electronics is good enough to meet the needs of an average user.
Once you put consumer-grade electronics into more demanding environments, things change for the worse. Heavy industries such as oil and gas, or mining industries, have a need for portable computers that can withstand the grueling field conditions that are common in these lines of work.
Rugged computers were born to meet these unique needs. Manufacturers who offer such devices have found ways of protecting sensitive electronics through the use of various overengineered chassis designs. As a result, you can have a standalone rugged PC operating in the middle of a coal mine, or an active combat zone. How do rugged computers achieve such protection? The answer is a combination of IP, or Ingress Protection standards, and smart engineering.
What Is Ingress Protection?
Ingress protection rating is an international standard that defines how well a device, mainly an electronic one, is protected from water and particles. An IP rating features the following format — IPXX
The first X following IP designation tells you how well the device is capable of preventing particles from breaching the enclosure. If you see a 0 (zero) in this place, that means there’s no protection while 6 means optimal protection. Similarly, the second number represents water ingress protection and ranges from 0-9.
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Going a Step Beyond
Establishing a good IP baseline is just the beginning. To deliver a truly rugged performance, computer manufacturers have to come up with innovative ideas. Temperature control is an important aspect of rugged computers. PC components tend to warm up and rely on effective ventilation to deal with excess heat.
Because of that, a hermetically sealed chassis is often not the best solution. Different brands have come up with different solutions. Some use advanced passive temperature control solutions that rely on complex heat syncs, while others have gone a different route.
Then there’s the matter of displays. Consumer-grade panels are not suitable for conditions where the risk of physical damage is omnipresent. Similarly, a rugged display needs to be able to handle dirty hands, contamination, spillage of all kinds of liquids, and more.
Needless to say, a rugged computer is a very different beast compared to an equivalent consumer-grade PC. With that said, it’s worth mentioning that rugged computers usually use some or all consumer-grade components. It all depends on the needs of the client and their operating environment. Speaking of which, who uses rugged computers?
Who Uses Rugged Computers?
As mentioned before, rugged computers are used in all kinds of industries. However, not all of them are pushing these devices to their limits. It’s fair to say that rugged computers built per military contracts meet some of the highest standards this niche part of the electronics industry has to offer.
Giving individual soldiers, platoon leaders and ground force commanders access to flagship computing power means giving them a competitive edge over their adversaries. Rugged computers deployed in a modern battlefield have to withstand all kinds of shocks, vibrations, exposure to liquids, dust, and other particles.
Most importantly, they need to keep working for prolonged periods of time. Experiencing hardware failure in the middle of a battlefield can result in a complete loss of situational awareness, loss of tactical battlefield overview, and interrupted lines of communication. Needless to say, rugged computers designed for the modern battlefield stand out.
The Proliferation of Rugged Computers
As more and more industries recognize the importance of a rugged computer, we’ll see more such devices hit the mainstream. So far, rugged computers are still occupying a niche part of the electronics market, but all of that could change when rugged levels of protection become more attainable to the average consumer.
With planned obsolescence becoming a thing of the past, people will want to invest in devices capable of lasting for a long time. In several years, we might see the next iPhone meeting the rugged standards.
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