Dell throws itself into rugged notebook market

Dell's Latitude ATG looks like the slimmed down cousin of Panasonic's Toughbook

With the arrival of new Dell Latitude ATG (All Terrain Grade) notebook there is now a smaller and lighter alternative to the well-known Panasonic Toughbook.

Compared to its Dell brothers and sisters, the new ATG has a very different look with a rugged exterior casing, rubberised fittings over the rear ports and a funny protruding bump out the front, where the high capacity 9-cell battery lives.

This laptop doesn’t quite feel like its Panasonic equivalent, which is so big it requires a handle, but more like the slimmed down cousin. However, the smaller frame does feature a shock-mounted, removable hard drive, a shock-mounted LCD screen, a dust and spill-resistant keyboard and port covers — and the ATG is built and tested to meet military standards for rugged laptops (MIL SPEC 810F) for operating in conditions of extreme altitude, humidity and vibration. It weighs in at just over 3 kilograms — a kilogram lighter than Panasonic’s Toughbook.

Even though the ATG has a spill-resistant keyboard and extra shock-proofing, I wouldn’t be throwing it around or using it in a wet environment. The casing has so many vents and gaps it looks like if you get this machine just slightly wet on the bottom, side or top, water will get inside the casing.

Here at Toybox headquarters we are usually not allowed to put review units under physical tests, but we can safely assume that the ATG is ruggedised, but not indestructible. ZDNet Netherlands, for example, put the poor computer under rough tests, exposing it to coffee spills, drops onto a concrete floor and the wrong end of a hammer. Finally, it was run over by a car. The laptop reportedly managed to stay in one piece but didn’t fully recover.

Using the ATG is a quite a pleasure compared to some of the other laptops in my household. The bright screen is great and the slightly more responsive keyboard makes typing easy. The trackpad feels solid but why did they make the left/right click buttons so small?

Between these two keys is a fingerprint reader which actually catches my thumb when I slide it over. A real surprise feature is the two built-in red LEDs for working in dark environments. The red lights illuminating the keyboard make you feel a little bit like a hacker, coding away in the dark...

Battery life is reportedly around six hours with the 9-cell extended life battery. Performance of the notebook on Windows Vista is excellent and it runs reasonably cool even though it is running a Core 2 Duo processor at 2.2GHz.

The ATG costs from $3,578 including GST and delivery. Our demo unit, equipped with a T7400 processor and 9-cell battery, came in at a little over $4,400 on Dell’s site, but this is including a three year next business day parts and labour service plan.

This notebook would be a good buy for anyone wanting a more rugged laptop that can take the knocks without going to the extremes of the Panasonic Toughbook.

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Tags DellnotebookToughbookruggedatg

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