Rugged Getac laptop takes on the Lab's Thunderdome

The Getac B300 has a surprising number of features not found in all rugged laptops these days, such as lots of external ports and a fully functional DVD drive.

Whenever we test rugged devices, the GCN Lab always feels a bit like the set of a Mad Max movie. Although we are not subjecting products to combat conditions, they go through some pretty rugged tests, at least as defined by Mil-Spec 810G for equipment testing. And not every device survives the journey.

Entering the Thunderdome this month is the new B300 rugged laptop from Getac.

The company has made some impressive strides in the rugged market, especially in the handheld arena with their excellent PS236 devices. The first thing most people will notice about the B300 is that it’s compact for a rugged laptop. Coming in at 11.9 inches by 10.35 inches with a thickness of 2.36 inches, it almost looks like there isn’t enough armor to protect it from serious blows. That didn’t turn out to be a problem, so Getac has done a good job making the 7.7-pound B300 portable, or at least luggable, compared to a lot of other rugged designs.

Getac B300 laptop

 Pros: Blazingly fast for a rugged laptop; easily passes mil-spec testing for rugged devices.
Cons: Ports are secure but difficult to access.
Performance: A
Ease of use: B+
Features: A
Value: A
Rugged: A+
Price: $5,028 as configured for test

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Other than the price, which is relatively high because it's rugged, the B300 could pass as a respectable laptop in terms of features and performance. The Intel Core i7 2 GHz processor is fast enough for any application you can throw at it. Our test unit came with 2G of memory, though that is expandable to 8G if you have some really intense programs to run. When we tested the B300 with the PassMark Performance benchmarks Version 7.0 from PassMark Systems, it scored 911.4, putting it in the upper echelon of laptop performance across the board, rugged or not.

The B300 has built-in 3G Gobi 2000, which enables a single mobile device to operate across multiple wireless networks and is comparable to the Getac handheld devices people use for Global Positioning System applications.

Other extra features include a backlit keyboard and an optional dual-battery system. Our test unit could operate for 4 hours, 45 minutes on a single battery in the worst possible conditions: running a movie with its 13.3-inch screen set at 80 percent brightness and sound at 80 percent. The B300 also has a DVD drive, a huge plus considering many companies are trying to eliminate this component, especially for rugged models. It also happens to come with a five-year warranty, which is generous for any computer, especially for one designed to survive in extreme conditions.

The B300 features a lot of inputs: two USBs, a serial port, modem and local-area network, HDMI, external VGA, an extra GPS antenna plug, and all the ones that handle sound. Many of those are protected behind a dual-locking door. Although that makes the ports very secure from shock and water ingress, they are difficult to open — or even to understand how they work. You first need to slide one tiny part of the door into place before the full door will open. And even then getting the doors open isn’t the easiest task.

Users with large hands will get frustrated. When going back the other direction, it’s not easy to tell if the doors are all set in a secure position for transport because they are all black with no color coding. We like the stability of the doors, but there must be an easier way than playing with tiny puzzle boxes just to insert a CD.

The B300 shined when it came to our rugged testing. It survived drops onto each of its surfaces and corners straight down onto 2 inches of plywood sitting over concrete from heights between 12 and 48 inches. The aforementioned doors never popped open once, even during the high drops. In addition, the B300 is designed without cooling fans, eliminating another sometimes vulnerable-to-shock component from the overall mix.

In terms of temperature, the B300 survived in the our Rainforest environment, where the average temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is as close to 100 percent as we can get it without rain falling. Given that the B300 is rated for use at temperatures as hot as 140 degrees, this was not too surprising. We did originally question whether a design without fans could survive in the heat, but the B300 had no problem.

A huge advantage to not having open vent covers for fans is apparent in the rugged laptop’s intrusion prevention rating of 65. The six means that it’s rated at the highest point on a scale of 1 to 6 for dust prevention. No dust, no matter how fine, can get into the B300. Running it in lockdown mode proved this. We blew very fine sand through an industrial fan, and it just bounced off the unit. The B300s earned a 5 for its protection against water. To get a 5, some limited penetration is acceptable, but nothing got inside the B300 in our testing. Water simply ran off the waterproof mechanical membrane keyboard. And without any fans, nothing could rush inside anywhere on the unit.

The cost of the B300 varies by configuration. Our unit was at the high end of the scale at $5,028, which is a good value given that it can survive in conditions where most units fail. You wouldn’t buy one to take to the coffee shop, but if you need protection, the B300 offers it. You can configure a lower-performing B300 for as little as $3,799, which mostly changes out the super bright touchscreen display. That might be a good option if you don’t need really need the sunlight-readable display our test model offers but still require the rugged protection.

The B300 is a fast, reasonably portable and highly rugged laptop. We would feel comfortable carrying it anywhere it was needed, from the Alaskan frontier to the deserts of Iraq.