When you’re going to put a mobile computer on the shop floor, you want to make sure it will last. You’d ideally like to make sure that it will stand up to whatever rigors the environment and regular use will require—but how can you be sure?

A lot of laptop computer marketing throws around the word “rugged,” but is there any way to know whether a particular computer is really rugged? The answer is yes—if you pay attention to a few letters and a couple of numbers.


One of the things often seen around claims of rugged construction is “MIL-spec,” but what does that mean, exactly, aside from olive drab or black paint and extra ribs in the cover design? It can mean quite a lot, actually, if you make sure that the marketing phrase is accompanied by “MIL-STD 810G.”

MIL-STD 810G can incorporate any of eight test methods for different threats. They are:

  • Method 501.5—High temperature
  • Method 502.5—Low temperature
  • Method 506.5—Rain (will a driving rain send water into the device?)
  • Method 507.5—Humidity
  • Method 510.5—Sand and dust
  • Method 512.5—Immersion (in liquid)
  • Method 514.6—Vibration
  • Method 516.6—Shock

The most common of these that manufacturers use is 516.6—designed to mimic an item falling off the back of a truck. The most complicated is 514.6, a method that runs to over 80 pages of specification. But if the description of a system includes language like “meets MIL-STD shock standards,” then you can be assured the system is rugged in that direction.

Beyond MIL-STD

Two of the MIL-STD methods aren’t the most rigorous standards available. When it comes to sand and dust, and immersion in liquid, you want to look for the IP rating.

The IP (International Protection) rating is a two-digit number that can tell you just how well sealed the unit is against dust and water intrusion.

You’ll see the number on a label as something like “IP67,” where the first number represents how well the device is sealed against dust, and the second represents how well it resists water.

The highest possible rating is IP68—meaning that the device is sealed against both dust and water.

Sometimes you’ll see an IP rating that has an “X” in one of the digits. That “X” means the device wasn’t tested for either dust or water resistance. It all depends on just how armor-plated your rugged system needs to be.

And that’s the real issue that has to be decided. Rugged capabilities come at a set of costs:

  • Increased price
  • Increased weight
  • Larger size
  • Reduced usability

When you put together the specifications for your rugged system, make sure that you buy a computer that’s as rugged as the job requires—not as rugged as possible. Your users and your bank account will thank you.

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