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Itronix GoBook

For when the going gets really tough (July 2001 issue)

We reviewed Itronix' line of "Cross Country" computers in our August 1996 and April 1999 issues. Both times the compact, sturdily built notebooks impressed with their combination of performance and bulldog-like ruggedness. The 1996 and the 1999 versions actually looked pretty much the same--no need to mess with a successful platform that was right from the start. What did change was the underlying technology. The 96' X-C 6000 had a 50MHz 486 processor, a 260MB PC Card hard drive, and an 8.2-inch reflective monochrome screen. The 99' model was much more advanced, sporting a 200MHz Pentium MMX processor, an internal 3.2GB 2.5-inch hard disk, and a 10.4-inch SVGA TFT color screen. We congratulated Itronix for keeping its rugged notebooks technologically updated.

Time, however, does not stand still. Technology and marketing conditions change more quickly than ever. New generations of relatively inexpensive handheld devices are gradually replacing Windows 9x-based notebooks and tablets. Itronix is well prepared in that arena with two Windows CE devices--the T5200 mini notebook and the FEX21 that came with the acquisition of Husky--and a trio of flashlight-style handhelds that also originated at Husky. The venerable X-C 6250 soldiers on as the 6250 Pro, now powered by a 300MHz GXm processor. That choice of processor, plus the switch to a more powerful 4,500Ahr battery indicates that the 6250 Pro has been optimized for the longest possible battery life at acceptable speed. That's because its role within Itronix' lineup has changed since the introduction of the GoBook.

Likely conceived as an answer to Panasonic's line of rugged, yet stylish Toughbooks, the GoBook is larger and sleeker than the utilitarian Cross Country clamshells. It has the roughly 12 x 10-inch footprint of a standard notebook and the kind of large, bright color screen that seemingly no one wants to do without these days. Don't let the more civilian looks fool you, though: the GoBook is one tough, mean magnesium machine with nary a piece of plastic in sight. All structural components are die-cast magnesium and the entire device is built to withstand water, shock, drops, and temperature extremes that would kill most standard notebooks in an instant. To meet one of the dreaded MIL-SPEC tests, the GoBook had to survive 26 3-foot drops--almost unimaginable for an almost seven pound notebook with a 12.1-inch TFT screen. Yet, somehow the GoBook did manage to survive. As mentioned above, it is also billed to pass a number of other MIL-SPEC 810E tests for water resistance, dust and vibration. Add to that a temperature operating range from minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit all the way to 140 degree Fahrenheit and you have a piece of equipment that can likely take more abuse than its human operator.

Though at first site the GoBook looks pretty much like an ordinary notebook, closer examination quickly reveals how Itronix' flagship managed to pass all those tests. The "NiteVue"keyboard, for example, is a fully waterproof affair made from ivory-colored phosphorescent plastic. Even in complete darkness, the black letters on the white keys are completely visible and the keyboard is neither too bright nor too dark. Top-of-the-line IBM ThinkPads now sport a little spotlight that illuminates the keyboard. A clever idea, but it doesn't come close to Itronix' solution.

As you look at the GoBook from all sides, you will see that all ports are completely sealed via very sturdy plastic doors with foam rubber moldings. The hinges of these doors are made of metal and unlikely to break (and actually rated for 30,000+ openings and closings). Finally, there is no way that any of those doors will inadvertently pop open. Each is securely held in place with not one but two spring-loaded locks that need to be pulled in opposite direction in order to pry open the door. All individual connectors are sealed with rubber plugs attached to the unit so that they won't get lost.

Speaking of ports and connectors, while some manufacturers of very rugged computers seek to minimize the number of ports to cut down on potential entry points for water and dust, GoBook users will never feel like they had to accept a compromise. The left side of the GoBook features speaker and microphone jacks and a Type II or III PC Card slot. In the back you find a RJ-11 modem jack and a RJ-45 jack for the optional 10/100 Ethernet LAN card. There's a USB port and a PS/2 port for a mouse, and a bank of full-size parallel, serial, and VGA ports. On the right side you'll find an expansion bay that can accommodate a floppy drive, a 24X CD-ROM drive, an 8X DVD-ROM drive or a spare battery. And in the front are two speakers for that on-the-road stereo sound.

While many rugged computers maintain a respectful distance to the state-of-the-art, Itronix made liberal use of leading edge technology while maintaining a sensible balance between features, performance, usability and reliability. The GoBook uses a 600MHz Intel Celeron processor that provides spritely performance. Itronix documentation also indicates the availability of a 700MHz Mobile Pentium III CPU. Both processors are low voltage designs that use 0.18 micro process technology and a 100MHz bus. The Pentium III is more powerful thanks to a newer architecture (the Celeron uses the Pentium II core) and 256k versus 128k onboard L2 cache. In real life, a clean, streamlined system software setup is far more important than such minute processor differences. Itronix claims that additional processor upgrades will become available. The standard 64MB of RAM can be upgraded to 256MB. RAM upgrade slots are below a cover on the bottom of the GoBook. The same expansion bay also contains a modem/Ethernet slot that in our test unit was occupied by an ActionTec MP100IM modem/LAN combo card. Disk storage comes in the form of shock-mounted 2.5-inch drives, mounted in a separate suspension cradle under the keyboard, with capacities of 6 (standard), 10, or 20GB. The battery is a "smart"5400mAh Lithium-Ion pack. The optional secondary Li-Ion battery that fits into the expansion bay has a capacity of 3000mAh. The main battery can be replaced in suspend mode without rebooting.

Itronix has years of experience in providing wireless communication in rugged devices. That experience shows in the seamless, interference-shielded integration of a variety of radio options into the GoBook. Wireless modules supporting CDPD, Motient,, Cingular, GSM or wireless LANs are housed in a special wireless bay accessible through the bottom of the GoBook. The flexible 6-inch rubber antenna is permanently mounted at the right top of the LCD cover.

The GoBook's 12.1-inch color SVGA LCD seems almost small in this day and age of 14.1-inch and 15-inch notebook screens. How spoiled we've become. Just a few years ago, the kind of ultra-bright, crisp 12.1-inch screen would have seemed a miracle of technology. Even today, it's definitely large enough (Apple's celebrated new iBook has a 12 inch screen) and the good part of the 800 x 600 resolution is that everything is large enough to easily read even under less than ideal conditions. Antiglare coating provides a degree of outdoor readability. While the big LCD likely remains one of the more vulnerable parts of the GoBook, its magnesium back and dual shock absorption layers provide decent protection. All GoBooks come standard with both a passive touchscreen and a touchpad with three-button control.

The name GoBook suggests dynamic mobility and you can indeed take it almost anywhere. Though it doesn't come with a handle, there are two heavy duty metal rings so you can attach a carry handle or shoulder strap. These may be needed for longer outings because with a footprint of 12 x 9.8 inches, a depth of 2.2 inches, and a weight of 7.5 pounds, the GoBook is a substantial piece of equipment. For those who need to use their computer in a car or truck, there is an optional "drop-in"vehicle dock that provides secure mounting, two USB ports, an external RF antenna, and recharging.

As I am looking at the Itronix GoBook I cannot help but marvel at how far we've come in rugged computing. This Itronix machine provides all the desktop computing power I need, yet it's also tough enough to serve as a high tech computing and decision support tool in the harshest environments. And once the work is done, you can even pop in a DVD and watch a movie. Amazing. - -

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Processor 600MHz Intel Celeron or 700MHz Pentium III
OS Windows 98/2000
Memory 64-256MB RAM
Display 12.1" SVGA TFT with anti-glare coating
Digitizer Pressure-sensitive panel
Storage 6/10/20GB Hard Drive, 24X CD-ROM
Size 12.0 x 9.8 x 2.2 inches
Weight 7.5 lbs (base unit including battery pack)
Power 5.4AH "Smart" Li-Ion
Interface RJ11, RJ45. USB, PS/2, S/P, Video, Mic, Speaker
Options Wireless radios, vehicle docks, floppy, DVD, 2nd battery
Price US$4,496 (600MHz Celeron), US$4,845 (700MHZ Pentium III)
Contact Itronix www.itronix.com