The road brings challenges to those who must travel it and to the equipment that travels it as well. The last thing a sales person, engineer, producer or reporter needs is failure from the most complex tool they may carry — a laptop computer — when trying to work from a remote location. GammaTech Computer Corp. builds the Durabook line to help reduce a few of the physical worries that come from life on the road and provide more than enough processing power to handle the challenges and complexity of the road.
I had a chance to test a Durabook D14RM for a few months. It was loaded with almost every option available: Vista Business, 2 GB of RAM, a 320 GB hard drive and an Intel P4500 processor running at 2.1 GHz.
Paul works away at a remote location with his Durabook. When you take the D14RM from the packing material, you can't help noticing the construction of the case first thing. It's made from a composite material that is 20 times stronger than ABS plastic. A good thing, since the carrying case I was using for the Durabook was accidentally yanked off my shoulder while going through a turnstile at the Greenbelt, Md. Metrorail station. It crashed to the floor. When I checked the machine, the laptop booted immediately and I was able to send e-mails as though nothing happened.
What about other challenges in the real world, like an accidental spill on the keyboard? While not completely waterproof, the Durabook will shake off an accidental small spill of water on the keyboard and continue to operate. Operating outside? I set up outdoors in a campsite where the temperature fell to 50 degrees, and the Durabook continued to work. There are rubber covers for every port on the Durabook D14, which also help to keep dust, dirt and drops of water away from the electronics. The physical security of the unit is also backed by standard fingerprint recognition software and sensor, and standard CompuTrace which is loaded in the machine's BIOS. That means that the average computer thief will not know that the Durabook with CompuTrace can be monitored on line. There is also provision for a standard Kensington security cable and lock.
The D14RM can be ordered with four powered USB 2.0 ports, a webcam, DVD burner and an option for 3G/4G wireless. I used a Sprint Sierra Wireless 597 USB card to work with 3G — which I used to transmit submissions literally from the side of the road to CBS News in New York for the hourly newscasts early on "Black Friday" in November. The Durabook has standard 802.11 abgn capabilities for wireless networks and an Ethernet port. They all worked well at the ad hoc wireless network at the NASCAR press hotel and on a wired Ethernet network at Homestead-Miami Speedway for pre-race and post-race coverage.
If one is setting up an ad hoc newsroom in a hotel room, the sound from reporters can be ingested into the audio editing program with the USB ports from thumb drives or machines, from the onboard card reader, the analog input jack and with the Bluetooth option, any Bluetooth device (such as the JK Audio Daptor Three, for instance). I also used a Marshall Electronics MicMatePro as a microphone interface and sound card.
With such a quick processor, no issues arose with Audacity (my usual audio editing program). Half a gig more of processor speed does make a difference in the speed of cutting audio, watching video, and with a fast enough connection, Web surfing.
The test laptop was equipped with a six cell Li-Ion battery. Vista has a utility which allows users to select between power schemes that maximize battery life or performance. I selected a scheme which balanced performance and battery life, and was able to get a consistent two and a half hours of running on batteries before I had to recharge.
The DVD player would play Blu-ray discs, and export the video through an optional HDMI port — which means that the laptop should process HD video. So a sophisticated HD sales presentation can easily be played for a client by connecting the optional HDMI port to the client's video display. The Cyberlink 7 DVD suite (standard) has a basic non-linear video editing program, which can be used to assemble that sales or promotional presentation in much the same manner as I'd use Audacity to assemble radio programs. With the webcam and 3/4G wireless, an engineer could take the Durabook to the transmitter site and video chat with tech support if necessary.
The only agitation during our test came from the operating system — and that is certainly not the fault of GammaTech but rather Microsoft. Though Vista had some neat features, it seemed more complex than it had to be, and it did not allow me to use my regular podcast generation program. My suggestion would be to order this machine with Windows 7. (Editor's Note: According to GammaTech the D14RM now ships with choice of Windows 7 or Vista.)
The Durabook D14RM has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $1,362. As shipped and equipped, the D14RM I tested sold for $1,627. You will see Durabooks in law enforcement vehicles all over the country. I suspect you may begin to see a few of these on the road in broadcast applications. The as-tested price for the D14RM is high, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. The physical protection capability of the unit itself (drop, shock, water and dust resistance, tough outer case) may be enough to justify its purchase.
For information, contact GammaTech in California at (800) 995-8946 or visit www.gammatechusa.com.
Paul Kaminski is the news director for the Motor Sports Radio Network, a contributor for CBS News, Radio, and since 1997, a contributor and columnist for Radio World. His e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.