Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14


GammaTech Durabook SA14

Attractively priced semi-rugged 14-inch notebook with high-performance Intel 3rd generation Core processors, good connectivity, and numerous customization options

(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer; photography by Carol Cotton)

The GammaTech Durabook SA14 was announced in April 2013 as a modern laptop solution for customers who need more durability and ruggedness than consumer notebooks generally provide, but still at an affordable price. GammaTech also sought to make available a product that could easily easily be adapted to a wide range of applications and environments. Right upfront: the starting MSRP of the Durabook SA14 is US$1,499, which is about twice as much as that of a consumer notebook, but only about half as much as a dedicated vertical market rugged notebook. The comparatively low price certainly makes it attractive. But where does this Durabook fit in?

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14

At, we’re often asked what laptop is best for challenging jobs. Almost always, the answer is «it depends.» Unlike consumer notebooks which generally live sheltered lives in homes, offices, and perhaps a trip or two, rugged and semi-rugged computers may encounter a very wide variety of conditions. Those conditions can range from mild (like use in a field office) to demanding (such as use in a vehicle) to extreme. Consumer-grade is inexpensive but may break. Extreme extra costs and generally means compromise in weight and features. Deciding on the right notebook for a job can be like choosing between a costly, hardened offroad vehicle or a less expensive standard SUV. The folks at GammaTech USA know that and have always offered in addition to their dedicated rugged systems, a range of durable and semi-rugged systems that do the job without breaking the bank. As of summer 2013, those offerings are the Durabook S15C (see our review ), and the Durabook SA14. The SA14 is heavier and feels tougher than the larger S15C but how is suitable it for GammaTech’s intended markets in «military, field service, transportation, public safety and utilities sectors»?

The Durabook SA14 — overview

The GammaTech Durabook SA14 is a almost full-size notebook with a 14.0-inch wide-format screen. It measures 13.5 x 9.65 (without the handle) x 1.85 inches and weighs almost eight pounds, making it thicker and quite a bit heavier than a standard consumer notebook. The design is purposeful in a no-nonsense sort of way, without any needless bling and trim. The look captures this Durabook’s mission of providing mobile computing power in a package significantly tougher than any consumer laptop.

All the conveniences and features of a consumer notebook are there: a very legible full-size keyboard, a large and reasonably quick hard disk (ours had 750GB a), a DVD super multi drive, a wealth of card readers (PC Card, SD Card, Smart Card, SIM), enough memory (up to 16GB of speedy DDR3), and plenty of onboard connectivity both wired and wireless. GammaTech always offers your choice of late-model Intel processors, and for the SA14 customers have their choice of two 3rd generation («Ivy Bridge») Core i5 and an i7 chip. Our review unit came with the high-end 2.9 GHz Core i7-3520M dual-core processor.

The Durabook SA14 has a magnesium alloy chassis, very solid display hinges, protective corner bumpers, and it feels exceedingly solid. All ports and card slots are behind protective doors. Note, however, that this is not a fully sealed machine. Its IP53 ingress protection rating means it can handle spills and some rain, but there are ventilation slots at the bottom. That’s what semi-rugged means a good deal of protection, but not total immunity to the elements.

Design, look, and feel — subdued elegance

Below you can see the GammaTech Durabook SA14 from the top and all four sides. The heavy magnesium alloy chassis means the computer doesn’t flex twist and like standard plastic consumer laptops. The body of the SA14 is a very dark matte gray, the top of the LCD case is a dark matte silver-gray with a designated logo area (GammaTech machines often sell in rebadged versions). The top of the LCD case is contoured to add extra stiffness. It also projects the tough tool-for-the-job look common in most semi — and fully rugged notebooks. The heavy-duty LCD hinges offer good resistance when opening and closing the computer. When you close the lid, two small metal knobs fit into receptacles on the main body, securing the LCD case in place when in closed position. To open the notebook again, you push a spring-loaded lock.

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14

Ports and connectivity are located on the left and right sides, and the back of the computer. The ports on each side are located behind a single cover that protects against physical damage and also provides a good degree of protection against dust and liquids.

The two pictures below show a more detailed view of the left and right side of the Durabook SA14.

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14

On the left side (above), from left to right, are the unit’s super multi DVD reader/writer, two USB 3.0 ports, and the microphone and earphone jacks.

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14

On the right side. from left to right, you can see the main battery compartment and then a large I/O block that includes a PC Card Type II slot, an SD Card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, an RJ45 LAN jack, and, above them, a Smart Card reader.

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14

On the back of the machine, again from left to right is the heat exchanger, then a Kensington lock slot, a standard HDMI port, a VGA port, and a legacy DB9 RS223 serial port.

Below you can see how the Durabook SA14 provides easy access to its interior via a large removable bottom plate. Embossed labels on the outside show what lies underneath: mSATA, WWAN, WLAN, DDR and CPU. The cover is held in place with eleven small Philips head screws, so passing rascals could not just pop open a cover and abscond with plug-in modules. Note that the cover has a good number of ventilation slots where water can easily get in. Remember, this is a spill-resistant laptop, but not a sealed one!

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14

Once the cover is removed, you can see the copper heat tubing that removes heat from the powerful Intel processor to the heat exchanger/fan assembly. Good thermal management is crucial in high-performance notebooks designed to be used in a variety of operating temperatures, and it’s good to see that GammaTech paid attention to thermal management.

Above the fan are two RAM slots. Our review machine came with two 2GB Samsung sticks. The right lower corner has a compartment reserved for an optional mSATA module. This can be used in conjunction with a hard disk to implement Intel Rapid Start Technology for very fast resume from hibernate mode (which doesn’t use any power at all). Presumably the slot can also be used to run the SA14 from an mSATA SSD in configurations where the media bay is used for a second battery instead of the hard disk caddy.

Above the mSATA area is a compartment that contains two PCIe slots. One is used for WiFi, the other optional for WWAN. Both have prewired antenna leads. The compartment also contains a SIM card slot, and you can also see the externally accessible SD Card slot.

The hard drive is located inside a black plastic box that fits flush into the recessed compartment on the upper left. The disk in our unit was a 750GB Toshiba MQ01ABD (see product page ) dual-platter 2.5-inch design rotating at 5,400 rpm with a mean time to failure of 600,000 hours. Its operating temperature of 41 to 131F may be limiting factor in cold environments. We’d have liked to see a bit more cushioning inside the disk’s case, and also rubber mounts. The assembly is designed to quickly be removed from the laptop (which is sometimes a requirement in some enterprise and government settings). The disk caddy is locked and unlocked via a friction lever. It is not likely to come lose unintentionally (in fact, it took a bit of force to pry it out). Note that this compartment also has battery connector and can be used for a second battery instead. In such a configuration, the laptop would presumably run off an mSATA SSD.

We ставимося’t dismantle the SA14 further, but just by removing the module compartment cover you can see the magnesium alloy chassis of the SA14. While many mobile devices have strong but almost delicate mganesium alloy chassis or subframes, the one in the SA14 is thick and sturdy and solid as a tank. This is one tough machine inside.

Keyboard and touch pad — pleasant

Rugged PC, Rugged Notebooks: GammaTech Durabook SA14
The Durabook SA14’s keyboard is full-scale and has 86 keys. The key design is standard notebook (as opposed to the «chiclet» style keys often found in rugged machines) and the black keys are with white letters, numbers and symbols. Functions are indicated in blue. The keyboard has a blueish-white backlight that’s activated via one of the function keys. It nicely outlines individual keys and lights up the white main and shifted key labels, but not the blue function labels.

Below the keyboard is the unit’s touch pad. It is a properly sized and flush-mounted affair with a slight frame so your fingers feel the extent of the pad, and with two large and very responsive mouse buttons in front of it. along the right side is an integrated scroll area with a slightly different texture. The touch pad is a pleasure to use, but it can’t be operated with gloves on (though it does pick up through some materials, like suede).

There are four buttons above the keyboard. The triangular one to the left is the stealth mode button that can be configured to instantly turn off the screen and all lights, or it can be set to night vision mode where the screen is just barely visible. Next to it is the desktop key, then a programmable function key, and finally a wireless on/off key.

Performance — excellent

Performance in rugged mobile computers often means a compromise between speed, size, weight, battery life and thermal management. This being an almost full-size semi-rugged computer, GammaTech decided to go for superior performance at the cost of including a fan and a large battery. Customers have their choice of some very powerful standard voltage 3rd generation Intel i5 and Core i7 processors. These are Intel 3rd generation «Ivy Bridge» processors, which means not only great overall speed, but also very acceptable graphics performance (and GammaTech offers an optional discrete AMD Radeon E6760 MXM graphics module — see here ), excellent power management, and superior data transfer speeds via USB 3.0 and PCIe 3.0. Some of the documentation suggests there’s a choice between the Intel HM76 chipset and the QM77, where the latter supports some additional Intel technologies such as vPro, Active Management, Trusted Execution, etc. From what we can tell, as of this writing (July 2013), GammaTech offered the following Intel processor options:

GammaTech Durabook SA14: Intel processor options

Короткий опис статті: mxm graphics

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