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HP designs portables to take a punch

The computing giant enters the market for rugged computers with two models it says can withstand extreme military, police or industrial conditions.

Hewlett-Packard is building tougher portable computers.

The computer giant on Thursday unveiled a rugged notebook PC and tablet PC designed to absorb punishment from vibration or shock, repel water during inclement weather--and keep working.

Rugged portable computers occupy a small yet important niche in the pantheon of portable computers. The machines, which are made to stand up to extreme temperatures, dust, water and shock from being dropped, are often used by the U.S. military and businesses in conditions that would destroy other computers.

HP's new machines--the nr3600 notebook and tr3000 tablet--meet a U.S. military requirement to survive a 3-foot drop multiple times onto to concrete covered by plywood, for example.

"After listening to customers in industries such as the public sector, government and law enforcement, we're responding to their needs by bringing rugged, mobile solutions into the mainstream," Ted Clark, vice president for notebook marketing in HP's Personal Systems Group, said in a statement.

The new notebook gets some of its strength from a more durable chassis. Where typical notebooks use plastic, HP's nr3600 relies on magnesium, a fairly lightweight but strong metal. Its hard drive is also mounted inside a special shock-absorbing case.

The nr3600 notebook, which weighs about 8 pounds, comes with a 12.1-inch touch screen display, which HP says is also easy to read outdoors in bright sunlight. Its keyboard glows to make it easier to see in low-light conditions. When closed, it looks like a small suitcase.

The nr3600's most basic configuration includes a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 processor from Intel, 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. It will start at $4,099, an HP representative said in an e-mail.

Tough tablet
HP's Rugged tablet PC tr3000 might fit the bill for customers looking for a smaller, lighter computer. The machine, which weighs 3.7-pounds and comes with an 8.4-inch screen, also has the shockproof hard drive.

The most basic configuration includes a 933MHz ultra-low-voltage Pentium III processor from Intel, 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Because it's a tablet PC, it will also allow people to use a pen to annotate documents or take notes and convert them to text. Its starting price will be $3,449, the representative said.

HP designed both of the computers to accommodate up to three varieties of wireless networking cards, including Wi-Fi and cellular phone technologies such as General Packet Radio Service, at one time.

The computer giant expects that some corporations, as well as the military, police and fire departments, and utility companies, will buy the machines.

Despite being a top notebook seller, HP still a newcomer in the rugged-notebook space. It will face competition from several other companies, including Panasonic, which has been selling a beefed-up notebook line, dubbed the Toughbook, for years.

Panasonic recently released its Toughbook 29, a magnesium chassis notebook that includes a 13.3-inch screen, a low-voltage 1.2GHz Pentium M processor from Intel, a 40GB hard drive and the ability to accommodate numerous wireless networking methods. It sells for about $4,000, according to reseller CDW. Panasonic also sells a rugged handheld, the Toughbook 01.