Whenever a rugged laptop comes through our Labs, we find ourselves possessed with a childlike glee as we imagine the fun of testing its strength. So it was with the Polywell Ruffbook M410ic, which kept running even after multiple drops and spills. Unfortunately its reinforced construction is about the only thing to recommend about the Ruffbook M410ic--that, and its low, $1,555 price. Its standard-aspect display, while bright, seems boxy in comparison with most other laptops on the market. Using the laptop's cramped keyboard and unusual touch pad doesn't feel great. And worst of all, though the case is stocked with pretty decent components, the Ruffbook M410ic trailed similarly configured systems on our performance and battery-life tests. If you need your laptop to withstand slightly heavier abuse than the average system but can't afford to spend a penny more, the Ruffbook M410ic might make a decent choice. But if you intend to use your laptop in fairly typical environments (home, office, coffee shop), you'd be better off buying a reasonably sturdy system that still performs well, such as the Lenovo 3000 V100.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,555|
|Processor||2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||100GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 945GM (integrated)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.3x10.1x1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches (standard aspect)|
|System weight / weight with AC adapter||5.8 / 6.6 pounds|
We've seen our fair share of ruggedized laptops, from the slightly tougher-than-usual int="/Dell_Latitude_ATG_D620/4505-3121_7-32311414.html">Dell Latitude ATG D620 to the truly rugged--and expensive--Panasonic ToughBook 74. While these other manufacturers list the specific abuses their rugged laptops can withstand, Polywell sticks to such generic phrases as "drop, shock, and spill resistant." As it happens, the lack of defined limits only enhanced the rush we felt while torturing this laptop. We started off easy, dropping it from about a foot off the ground onto a carpeted floor. Then from three feet onto carpet; then from four feet, on its side, and at awkward angles. We thought we might be taking it a little too easy, so we dropped it from one, three, and four feet onto a hardwood floor (afraid of putting a divot in the floor, we kept this to pretty much a straight drop). We also knocked a cup of water and then a cup of coffee onto the keyboard--on purpose, really!--with no effect other than damp keys. We've had traditional laptops go to sleep after lesser abuses, and while these unscientific tests can't simulate the effects of prolonged rugged conditions, we do think the Ruffbook's magnesium case and spill-resistant keyboard will bring peace of mind to users whose job conditions or lack of coordination have destroyed other laptops.
Unfortunately those fortifications seem partly to blame for the Ruffbook's slightly heavy weight. While still falling within the range of a thin-and-light, the Ruffbook M410ic is almost heavy enough to qualify as a midsize laptop. We imagine its 5.8-pound weight would take its toll on our shoulders if we had to carry it every day.
While most of the laptop industry has moved to wide screens with sharp resolutions, the Ruffbook M410ic features a 14.1-inch display with a standard 1,024x768 native resolution. The boxy screen lacks the glossy finish found on more entertainment-focused notebooks, which is great for working with documents and spreadsheets but less exciting for watching DVDs. Though it'll do for watching a movie on the plane, the video had to be letterboxed to fit the square screen. We were impressed, however, with the Ruffbook's screen brightness. Though it measured a somewhat paltry 123 cd/m^2 on our luminance meter, we could still comfortably read onscreen text while sitting in direct sunlight.
The boxy shape of the Ruffbook M410ic demands a somewhat cramped keyboard. We had to adjust our typing to adapt to a shortened space bar and small Ctrl, Enter, Shift, Caps Lock, and Tab keys, among others. Such adjustment isn't usually necessary on a thin-and-light with a wide-screen display that features a more rectangular than square shape. We were also frustrated by how easy it is to accidentally graze the touch pad and misplace the cursor while typing; a touch pad on/off switch would be greatly appreciated. The pad itself has a gritty finish that feels a bit uncomfortable when you drag a finger across it--though we did like the responsive, rubberized activation buttons. The rest of the keyboard deck is remarkably Spartan, with just a power button and a button to control the wireless radio above the keyboard. Two speakers on the lower corners of the keyboard deck emit balanced but tinny sound.
The Polywell Ruffbook M410ic has a more or less average selection of ports and connections for a thin-and-light laptop, with a few unexpected extras. We particularly like the integrated smart card reader, which lets you add a level of security beyond just passwords. There's also a serial port for those few users still working with older peripherals. We only wish, given the likelihood of the Ruffbook straying far from traditional office environments, that Polywell offered WWAN connectivity as an option. (You can, however, slip your carrier's WWAN card into the Ruffbook's PC Card slot.) We also wish the laptop's three USB ports were spread out around the case instead of clustered side by side, which can lead to cord crowding.
|Polywell Ruffbook M410ic||Average for thin-and-light category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, serial port, multiformat memory card reader, smart card reader||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card||PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||Modem, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Despite its rather competitive components, the Ruffbook M410ic posted some rather lackluster scores on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, trailing a $1,699 Lenovo 3000 V100 and a $1,899 Toshiba Tecra M5, both of which feature nearly identical components. Particularly troubling are the results from our iTunes encoding test, which taxes the processor almost exclusively; though all three laptops run on a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor, the Ruffbook finished 90 seconds after its competitors. One possible explanation: the Ruffbook is built on a Twinhead International chipset, while the Toshiba and the Lenovo are built on an Intel chipset--a distinction that can affect how the computer distributes processes. Whatever the cause, the trade-off for the Ruffbook M410ic's semirugged construction seems to be less-than-ideal performance.
Sadly, the Polywell Ruffbook M410ic continued underachieving when it came to battery life. The laptop's standard six-cell battery died out just short of 2 hours on our resource-intensive DVD battery drain tests. Though it held out 10 minutes longer than the Tecra M5, the Ruffbook couldn't even compete with the Lenovo 3000 V100's lengthy 2 hour, 28-minute battery life.
The Polywell Ruffbook M410ic ships with a one-year parts, five-year labor warranty as well as toll-free phone support for the lifetime of the product. The catch? The phone support line is open only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday to Friday, though an upgrade to one year of 24-7 support costs a reasonable $35. The company's support site includes an exhaustive, if chaotic, directory of driver downloads and the chance to chat in real time with a support rep during the hours listed above.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)