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Polywell Ruffbook M410ic review: Polywell Ruffbook M410ic

Polywell Ruffbook M410ic

Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
Michelle Thatcher
6 min read
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)
Operating system Windows Vista Business
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
Category Thin-and-light

We've seen our fair share of ruggedized laptops, from the slightly tougher-than-usual 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.


Polywell Ruffbook M410ic

The Good

Inexpensive; able to withstand drops and spills; bright screen is readable in direct sunlight; built-in smart card reader; lifetime phone support.

The Bad

Lousy performance and battery life compared to other similarly configured systems; standard-aspect display seems outdated; keyboard is unnecessarily cramped; touch pad surface feels rough; lacks WWAN option.

The Bottom Line

The Polywell Ruffbook M410ic laptop offers few strengths beyond its sturdy, semirugged construction.

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
Video VGA-out VGA-out, S-Video
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.

Multimedia multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Microsoft Office productivity test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

DVD battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:
HP Compaq 6515b
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.2GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile TL-64; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon Xpress 1270; 120GB Toshiba 5,400rpm SATA/150

Lenovo 3000 V100
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 32MB Mobile Intel Express 945GM ; 100GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Polywell Ruffbook M410ic
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel Express 945GM; 100GB Seagate Momentus 7,200rpm SATA/150

Toshiba Tecra M5-S4333
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS110M; 120GB Toshiba 5400rpm SATA/150


Polywell Ruffbook M410ic

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 5Performance 4Battery 4Support 6