Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme: a hardhat laptop for rough work environments

A fully rugged Dell Latitude laptop for miners, law enforcement, military, and any other harsh environments that chew up and spit out regular laptops

After two years of research and development, Dell has come out with a fully rugged Latitude notebook that’s designed for use in field work where normal laptops might not be able to survive.

The Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme represents a new product direction for Dell. While it has had semi-rugged products for a while, such as its ATG range of Latitude laptops, this is the first time that the company has offered a product that can take a barrage of punishment and yet continue to function.

The Latitude Rugged Extreme is a 14in laptop that’s built using a combination of impact-resistant polymers and magnesium alloy. It’s a product that carries an IP65 rating for water and dust ingress, and it has gone through MIL-STD-810G testing for shocks and temperature variations.

Basically, it’s a unit that’s waterproof (though not fully submersible), dustproof, shockproof, and capable of withstanding hot and cold climates. It can be used outside on rainy days, in environments where dust and dirt can’t be avoided, and in places where knocks might be common (mounted in a vehicle, for example). Furthermore, the construction materials that have been used allow it to be used in some environments where hazardous materials are present.

Its specifications as a laptop are typical: you get your choice of a fourth generation Intel Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 CPU, up to 16GB of RAM, optional Nvidia GeForce graphics, and up to 512GB of solid state storage. It’s what’s present around the edges of the laptop that creates a point of differentiation.

The usual flaps and seals are there to make sure all the ports and slots are covered securely when they are not in use (usual as far as rugged products are concerned, that is), and these ports and slots include those that are modern (USB 3.0, USB 2.0, SD, and HDMI), in addition to some throwback technology.

You get a VGA port for connecting to projectors and older monitors and TVs, but that’s not even the oldest port on offer. In fact, the Latitude features two serial ports that are native. These are said to still be in high demand in certain fields where diagnostics from machines need to be downloaded, or transfers from meters and other devices need to be made. Two Ethernet ports are also present, which allows for more secure networking.

As a rugged product, the Latitude Rugged Extreme is a bulky product, and it needs to be in order to incorporate all of the protections for its internal components. The outside shell acts as a fortress for those components, complete with a carry handle, and there is a rhyme and reason to the way it has been shaped. For example, Dell had feedback from customers who wanted a product that could stand up on its own like a briefcase, so it incorporated flat sides which give the laptop that capability.

Other design features are of a more technical nature, such as the inclusion of three pass-through antennas, which Dell claims is one more than its competition offers. On the Latitude Rugged Extreme, there are pass-through antennas for the GPS, mobile broadband, and Wi-Fi modules (it’s 802.11ac). Dell said it has also borrowed inspiration from the automotive industry by incorporating Direct-View LCD technology in the screen in order to make it usable in bright outdoor conditions.

The screen resolution is 1366x768, which is low when you compare it to many consumer laptops, but this is the most commonly supported resolution for the sectors that Dell is targeting with this rugged laptop. The screen also has touch capability, but it’s of a resistive nature, and this means that it can be used effectively even while a user is wearing gloves.

Despite being a fully rugged product, Dell said the water resistant keyboard on the Latitude E6420 XFR has been designed to feel normal, rather than like mushy rubber, and it’s a backlit board that can be used to type easily in dark environments. At the product’s demonstration in Sydney, the laptop was shown sitting in a glass tank, and then had dirt and water thrown on it from the top. The dirt and water was mashed into the keyboard a little and then brushed off. The keyboard still worked while being a dirty mess.

Dell said that it has an advantage in offering a rugged product to its customers: the Latitude Rugged Extreme has 80 per cent of the DNA and components of regular Latitude models, and to an administrator who is looking after these machines, it will look like just another Latitude running a standard image. The machine supports vPro management (for the Core i5 and i7 models), and, just like most Dell products, there are various support and service options that can be considered.

Security includes TPM, optional fingerprint reader, Dell encryption tools, and SmartCard reader facilities (including contactless capability). The battery has six cells and a 65 Watt-hour rating, with options including a 9-cell, 97 Watt-hour battery, and long life cycle batteries. The starting weight of the Latitude Rugged Extreme with the standard 6-cell battery is 3.81kg.

A smaller, Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme product is also being offered by Dell. This is a hybrid product with an 11.6in screen that can be flipped around in its frame to turn the unit into a tablet. It’s the same principle as the Dell XPS 12 hybrid, but in a rugged enclosure.

Product photos

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Elias Plastiras
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