Dell launches its first rugged touch-screen laptop

Dell on Tuesday is expected to launch the tough Latitude E6400 XFR laptop with a touch screen.

Dell on Tuesday is expected to launch the tough Latitude E6400 XFR laptop with a touch screen, which the company claims can withstand drops, dust and high-pressure water sprays.

The rugged laptop was designed according to U.S. military specifications and is being targeted at users such as military personnel and first responders.

The laptop can withstand rain and wind gusts of up 70 miles per hour, and can work in temperatures from -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-33.88 degrees Celsius) to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius), the company claims. It can also work for an hour at an altitude of 15,000 feet.

The laptop is also designed to withstand drops of around 4 feet (48 inches) when not operating and 36 inches when operational. The LCD screen floats a little bit within the LCD cover so it can take impacts and shock, said Jeremy Bolen, a Dell spokesman.

During a laptop demonstration provided by Dell, the laptop weathered jetted water and 3-foot drops while running, but the non-operational 4-foot drop proved to be a problem. After a third drop from 4 feet, the LCD screen's protective plastic cover shattered.

Dell responded to the crack by saying that the demo laptop was a pre-production model that had already been dropped a hundred times. There's a three-year warranty on the machine and a cracked screen will be replaced immediately, Bolen said.

Despite the screen crack, the laptop is protected by a chassis made of ballistic armor, which is a high-strength substance used in ballistic missiles, cryogenics and other military applications. It is a high-end polymer that is two to three times more durable than the magnesium alloy material used on most laptops today, Bolen said.

The laptop also has fixings to tighten laptop components like the smart-card reader and protect USB ports from elements like moisture and dust, Bolen said.

It is Dell's first entrance into the rugged laptop space, where it will compete against companies like Lenovo and Panasonic. The world's second-largest PC maker already offers semi-rugged laptops, including the Latitude E6400 ATG laptop.

The XFR is powered by Intel's Core 2 Duo processor. It has a 14.1-inch screen and weighs 8.5 pounds (3.87 kilograms) with a six-cell battery and a solid-state storage drive. It comes with a graphics card, supports up to 8GB of RAM and up to 120GB of storage on a hard drive or 128GB of SSD storage. It runs Windows Vista and has Wi-Fi, 3G mobile broadband and GPS antennas.

It will be available starting March 10 for about US$4,299 in the U.S., Canada, France, Spain, the U.K., Germany and Italy.

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Agam Shah and Nick Barber

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