Military Laptops: The Definitive Buyer's Guide
THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO BUYING MILITARY LAPTOPS
Military laptops and tablets, used for some of the world’s most challenging work, are considered the standard when maximum durability and high-performance features are required. However, to find the right device, it’s necessary to dig deeper, expanding your search past the designation of “military grade” alone.
This guide has been designed to walk you through the specific requirements for military laptops, whether deployed to land, sea or air, based on Department of Defense (DOD) certifications. It will also examine device characteristics required for demanding applications, secure computing and communications, and ease of use.
When selecting the best military laptop or tablet, several broad, overlapping, criteria should be carefully considered:
Whether military laptops are to be used for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines, certification using military standard MIL-STD-810H and MIL-STD-461G specifications guarantee the durability and electromagnetic compatibility levels of the rugged and semi-rugged devices specified for use by U.S. forces.
The DoD has established these standards together with testing methods specifically for military devices and provided them to computer manufacturers. Tests using these rigorous standards establish a computer’s ability to withstand a wide range of extreme conditions.
Additionally, an Ingress Protection (IP) standard has been established to assess and rate the resistance of certain devices to solids and liquids, like particulate matter, dust, and rain.
Depending on the conditions to which a particular military laptop or tablet will be subjected, it’s important to look for the following durability features:
- Shock-mounted hard drives
- Protective casing
- Compliance with MIL-STD-810H and MIL-STD-461G standards
- Compliance with appropriate IP ratings for specific environments and use of the device
MIL-STD-810H standards, first introduced in 1962, and most recently updated as Revision H in 2019, apply to levels of performance requirements for military computers used on the battlefield and in nature’s extreme conditions. MIL-STD-810H is a lengthy document that contains more than 1,000-pages and includes tests for:
- Shock and Drops. There are eight procedures specified in the standard although the transit drop is most commonly cited. Computers undergo 26 drops, four onto each of its six faces, 12 edges, and eight corners, from up to four feet. Military laptops should have protective casings and shock-mounted hard drives to withstand this type of punishment. Do check the distance a device has been dropped: many computer manufacturers test up to much shorter distances. The As an example, the Panasonic TOUGHBOOK® 55 survives three foot drops, while the TOUGHBOOK 40 survives six-foot drops. The TOUGHBOOK 33 will survive four to five-foot drops if it’s attached to the keyboard.
- Vibration. Vibration occurs through operations and transportation, and especially impact on Air Force equipment whether it is in the air or in the garage where testing and repair of equipment takes place. The testing methods are particularly complicated and take up many pages of the MIL-STD-810H document. Most tests involve laboratory shakers that simulate vibration in various forms. Again, shock-mounted hard drives are necessary to withstand certain levels of vibration.
- Humidity. Testing for humidity simulates conditions that take place during transit, storage, and functionality in adverse environments, and is conducted over three periods of 24 hours. Further testing expands the heat and humidity for short periods of time beyond what is normally found in nature. The latter is considered to be an “aggravated” procedure and is sometimes chosen because it produces results more rapidly.
- Blowing Sand and Dust. Testing is conducted on each surface of the computer for blowing particles for two six-hour cycles at different speeds and temperatures. To simulate proximity to an aircraft, wind speed is increased and larger particles are introduced while the testing time is reduced to 90 minutes for each face of the device.
- Immersion. Devices are tested to see if they are able to withstand being submerged or partially submerged in water, or even withstand being splashed, and function during and after immersion or splashing. The effect of temperature on seals may also be tested. If immersion of more than a meter is required, additional independent testing is required. The TOUGHBOOK 33 is just one of several TOUGHBOOK laptops you can rely on if water is likely to be an issue.
- Water. Military laptops are tested in cold water and what equates to blowing rain for 30 minutes. For those not normally exposed to falling or dripping water, the top surface is exposed for 15 minutes. Devices are also tested for resistance to splashing, immersion, or partial immersion. IP ratings designate the level of protection. An IP65 rating indicates that the device has a rating of 6, meaning that it is dust resistant. The 5 indicates resistance to spraying and blowing water. IP testing will also indicate the effect of water temperature on the seals.
- High Temperatures. First, devices are exposed while turned off to test the durability of the materials used for manufacture at high temperatures. They are then turned on to determine resistance to heat while running. If intended to be used near an artificial heat source, they will be exposed to a constant temperature for a period of time.To simulate real-world conditions, the temperature is cycled from 86 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees. An additional procedure determines durability after being stored in high temperatures.
- Low Temperatures. The device first undergoes a test to determine its capability to be stored at low temperatures. Then it is tested to assess how it will function at low temperatures. The temperature is gradually lowered and the device is kept at that temperature for at least a two-hour period to see if it continues to function. Finally, the viability and ease of setting up and disassembling the device while wearing heavy cold-weather gear is assessed.
- Keyboard durability. Through testing, keyboards must withstand 25 million keystrokes.
- Electromagnetic compatibility is covered by the second military standard, MIL-STD-461G.
MIL-STD-461G certification assures that devices do not generate unwanted electromagnetic energy that interferes with the function of nearby equipment. Nor will the laptop be susceptible to electromagnetic energy from nearby equipment.
Cybersecurity is taking on a new and higher level of importance at the DOD. In fact, there is serious consideration of managing cyber warfare and threats at the highest level of command structure. While such elevation may or may not be implemented, the mere suggestion indicates the military considers cybersecurity to be a top-level concern.
As a result, National Intelligence and military leaders have been calling for new approaches to managing and securing information. There is no doubt that such protection must begin at the device level.
As long ago as 2013, in a report, Improvements Needed With Tracking and Configuring Army Commercial Mobile Devices, the Inspector General called for improvements in tracking and configuring commercial mobile devices, stating that the Army should “develop clear and comprehensive policy to include requirements for reporting and tracking all CMDs.”
Rest assured that no less attention is being given to non-commercial rugged and semi-rugged devices with mobile capabilities.
According to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in its 2019 Worldwide Three Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, “Our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly use cyber capabilities—including cyber espionage, attack, and influence—to seek political, economic, and military advantage over the United States and its allies and partners.”
While the DOD continues to update its policies and cyber strategy in an attempt to dictate user behavior, purchasers should look for the following security specs when purchasing any military device:
- Trusted platform module (TPM) security chip.This small piece of hardware authenticates passwords, encryption keys, and digital certificates.
- Theft protection agent in the bios. The presence of this feature will help recover data due to lost or stolen laptops.
- Cable lock slot. The ability to lock the laptop with rubberized metal cable is a barrier against theft.
- Password security. As a minimum requirement, check to be certain any military laptop can be password-secured at the device level.
- Fingerprint scanner. In the event of policies requiring biometric security measures, check for options such as fingerprint scanners.
- Attention to optical drives. When optical storage such as CD and DVD is a must, DOD and other levels of policy will dictate specific security measures. Understand these requirements ahead of time before you buy.
- FIPS 140 compliance. Levels within the Federal Information Processing Standard FIPS 140 indicate degrees of tamper evidence or resistance as well as modes of user authentication.
Even if a military PC is durable and possesses the highest security standards, none of those features matter unless the laptop is capable of high-performance computing. When running power applications that require speed and memory, or when battery power is needed to last throughout an extended work cycle, performance counts more than many people imagine.
When determining performance requirements for military laptop needs, consider the following features:
- Dual processors. Dual processors allow efficient execution of programs and multitasking. This is critical in the field when personnel may need to run applications and use communication software concurrently. Look for dual processors that exhibit low power consumption.
- Access to multiple cellular networks. Depending on a single 3G cellular network can be inconvenient and even risky. Determine the availability of embedded or optional Gobi technology or mobile broadband to bridge the gap.
- Expandable memory. Consider laptops that come with generous RAM as a standard feature. Determine if the memory is expandable in case of future or unexpected computing needs.
- Battery operation. Expect a full day’s worth of battery power. Look for hot-swappable options when appropriate.
Look for features that appeal to the user’s senses. To effectively employ a device, the user must be able to clearly view the contents of the screen as well as hear audio when required. Also, military users will frequently use their laptops in the field for long periods of time, so compactness and ergonomics are key attributes.
The following features should be taken into account to ensure maximum usability:
- Screen display. Viewing conditions can be unpredictable in battlefield or reconnaissance settings. Look for night-time and direct sunlight viewing conditions with high definition and adequate screen size.
- Touch Screen and touchpad. An oversized, electrostatic touchpad that allows scrolling, with multi-touch (tap, pinch to zoom, and paging) are important features to have in the field. The ability to use a stylus should also be included.
- Integrated speaker. Integrated speakers are a must-have in order to maintain device compactness and ease of use. In addition, the user should have the ability to control volume from the keyboard.
- Interface capabilities. Numerous features, such as serial, USB and Ethernet ports, along with ports for headphones and speakers, microphone and external audio may be required. Determine which are needed for the particular environment the device will be used in. Most, if not all may be standard on the device.
- Ergonomic features. Because military personnel may be standing while using a laptop, look for features such as a shoulder strap with some elasticity and dome support for the palm of the hand.
- Safety and convenience. For a firm grasp during adverse weather conditions or per user preference, consider a device with a built-in or detachable handle.
For example, the Navy requires custom-configured notebook PCs configured specifically for submarine use while Marines may have broad requirements depending on whether the devices will be deployed via land, ship, air, or a tactical vehicle.
The value of a military laptop is a function of the price, reliability, longevity, and the usefulness of the device. The overall industry failure rate, according to PC Magazine, is as high as 15 percent, while Panasonic service records indicate annual failure rates of only 2 percent. This is a statistic that speaks very specifically to value.
Clearly, rugged and durable TOUGHBOOK computers are made to last for years and years. While the most recent features may be vital in many situations, frequently it is the signature attributes that are in fact the absolute requirements. In these cases, it makes sense to purchase used equipment. This strategy results in considerable value by providing models with the most important features needed in the field at a significant discount.
Check here to find out more about sales of these highly adaptable TOUGHBOOK devices, or call 1-877-532-8088 for more information.