Are people dropping bombs on you? Are bullets whizzing past your head? Does the threat of nuclear annihilation have you worried about your computer surviving the fallout?

If so, you need a "ruggedized portable" computer, such as the FieldWorks FW7600 Ruggedized Portable, which is designed to military specifications and upgradeable to withstand a variety of environmental hazards. With it, you can set up a field network for communication with your troops, and you can plan your attack strategy. Whether you're bouncing over battlefields in a Hummer, flying though anti-aircraft flak in an A-10, or running through the jungle, FieldWorks can send you in with a computer that will take as much pounding as you do.

This portable provides the power and functionality of a desktop workstation in a heavy-duty, reasonably lightweight (14.9 pounds), mobile chassis. And, it will withstand all but the most serious blasts (or direct shrapnel hits)--up to 100G of high-intensity shock--without experiencing so much as a hiccup during operation. At Comdex in November 1995, FieldWorks had a unit set up so that once every 10 seconds, it dropped four feet onto a wooden platform while running. I tested it--no problem. In fact, FieldWorks representatives report that they routinely test machines by dropping them out of trees.

Features and Architecture
The FW7600 really is a workstation in the field, right down to the expansion slots in the back. The machine will hold up to three full-length or six half-length ISA cards, or a combination of PCI and ISA cards, depending on which model you get.

The standard processor that ships with the system is a 100-MHz 80486/DX4. But you can order units with high-speed Pentium CPUs that come with a standard PCI bus. Memory is not as expandable as on a standard desktop computer, but the FW7600 can support more than most portables, with up to 64MB using standard SIMMs.

Storage options on the FW7600 are numerous, including a ruggedized 2X CD-ROM drive that sits under the system's flip-up keyboard. You can order up to a 1GB internal IDE hard drive that will withstand the same pounding as the rest of the machine. The drive has its own specialized housing for shock and weather protection. Dual removable hard disks are another option. And of course, you get a standard high-density floppy drive.

FieldWorks also ruggedizes input devices. The keyboard is a solid, self-contained unit. The pointing device is a Field MousePad with integrated buttons and can double as a signature and drawing tablet. Both the keyboard and the mouse pad are sealed against dust and moisture.

The FW7600 can support a variety of video modes, and you have options for the kind of display that will ship with the unit. Externally, it can support the full range of 640*480 pixels at 16 million colors to 1280*1024 at 256 colors (using 1MB of DRAM). For the unit's own display, you can choose among a standard 10.4" dual-scan LCD (256 colors), a TFT active-matrix LCD (262,000 colors), a sunlight-readable transflective monochrome LCD, or a sunlight-readable active-matrix LCD. All these units have 640*480 pixels. The display is in a rubber-coated ruggedized housing that nestles down into the chassis of the machine when it is closed. The only feature that would make the display better is some kind of brace (like on the legs of a folding table) when the machine is open, so that the display doesn't wobble when vibrated or bumped.

In addition to the full-size expansion slots, the FW7600 has a single PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) slot that will hold Type I, II, III, and IV devices (such as network cards or removable hard disks). All connectors are gold-plated for anti-corrosion, and they provide all connectivity options: an SVGA port, one enhanced parallel and two 9-pin serial ports, and PS/2-style keyboard and mouse ports.

The power supply and battery are not what you expect for a portable, though. The FW7600 can run on anything from a vehicle's cigarette lighter plug to standard American AC line input to global power sources (90 to 264 VAC, 50 or 60 Hz). You can get options for DC input and internal (1.65 hours at full power) and external battery packs.

Ruggedization Features
So, how much can this box handle? The FW7600's chassis is one-piece magnesium alloy construction (so it won't burst into flame), with specialized floating polymer/aluminum suspension mounts for all internal components. It's not terribly light or small (15.1" wide * 16.5" deep * 3.75" high, 14.7 pounds) compared to ordinary notebook computers, but then you can't drop an ordinary notebook off a desk and be sure it will still be running and in one piece.

TABLE 1: Here you can see the environmental hazard chart for the FW7600.
Environmental
Temperature (operating):
Temperature (storage):
Humidity (operating):
Humidity (storage):
-4° F to 122° F (-20° C to 50° C)
-4° F to 140° F (-20° C to 60° C)
10% to 80%, relative humidity, non-condensing
5% to 95%, relative humidity, non-condensing
Shock (Mil-Std-810C 516.2)
High intensity:
Crash safety:
Basic design:
With CD-ROM:
100G, 6msec, operating, Procedure IV
60G, 6msec, operating, Procedure III
30G, 11msec, operating, Procedure I
30G, 11msec, non-operating, Procedure III
Vibration (Mil-Std-810C 514.2 Procedure X)
5Hz-200Hz-5Hz at 12 minutes, 84 minutes per axis
5Hz-7Hz at 1.0" displacement
7Hz-92Hz at 2.5G
92Hz-110Hz at 0.0058" displacement
110Hz-200Hz at 3.5G

FieldWorks tests the system to ensure it will operate in a variety of environmental conditions. Also, options are available for further enhancing its hazard-handling capabilities with electromagnetic interference and environmental hardening. A stock unit can operate in a temperature range of -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 to 50 degrees Celsius) and in relative humidity between 10% to 80% (non-condensing). Its design meets military specifications for shock and vibration. So, the FW7600 can handle high-intensity shocks and constant vibration while it's running, as you can see in table 1.

The FW7600 motherboard's design is also different from that of other computers: The expansion slots are isolated so that stress on the cards will not affect the rest of the electronics. The motherboard is actually a compact "pod" that you can easily replace in the field if it fails.

Ideal in the Field
The system I received for testing was fairly basic (100-MHz 80486, 500MB hard drive, dual-scan display). For what the FW7600 is designed to do, it's perfect.

I had only a few problems setting it up: Some settings in CMOS were wrong, and I had to fiddle with them. But FieldWorks put the unit together for me in a hurry, so this problem is not likely to happen with end-user systems. The standard dual-scan display is not very good, but the system has options for better ones. Also, the mouse pad is a little hard to use, because you have to press fairly hard to activate it.

The FW7600 is ideal for field applications, even if you aren't in the military. By the time you read this, Field-Works will have introduced the FW5000 series of smaller rugged notebooks based on the same technology as the FW7000 series.

Please see the article "NT in the Field"

FieldWorks FW7600
Configuration: 100-MHz 80486/DX4, 32MB of RAM, 520MB IDE hard drive
FieldWorks * 612-947-0856
Price: $10,130 (as configured)