Computers have come a long way, being able to process huge amounts of data in the palm of your hand and transfer information across the world in the blink of an eye, however, they remain fragile technology, with most computers being vulnerable to accidental damage from water spillage, drops, knocks or excessive amounts of heat or dust. This is all fine in standard office or home environments, where such dangers are limited and fairly unlikely.
For some users however, whether they travel a lot, or need to work in harsh environments, rugged computing solutions become worth thinking about. There are a number of things which make a computer transition from a normal laptop or tablet into a rugged computer. One of the most common things you will find is proofing the computer against drops and knocks. The most basic way you will see this done is padding on the computer to soften impacts, usually focused on the corners.
Another common way is to protect vulnerable parts, specifically moving parts. In a computer most parts don’t move, hard drives however do have a number of moving parts, making them very vulnerable to drops, and this has led to some manufacturers either shunning the use of moving parts in favour of solid state flash memory or adding protection for the hard drive in some way. This varies from simply adding padding to the hard drive to clever use of G meters to detect free fall and stop moving parts before the drive hits the ground, limiting the damage.
Water damage is another key area which can cause problems for computers; as with any electronics, water on circuitry causes short circuits and can lead to all kinds of damage for computer systems, from minor glitches to complete system failure and even fires. For this reason completely sealing rugged computers is common, at least to a shallow depth in water. Keyboards and trackballs are typically areas which can be hard to seal due the moving nature of them. While sealed units do exist using a touch screen interface can provide an easier solution, depending on the application.
Having a water tight system does of course mean the system will be airtight as well, while this has some key benefits, it also has some drawbacks too. This does make the system immune to any dust issues and it also makes it resistant to many chemicals, especially ones which might attack PCB (printed circuit boards) or other components. The downside is that any cooling for the computer will have to be passive, which does add some restraints on the amount of power which can be used by the computer, in turn limiting the amounts of processing power which will be available.
This type of system really comes into its own in harsh conditions, including industrial environments, aquatic or damp environments or even just travel. In all of these situations the chances of the computer being knocked, coming into contact with water or chemicals, or even just having a large amount of dust which could clog up air vents & heat sinks are significantly higher than in your standard home or office environment. If you have found computers getting damaged or data lost in your line of work, a rugged computer could be very beneficial to you. While they’re more expensive than an off the shelf computers, the reliability can be invaluable.