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GammaTech Durabook R8300

Ultra-rugged, no-compromise notebook computer for the toughest jobs out there
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer August 2014, photography by Carol Cotton)

Note: The GammaTech Durabook R8300 received a major technology update in October 2016. For details, see here.

The GammaTech Durabook R8300 is the first fully rugged notebook computer sold under the Durabook brand. It was designed and manufactured specifically to operate and survive in extremely harsh environments such as those encountered in military, public safety, utility sector, and many other field deployments. The R8300 is also a direct replacement for earlier General Dynamics Itronix GD8000 and GD8200 rugged notebooks, Twinhead/GammaTech having been the OEM for those machines. The R8300 includes a variety of technology, performance and ruggedness updates that freshen up the platform while retaining complete backward compatibility with prior model infrastructures, programming and peripherals.

Right upfront, please note that unlike tablets that continue exploring and breaking new technological ground, ruggedized notebooks such as the Durabook R8300 represent a very mature class of machines, one that goes back a good two decades when pioneering computer makers began beefing up standard notebook computers to make them more suitable for work in the field. Back then, adequate battery life, acceptable performance, and outdoor usable displays were almost insurmountable obstacles.

Those issues have long since been resolved. Between new display technology, Intel's fast Core processors, and the maturity of ruggedization technology, hardened notebooks such as the Durabook R8300 allow computing anytime and anywhere. And their total cost of ownership is almost always considerably lower than that of consumer technology.

In terms of design and execution, the Durabook R8300 is first class. A magnesium alloy case and internal frame and structure make for an exceedingly solid machine, and also a complex one with numerous carefully conceived and executed details. For all its toughness, though, the R8300 is fairly compact, measuring just 12.0 x 11.5 x 2.4 inches, including an integrated carry handle, and weighing about a bit over eight pounds.

In addition to all its toughness, the R8300 convinces with a sturdy, spring-loaded carry handle and excellent and utmost reliable wireless performance via integrated antenna systems for fast and accurate fixes, advanced RF shielding and noise filtering, and good onboard connectivity and expansion potential via externally accessible card slots and a flexible-use media bay. Customers of the older General Dynamics Itronix XR-1 and GD8000/8200 computers will appreciate the Durabook R8300's compatibility with all existing docks and peripherals, in addition, of course, to a significant performance and technology boost. And new customers will find it a strong competitor to the ultra-ruggeds from Getac and Panasonic.

Design and details

As far as design, engineering, materials and execution is concerned, the Durabook R8300 is absolutely first class. Both the external case and the internal frame and structure are magnesium alloy, which makes for an impressively solid machine. Despite the compact, form-follows-function design, this is also a complex design that shows a lot of thought and careful execution. While many rugged tablets and notebooks simply consist of an upper and lower half with a seal between, the R8300's design is far more spatially intricate. It's not obvious from the outside, for example, that the R8300's system unit with the keyboard consists of a sealed inner chamber that contains all the sensitive electronics, and then perimeter compartments for ports, heat exchangers, antennae, etc., that are technically outside the computer. This is why some of the R8300's port covers are designed for physical protection, and not as watertight seals.

The R8300 sports the kind of timelessly rugged good looks found in industrial gear designed for a purpose. The dark gray/light gray color scheme is quite attractive and exudes an understated elegance. There are no protruding rubber bumpers, and while they're always a quick way to boost drop specs, the R8300 doesn't seem to need them to achieve its desired ruggedness goals (it would seem to be simple enough, though, to design and offer them as options).

As far as overall footprint goes, the R8300 is squareish and — compared to modern consumer notebooks with their wide-format screens — looks tall and narrow when you flip open the LCD case. That's because of the machine's heritage that mandated staying with the same footprint for several generations so as not to render mounting hardware, docks, peripherals and even software obsolete. Fact is that for a good many years, rugged notebooks had 13.3-inch displays with a 4:3 aspect ratio and using 1024 x 768 pixel XGA resolution. That's what the R8300's primary competition — the Panasonic CF-31 and the Getac B300 — still use, and so that's what the R8300 still uses, too.

As is, below you can see the top and all for sides of the Durabook R8300:

The next two pictures show the right side (top) and the left side (bottom) of the R8300 with all protective covers open.

The right side has two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, a standard DB9 serial port, a multi-purpose media bay that can accommodate one of a variety of optical drives or a second battery and, below it, a Type II PC Card slot. The USB 3.0 port, which uses blue instead of black plastic, can transmit data at up 5Gbit/s, more than ten times faster than USB 2.0, and there are now many peripherals and devices that use it. Note that the PC Card slot is optional; customers can get an (also optional) FIPS 201 SmartCard reader or an ExpressCard/54 card reader instead.

On the left side are, from left to right, the power jack, an RJ45 jack for the unit's gigabit LAN interface, another USB 2.0 port, microphone and audio-out jacks, a VGA port (with external 2048 x 1536 support), and either a Smart Card or Express Card slot. Here you can also see the unit's cooling fan exhaust (the fan rarely ever came on during our tests).

The R8300's 88-key sealed keyboard with individual keys is full-scale. It has black keys with very legible white labels. Special keyboard functions (such as brightness, volume, screen blackout, etc.) are indicated in small white symbols. There is no separate keypad, but keypad functionality is available and marked with small white numbers.

Below the keyboard are a properly sized and slightly recessed (so you can feel its boundaries in the dark) capacitive touchpad and two mouse buttons. Rugged notebooks often have resistive touchpads because those work in the rain and with gloves on. On the negative side, they can be hard to manipulate, and so GammaTech decided to go with the far more versatile capacitive touchpad that actually has multi-touch capabilities. You can use multi-touch to zoom, rotate, pan in whatever software supports that functionality, and it's also easy to scroll and even use gestures on it.

The R8300 keyboard can be ordered with an optional backlight with four levels of brightness. Not available is the "NiteVue" glow-in-the-dark version that was optional on earlier GD-Itronix-labeled versions of the machine. That one didn't need a separate light, but you also couldn't turn it off, which may have been an issue in certain deployments.

The picture above shows (left) the keyboard layout of the R8300 with its trackpad, fingerprint scanner, wireless on/off button, programmable application launch key, and (right) the R8300 in complete darkness with the keyboard backlight on.

Under the Hood

The bottom side of the R8300 provides quick and easy access to user-replaceable modules and components. The picture below shows the bottom side of the machine on the left, and the same view with its three backside covers removed.

The WLAN/RAM compartment, which is clearly marked with "RAM" and "WLAN," has a plastic cover, held in place by six small Philips screws, with a water-tight pressure seal. Inside, there are the system's two SO-DIMM slots for the R8300's two 8GB DDR3 memory modules. Unlike in most systems, here the memory is protected and shielded additionally by a meticulously engineered metal cover. The compartment also has a mini-PCIe slot that's taken up by an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 half-card (bottom right in the picture, next to the RAM).

The cover to the CRMA ("Common Radio Module Architecture") wireless compartment (middle right in the above picture) may cause a bit of alarm as it appears to have air vents and seemingly unsealed connectors for external WWAN and WLAN antennas. Looks deceive, though, as the metal CRMA cover actually has a pressure seal around the CRMA bay cutout, and another pressure seal around the antenna ports, so the vented part is technically outside of the sealed interior of the computer. Pressure seals are a bit vulnerable, but as long as they are well maintained they do the job. The designers came up with an elegant solution here.

A third door (bottom left) covers the hard disk compartment. In order to open it you need to twist two rotating latch mechanisms. Each latch is additionally held in place with a Philips screw that must be removed before the latch can be rotated. Why not just use screws? Because in certain situations it may be necessary to quickly remove the hard disk without first locating a screw driver and messing with tiny screws. If that is the case, then the little screws are not used. If it's not necessary, put the screws in for additional security.

The disk itself is mounted inside the caddy in a separate suspension systems that uses vibration and impact resistant material made of a high-performance thermoplastic that maintains its vibration isolating and dampening properties in all temperatures. Rotating media-equipped versions may also have a spindle heater inside that warms the hard disk before it spins up in temperatures below 5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the minimum safe operating temperature for the hard disk. If it's colder, you'll get a message informing you that the hard disk is being warmed before booting or resuming operation.

The whole assembly is about as intricate, well-thought-out, and meticulously designed and engineered a protective disk enclosure as we've seen, and it's considerably more advanced a solution than most we've seen. The disk itself in our unit was a Sandisk 128GB SD6SB1M128G solid state drive that hardly needed such an elaborate caddy, but it's definitely a good thing to have for units equipped with rotating media.

Integrated Wireless

GammaTech and its OEM customers were early supporters and providers of state-of-the-art integrated wireless with optimal performance and signal reception, and this heritage still shows.

The R8300 can support up to four integrated radios: WLAN, WWAN, GPS and WPAN.

The WiFi module in our tester was an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 Mini Card (see spec sheet), a dual-band 802.11a/g/n wireless network adapter that operates in both the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz spectra. The adapter delivers up to 300 Mbps of bandwidth with dual streams for maximum performance even in difficult places. This being an Intel product, it supports Intel WiFi Direct (connect w/o hot spot or access point), Intel Smart Connect Technology (update while asleep), Intel Wireless Display, and Intel My WiFi Dashboard (app to manage connectivity). Advanced-N 6235 also includes dual-mode Bluetooth that supports versions 2.1, 2.1 + EDR, 3.0, 3.0 + HS, as well as 4.0.

Now what is the "CRMA" stenciled into the compartment cover all about? CRMA, the Common Radio Module Architecture, was conceived since radio technologies and standards changed so quickly that the life expectancy of any integrated radio module was less than half that of the computer itself. CRMA modules were designed to be immune to vibration and drops, and could be replaced if a carrier launched a new radio service. The modules were also more robust and reliable than the card-based radios of the time.

While the manual refers to various CRMA options, it is not clear whether GammaTech continues the exact CRMA approach used in GD-Itronix-labeled predecessors of the R8300 as technology has moved on and wireless components have become smaller, more integrated and more reliable. As is the CRMA compartment in our review R8300 contained a Sierra Wireless AirPrime EM7355 embedded wireless module that supports 3G quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks, the HSPA+ (High-Speed Packet Access Plus)/UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems) protocols, 4G LTE, as well as CDMA 1xRTT/EV-DO Rev A. The Sierra Wireless PCIe module is mounted on its own board that also contains a SIM card slot, and is therefore easily replaceable.

Signal reception is a huge issue for computers that are used in the field and on the road where they are often operating at the fringe of radio signal coverage. This makes superior antenna performance mandatory. The R8300 uses several internal antennas, located in various parts of the machine, for greater range, superior coverage area, and optimal reception.

And since the Durabook R8300 may be used in military and other applications that require complete radio silence, all radios can be turned off instantly via a hardware slider switch located right above the keyboard.

Performance

Unlike with desktop computers that you simply plug into the wall, mobile systems require a careful balance between performance and battery life. That's why Intel differentiates between desktop and mobile processors, and why power conservation technology is very high on Intel's list of priorities. Optimizing this performance vs. battery life issue is an art, one that manufacturers often handle by offering customers the choice of several processors so they can pick the one that suits their application and priorities.

As is, for now the R8300 is available with just one processor, and it's a good choice. It's not a 4th-generation "Haswell" chip as in the also recently introduced semi-rugged Durabook S15H, but a solid performer from Intel's 3rd generation "Ivy Bridge" lineup. The Core i7-3667U runs at 2.0 GHz, with turbo speed up to 3.2 GHz.. It's considered a low voltage version with a thermal design power of 17 watts, i.e. it's a good compromise between brisk performance should need be, but also modest power consumption when just idling along.

Processors aren't everything, of course, and the R8300 also benefits from fast DDR3/1600 memory, a speedy SanDisk solid state disk, a native USB 3.0 port (for up to 10 times the throughput of USB 2.0), Bluetooth v4 (reduced power consumption, increased security), and 4G support.

To find out what all this new performance technology amounts to, we used Passmark Software's PerformanceTest 6.1 that runs about 30 tests covering CPU, 2D graphics, 3D graphics, memory, and disk and then computes scores for each category and an overall PassMark score. We also ran our secondary benchmark suite, CrystalMark, which breaks performance down into several additional categories. For comparison, we included the benchmarks of the earlier General Dynamics Itronix GD8000 and GD8200 laptops we have tested, as well as the most recent data we had on competitor machines. Below is what we found:

GammaTech Durabook R8300 Benchmarks and Comparisons (PassMark 6.1)
PERFORMANCE COMPARISON Durabook GD-Itronix GD-Itronix Dell Getac Panasonic
Model R8300 GD8200 GD8000 6400XFR B300 CF-31
Year tested 2014 2011 2009 2012 2011 2010
Processor Type: Intel Core i7 Core i7 Core 2 Duo Core i5 Core i7 Core i5
Processor Model 3667U 2655LE SL9400 2520M 2649M M540
Processor Code Ivy Bridge Sandy Bridge SL9400 Sandy Bridge Sandy Bridge Arrandale
CPU Speed 2.00GHz 2.20GHz 1.86GHz 2.50GHz 2.30GHz 2.53GHz
Turbo Speed 3.20GHz 2.90GHz No turbo 3.2GHz 3.2GHz 3.07GHz
Thermal Design Power (TDP) 17 watts 25 watts 17 watts 35 watts 25 watts 35 watts
CPU Mark 3,685.6 1,026.4 518.8 2,549.6 2,036.2 997.3
2D Graphics Mark 546.5 328.2 102.1 364.7 373.6 263.1
Memory Mark 1,822.8 759.5 559.1 790.4 777.2 727.0
Disk Mark 1,294.2 665.4 372.6 3853.0 1,480.6 590.4
3D Graphics Mark 438.3 285.5 52.7 305.0 164.1 487.5
Overall PassMark 1,711.2 627.1 518.8 1,688.9 312.6 613.5
ALU 43,695 36,356 18,527 43,472 41,711 34,258
FPU 47,207 37,233 19,617 43,286 41,151 37,321
MEM 47,328 39,157 14,381 40,279 19,969 24,657
HDD 25,369 12,520 7,109 37,927 26,096 8,950
GDI 17,192 11,740 6,947 13,342 12,452 6,300
D2D 2,432 1,518 3,100 1,821 2,388 1,530
OGL 6,508 2,438 1,552 2,864 3,425 11,318
Overall CrystalMark 190,001 140,962 71,233 182,991 147,192 124,333

The results are not as comprehensive as we'd like them to be, primarily because we don't have current benchmark figures for the R8300's most direct competitors. The current Panasonic CF-31 is available with various Intel 3rd generation (Sandy Bridge) Core i3 and i5 processors, the current Getac B300 and the Dell Latitude 14 Extreme Rugged (successor to the Dell 6400 XFR) both come with Intel 4th generation Haswell processors. So the benchmarks primarily show where the R8300 stands in comparison with its GD-Itronix-labeled predecessors, and in that capacity they should be quite useful for those who seek to replace their older GD-Itronix machines with Durabook R8300 laptops.

Note that when we tested the GD8200 three years ago, it scored one of the highest CrystalMark totals we'd ever seen. It was the cream of the rugged performance crop back then. The new R8300 offers a roughly 35% performance boost, in part because of advances between the second and third generation of Intel Core processors, and in part because of the switch from rotating to solid state storage media. Why do the overall PassMark numbers suggest an even much larger performance boost? Because in those days we benchmarked single-CPU performance whereas we've now switched to measure overall CPU performance (which CrystalMark measured all along). Bottom line: anyone seeking to replace their older Itronix machines will find the R8300 substantially quicker.

A couple of more general comments with regard to the performance in this class of ultra-rugged laptops: while basic processor performance has improved with every generation of Intel's Core processors, much larger gains were realized in graphics performance and power efficiency. Earlier Core processors didn't have much graphics punch and greatly benefitted from third-party "discrete" graphics sub-systems (our 2010 Panasonic CF-31 had one). 3rd and, especially, 4th generation Core processors had much better graphics, making discrete graphics unnecessary for most applications in laptops. Power conservation has come an even longer way, with 4th generation "Haswell" chips doing by far the best. So from that perspective, it'd have been nice to see Haswell in the new R8300.

Another performance aspect that we cannot emphasize enough: those who need every last possible ounce of performance should consider available solid state disk options. SSDs can speed up overall operation very considerably, albeit still at extra cost and less storage capacity.

Power and Battery Life

In terms of battery life, GammaTech claims 8 hours of running time on a charge. And if that is not enough, the R8300's media bay can accommodate a second (smaller 41.1 watt-hour) battery that GammaTech claims boosts battery life to 12 hours, and in addition also provides battery hot-swapping.

The battery has slightly more capacity than those used in the Itronix-branded predecessor models—it's now a powerful 11.1 Volt, 7,800 mAH (86 watt-hour) Li-Ion pack. We ran our standard BatteryMon drawdown benchmarks to determine power draw and projected battery life.

In Windows "Power Saver" mode, with radios off and backlight at the lowest level, we saw a minimum of 9.0 watts. With the backlight at default level, it was 9.6 watts, and with all radios on about 10 watts. Dividing the available 86 watt-hours of a fully charged battery by a 9 watt draw would indicated a theoretical battery life of 9.6 hours.

In Windows "Balanced" mode, with backlight at its lowest level and radios off we saw 9.1 watts. With all radios on and backlight at full bright, draw rose to 14.8 watts. This indicates it's primarily backlight brightness that determines power draw, and not so much the radios or power settings. Even in balanced mode over 9 hours are possible, but that drops to under 7 hours with screen brightness cranked all the way up.

In Windows "High Performance" mode, backlight at the lowest level but radios on, draw was 10 watts. At full brightness we saw 15.2 watts. And with 1080p high definition video running, i.e. a good workout, we saw 17.8 watts. This means even in high performance mode it's possible to see over 8 hours, but if the machine has to work hard and with brightness up, it's more like 4.8 hours.

Some outdoor-usable notebooks try to remain visible in sunlight with super-strong backlights, which can quickly drain the battery. The R8300 backlight is in the 650 nits range. That's very bright (your average consumer notebook is less than 200 nits), but not as bright as some of the ultra-bright outdoor displays we've seen, probably because GammaTech feels their display technology is so good that it doesn't need a super-bright backlight.

Real world battery life, of course, varies with the type of amount of work performed, how quickly the machine is set to go into standby, and so on.

Note that the R8300 also has a battery calibration utility that allows accurate reading of the remaining battery capacity. This is done via a special BIOS level battery calibration procedure in the BIOS setup utility.

Outdoor viewable display

Rugged notebooks like the R8300 will be used outdoors and often in bright sunlight. Most of the standard transmissive LCD displays used in consumer notebooks, however, wash out in daylight, and that's why over the past few years, sunlight-readability has become a major selling point in the rugged notebook sector. After earlier experimentation with a variety of unsatisfactory solutions to the problem, a new era of outdoor-viewable displays began a few years ago with technologies that cleverly combined a strong backlight with optical properties that reduced the reflection of ambient light, therefore retaining enough screen contrast to keep standard transmissive display viewable outdoors.

Former RuggedPCReview technology editor Geoff Walker (who is now the touch screen expert at Intel) explained the principles involved as follows: "There are really only two practical methods of making a notebook screen readable outdoors: (a) crank up the brightness (measured in nits, which is display-industry slang for "candela per meter squared", or cd/m2) to the point where the light emitted by the screen is sufficiently greater than the ambient light reflected by the screen, or (b) treat the surface of the screen so it reflects much less light, which again allows the emitted light to exceed the reflected light." Almost all currently available rugged notebooks use a combination of those two measures, the R8300 included.

During our testing we spent a considerable amount of time using the R8300 outdoors. The pictures below are a comparison between the 13.3-inch Durabook R8300 screen on the left and the also 13.3-inch wide-format display used in a Fujitsu E733 enterprise class notebook (note how much larger a 4:3 aspect ratio screen looks!) with a 200 nits backlight. Indoors both screens perform well. Outdoors the Fujitsu's screen clearly isn't as bright as the R8300's, and its matte surface, while very nicely controlling surface reflections, mutes the display.

The second picture below shows the displays from an angle, and here you can see the pros and cons of the two machine's different surface treatments. The R8300's glossy screen retains most of its brilliance, but there are some surface reflections.The matte Fujitsu display grows dimmer yet as its antiglare treatment diffuses light.

The third picture below shows the two computers in broad sunlight, facing towards the sun. Years ago, any transmissive screen would have washed out completely. Today, even enterprise-class notebooks such as that Fujitsu have good internal reflectivity control that make them retain a degree of contrast and thus readability. The R8300, however, retains a small but meaningful degree of extra contrast.

Are we getting any closer to perfect outdoor display technology? Yes but only very slowly, and the R8300 is pretty much as good as it currently gets. Some offer brighter backlights to crank up contrast outdoors, but unless properly managed with automated backlight control, that can quickly drain the battery. Some by now offer better control of distracting reflections, and that's probably one thing the Durabook engineers should concentrate on for the next upgrade of the platform.

We're not totally pleased with the LCD display's viewing angle. We've become so used to the almost 180-degree viewing angle both vertically and horizontally in most tablets that we no longer expect anything less. The R8300 has a wide horizontal viewing angle but there are some color shifts when looked at from the right. The vertical angle is narrower and there are also still color and contrast shifts.

Overall, the R8300's display is quite impressive, especially considering that it incorporates a touch screen, something which usually cuts brightness and readability (and also introduces some of the reflections we mentioned).

Ruggedness and Protection

As far as ruggedness goes, there's an arms race going on out there as more competitors are entering the potentially lucrative, albeit difficult to crack, rugged mobile computing field. Over the past several years there has been a trend towards not only increased ruggedness, but also toward more in-house and independent third party testing to document ruggedness. How does the Durabook R8300 measure up?

Very well. GammaTech has many years of experience in manufacturing large numbers of semi- and fully rugged notebook computers. They know that customer priorities for rugged machines are abundantly clear: "keep it in the field!" Computers deployed in the field must not fail, disrupt operations, and cause costly downtime. GammaTech analyzed return and service data, and their conclusion as to what matters most was:

  • Real world impact resistance — Computers do drop. The DOD estimates a piece of equipment will be dropped from heights up to four feet an average of four to six times during its life cycle. Most rugged vendors use the drop test procedures described in MIL-STD-810G that mandate 26 drops (one on each edge, surface and corner). But that is with the computer turned off, and the test actually allows using five units to make it through the entire test. This hardly shows how well a single unit will do. On top, many units are dropped while in use, and not while they are off.

    To make the test more realistic, GammaTech performed the drop test with the computer on and with rotating media instead of solid state memory, as that is still the most common configuration, and to do it with a single machine as a user in the field won't have five machines to pick from. The computer passed the test, with power on, from a drop height of 48 inches, and with a single machine, thus exceeding the MIL-SPEC requirement.

  • Real world sealing — The degree of protection against dust and water is usually given in an IP (ingress protection) rating. Again, GammaTech felt the commonly used testing methods didn't make much sense. Most units fail as a result of being "rinsed off", i.e. subjected to a LOT of water, or as a result of being rained on, which means less water but potentially over a long period of time.

    To make this test more meaningful, in addition to the ANSI/IEC Ingress Protection test, they subjected the unit to the test procedure described in MIL-STD-810G 506.5 Procedure II, which mandates a full four hours of exposure to dripping water, and not just the 15 minutes in the often-used Procedure III. Many rugged machines claim IP54 ingress protection, but GammaTech felt that since the 5" still allowed limited dust penetration, they redesigned the sealing to achieve full IP65 protection, where the "5" means protection against low pressure water jets from all directions. According to GammaTech, the R8300 also passed an operating test to simulate extreme rain and wind with 5.8" rain per hour blown at 70mph for three hours.

The R8300, of course, was also tested for vibration, extreme temperatures, altitude, humidity, and so on. The R8300 press materials also include a reference to qualification under the strict MIL-STD 461 Army Ground and Air Force standard. As always, for specific ruggedness testing results, refer to the manufacturer.

Security

Like almost all modern computers, the Durabook R8300 offers several physical and software security measures. There is a swipe style solid-state fingerprint reader located to the right of the touchpad. Biometric fingerprint scanning is very effective and can be used to complement, reduce or eliminate multiple passwords.

The Security Menu in the BIOS lets you set and change both supervisor and user passwords.

The BIOS also lets you enable or disable the R8300's TPM (Trusted Platform Module) support. The TPM 1.2 micro controller with cryptographic functionality allows the creation and management of computer-generated digital certificates. Combined with software, these can be used to:

  • Send and received secure email,
  • Set up the browser for client identification,
  • Sign Word macros,
  • Encrypt individual files or entire folders, and
  • Create secure network connections.

The R8300's BIOS also offers an unusually extensive set of customization options on top of what you usually get in the BIOS setup. Stealth mode, for example, lets you boot with the LED lights, fan, audio, system beeps, and radios individually turned on or off, and with the backlight initially off. You can also individually disable hardware that could be used to transfer data, such as PC Cards, the optical drive, LAN, wireless radios, and com/USB ports. There is also Computrace support (see here), which allows remote management for ongoing tracking and securing all endpoints within a single cloud-based console.

With all this security, don't forget to get a simple Kensington locking cable for use with the Kensington lock slot on the R8300.

Summary: Durabook R8300

The GammaTech Durabook R8300 — though the first fully rugged notebook to carry the Durabook name — is a very mature platform that has already gone through years and several generations of extensive field use and testing across the globe. Earlier variants of this machine were sold by General Dynamics Itronix as the GD8000 and GD8200, which will certainly make it interesting to customers who seek to replace aging Itronix machines. Updated with Intel Ivy Bridge technology, the rock-solid Durabook R8300 has the pedigree, performance and versatility to be a valuable work horse in any number of deployments that rely on tough, rugged computers that will not break or fail.

The 13.3-inch 4:3 aspect ratio LCD with 1024 x 768 pixel XGA resolution now looks a bit tall and boxy, but it offers very good outdoor viewability with a deep, rich image on its display in almost any lighting condition, one that doesn't completely wash out even in direct sunlight.

Wireless performance, now enhanced with available 4G LTE, is strong due to an integrated antenna system for fast and accurate fixes, and the computer's flexible wireless modules compartment. There is good onboard connectivity as well as expansion potential via externally accessible card slots (PC Card and Express Card or Smart Card) and a media bay that can accommodate an optical drive or a second battery.

Users of older GD-Itronix laptops will appreciate the Durabook R8300's full compatibility with all prior XR-1 and GD8000/8200 docks, peripherals and software, and the excellent performance and various technology upgrades and improvements of the Durabook R8300 are strong upgrade and expansion incentives. Both new and existing customers will find in the GammaTech Durabook R8300 an expertly designed, engineered and manufactured machine that provides strong performance and good battery life for use in even the most environmentally demanding environments.

GammaTech Durabook R8300 highlights:

  • Very good performance, with a roughly 35% increase over the GD8200
  • Fully-rugged compact notebook for use in just about any application and setting anywhere
  • Very good battery life
  • Quiet operation, barely heats up despite powerful Core i7 processor
  • Very responsive and versatile capacitive touch pad
  • Good outdoor-viewable display
  • Compatible with General Dynamics Itronix XR-1, GD8000 and GD8200 series peripherals and docks
  • Elegant and durable industrial design
  • Excellent radio performance with multiple internal antennas
  • Very good security via multiple access protection technologies
But keep in mind:
  • Resistive touch screen adds minor reflections and a bit of distortion outdoors
  • Conventional 4:3 aspect ratio starting to look dated
  • XGA (1024 x 768) resolution low for advanced applications
  • Would have been nice to see upgrade to Intel 4th gen ("Haswell")

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, August 2014


GammaTech Durabook R8300 Specs

Added/changed Added 02/2014, full review 08/2014
Type Fully-rugged notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-3667U, 4MB Intel Smart Cache
Processor speed 2.0 GHz (Max 3.2 GHZ Turbo Boost)
TDP 17 watts
OS Windows 7 Professional (32 or 64 bit)
Chipset Intel QM77
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4000
Memory 4/8/16GB DDR3 SODIMM in two slots
Display type Transmissive LED-backlit TFT LCD with sunlight-viewable technology and 600 nits backlight
Display size/res 13.3" XGA (1024 x 768 pixel)
Digitizer/Pens Resistive touch, stylus included
Keyboard 88-key full-size sealed, capacitive touchpad; optional backlit keyboard with 10 levels of brightness
Storage Shock-mounted quick-release 500GB or 750GB hard disk, optional solid state disk
Multimedia Pocket Super-multi DVDRW drive in media bay (can be used for 2nd battery)
Slots Optional 1 PC Card Type II, optional SmartCard reader (FIPS 201) or ExpressCard/54 card reader
Housing Magnesium alloy case/high impact resin
Temperature -22° to 140°F (-30° to 60°C)
Humidity TBA
Salt fog MIL-STD-810G 509.5; 5% salt 48-hour exposure 48-hour drying period with unit off
Shock MIL-STD-810G, Method 514.6, Proc. I; ASTM 4169, Truck Transport, 11.5.2 Random test, Assurance Level 2
Enclosure Class IP65
Drop spec MIL-STD-810G Method 516.6, Proc. IV (26 x 48-inch drop, operating)
Security Pre-boot/supervisor/user passwords; TPM 1.2; Kensington lock; optional fingerprint reader, Smart Card, CompuTrace, Intel vPro, Intel Anti-Theft; Stealth mode; selective I/O disabling
Certifications FCC, CE, CUS, CB
HazLoc Classification ANSI/ISA 12.12.0.1 (formerly known as UL-1604 Class 1 Division 2)
Size 12.0 x 11.6 x 2.4 inches (305 x 267 x 61 mm)
Weight 8.375 pounds as tested with battery and handle
Power 9 cell 11.1V/7,800mAH 86 wayy-hour Li-Ion ("approx. 8 hrs."); opt. 2nd 3,800mAH battery in media bay ("12 hours")
Communication Intel Dual-Band WiFi + Bluetooth module, optional WWN, optional GPS
Interface 3 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, RJ45 gigabit LAN, 9-pin serial RS232, video, audio in/out, dock, 2 speakers
Price Inquire
Web page See Durabook or GammaTech
Product brochure Durabook R8300