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Affordable, well-made, Intel Haswell-powered, magnesium alloy-bodied semi-rugged notebook with large wide-format 15.6-inch display
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The DURABOOK S15H was announced in February 2014 as a thoroughly updated version of the DURABOOK S15C that we reviewed in detail in May 2011 (see here). It's a contemporary laptop solution for customers that seek more durability and ruggedness than consumer notebooks generally provide, but still at an affordable price. GammaTech also sought to make available a product that could easily easily be adapted to any application or environment. Right upfront: the starting MSRP of the DURABOOK S15H is US$1,399. That's about twice as much as a decent consumer notebook, but only about half as much as a dedicated vertical market rugged notebook. What will customers get?

That would be a 6.6-pound notebook computer designed to be considerably tougher and more durable than standard consumer notebooks, but without the extra size, weight and cost of a fully rugged design. We're talking spill-proof rather than fully water-proof, and tough enough rather than all-out rugged. It's a solid, trust-inspiring machine with a magnesium-alloy case, a large 15.6-inch wide-format display, good connectivity, and good day-to-day functionality. The primary attraction, however, is the switch to "Haswell," Intel's 4th generation of Core processors that provide extra speed, improved graphics, and significantly improved economy via new power conservation modes.

The following processor options are available, all based on 22nm "Haswell" technology (see full comparison here):

DURABOOK S15H: Intel processor options
PROCESSOR COMPARISON Core i7 Core i5 Pentium
Model 4600M 4300M 3550M
Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4 2/2
Base Clock Speed 2.90 GHz 2.60 GHz 2.30 GHz
Turbo Speed 3.60 GHz 3.30 GHz no turbo
Thermal Design Power (TDP) 37 watts 37 watts 37 watts
Smart Cache 4MB 3MB 2MB
Integrated graphics HD Graphics 4600 HD Graphics 4600 HD Graphics
Graphics base speed 400 MHz 400 MHz 400 MHz
Graphics max speed 1.30 GHz 1.25 GHz 1.10 GHz
Intel vProd Yes Yes Yes
PCI Express Rev. 3.0 3.0 2.0

Like predecessor versions of the S15 Series, the new S15H comes standard with a bright 1366 x 768 pixel wide-format display that remains usable outdoors without much reflection and glare. It's not a touch screen, and a touch option isn't available, but customers can opt for a higher resolution display in full 1920 x 1080 pixel HD format. All Haswell processors have rather powerful integrated Intel HD graphics, with Intel Core-equipped versions having Intel HD 4600 graphics, and Pentium-equipped versions Intel HD Graphics.

The standard power source, which glides into the back of the laptop, is a 6-cell, 5,200 mAH Li-Ion battery (no detail on watt-hours) that the specs say is good for 4.5 hours. An optional 9-cell battery boosts that to a more desirable 7.5 hours.

For storage, customers can opt either for a 500GB or 750GB 2.5-inch SATA hard drives or a Solid State Disk (SSD). The device uses 204-pin DDR3 SO-DIMM modules with capacities of up to 16GB in two RAM slots. The multimedia bay accommodates a Super-Multi DVD writer with a special disk tray lock to keep the tray from unintentionally opening from shock or vibration.

Both Windows 7 Professional and Windows 8.1 Professional are available. As stated above, the intial specs do not include any mention of touch, which was optionally available on the predecessor model, and is a good thing to have with Windows 8.1. GammaTech describes the display as "high brightness." The predecessor display was 500 nits, which is about 2.5 times as bright as a standard consumer notebook; the new display likely is in the same range. There's a stealth mode that may be required by some customers and agencies.

Measuring 14.6 x 10.9 x 1.5 inches and weighing 6.6 pounds, the S15H is reasonably compact and lightweight for this class of notebook. It has a full-size spill-resistant (and optionally waterproof) 86-key keyboard that's easy to read.

The DURABOOK S15H has very good onboard connectivity. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, HDMI (instead of VGA) for video, an RJ45 gigabit LAN jack, a docking connector and even a by now fairly rare DB9 RS232 serial port. There is also an ExpressCard 54 slot, a Smart Card reader, and an SDXC card reader. On the wireless side are dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 via an Intel WiFi module, and customers can opt for either 3G or LTE wireless broadband. The system also comes with an integrated 2.0-megapixel webcam.

Ruggedness specs are at the semi-rugged level, which here means the machine is drop-resistant and able to survive multiple drops from 2.5 feet. Operating temperature is an adequate 32 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Since this is a spill-resistant rather than sealed unit, there is no ingress protection rating. The notebook is vibration resistant and has been tested according to both MIL-STD-810G and ASTM 4169 (the truck transport regulations). In the past we criticized GammaTech for not providing access to ruggedness testing results on its site. That has changed, and several testing documents can now be viewed. Kudos to GammaTech for making that change.

Note that while pricing of the GammaTech DURABOOK S15H starts at an economical US$1,399, desirable options can quickly increase that price into the mid 2000s. That's still not bad for a toughened-up laptop with state-of-the-art technology from a highly regarded manufacturer of mobile notebook and tablet computers.

Specifications DURABOOK S15H
Status Added 02/2014
Product type Semi-rugged notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-4600M
Intel Core i5-4300M
Intel Pentium 3550M
CPU speed 2.9GHz, 2.6GHz, 2.3GHz
CPU TDP All versions 37 watts
OS Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Professional
Chip set Intel HM86
Graphics Core i5 and i7 models: Intel HD Graphics 4600, Pentium models: Intel HD Graphics
Standard/Max RAM Max. 16GB DDR3 in two sockets
Disk/drive 2.5-inch 500/750GB SATA hard disk or SSD
Media Bay DVD super-multi drive
Card slots 1 x SDXC Card, 1 x ExpressCard 54/34, 1 x Smart Card, 1 x SIM card
Display type High-brightness LCD (500 nits)
Display size/res 15.6"/1366 x 768 pixel HD, optional 15.6" 1920 x 1080 pixel FHD
Digitizer/pens NA
Keyboard/scale 86-key, full-scale, spill-proof
Housing Magnesium alloy case
Operating Temp 32° to 122°F (0° to +50°C)
Sealing Spill-proof
Humidity Unknown
Altitude Unknown
Drop 2.5 feet MIL-STD-810G, Method 516.6, Procedure IV
Vibration MIL-STD-810G, Method 514.6, Annex Cat. 24, Fig. 514.6E-1; ASTM 4169-08, Truck Transport, 11.5.2 Random test, Assurance Level 2 (Operating)
Size (WxHxD) 14.6 x 10.9 x 1.5 inches (370 x 276 x 38 mm)
Weight 6.6 pounds (3.0 kg) with ODD and 6-cell battery
Power 6-cell 5,200 mAH Li-Ion ("4.5 hrs."), opt. 9-cell 7,800 mAH Li-Ion ("7.5 hrs.")
Camera 2.0 megapixel webcam w/ HD MJPEG support
Interface 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x RJ45, 1 x DB9 RS232, 1 x HDMI, headphone, microphone, dock
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 Class 2, optional GPS, 3G or LTE WWAN
List price Starting at US$1,399
Web DURABOOK S15H page
  • Active vs passive digitizers
  • What does "rugged" mean?
  • Rugged Specs Primer
  • FIPS 201
  • Intrinsic Safety
  • NEMA Ratings
  • NVIS standards
  • IEC 60601
  • IP Rating
  • RFID
  • RFID vs. Bar Code
  • RFID viruses and worms
  • RoHS
  • UL 1604
  • MIL-STD-3009