A Fully Ruggedized Full-Function Notebook For Those Tough Jobs
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Starting out as a division of Taiwanese electronics powerhouse and industrial PC manufacturer MiTAC, what is now Getac first became a separate company in 1989 as a joint venture between MiTAC and GE Aerospace Group. Ever since, Getac has been building and selling all sorts of rugged and semi-rugged notebook PCs for military and industrial markets. Over the years, Pen Computing has reviewed several of Getac's rugged products and each performed well. So well, in fact, that Getac products have been incorporated into the lineup of other vendors who are selling the machines under their own brandnames. Some of those vendors are Dolch, Melard, and ruggednotebooks.com.
Those familiar with Getac history and product lineups will recognize the A770 as the successor of the company's A320/ A760 line of heavy-duty notebooks. The primary difference is that the line is no longer split into a base (the A320) and a full-function, more expandable model (the A760). Instead, there is now just one model, the A770, that can be configured to suit many different markets and applications. The A770 has also undergone a thorough modernization effort under the hood. Pentium M processors have replaced the older, slower Pentium III CPUs. Disk, memory, and optical drive options have all been upgraded to provide the kind of performance required in today's markets.
One look at the A770 suffices to drive one point home: this is not just another ruggedized notebook. This is a utilitarian tool built to withstand the wear and punishment in very specific military and industrial applications. Those who are still not convinced please lift up the A770. Almost 13 pounds. No one carries around a heavyweight like this as a fashion statement. This thing is built like a tank. The case is made from die-cast magnesium alloy. All eight corners are protected by heavy rubber bumpers. Everything is sealed to provide an appropriate degree of water and dust resistance, enough to earn this big machine a more than respectable IP54 rating. This is amazing. Competitors often achieve high IP ratings by keeping ports and leak-prone openings to a bare minimum, with expansion either non-existent or requiring port replicators or docks. The A770 doesn't need any of those because it comes with just about every feature and interface built right into the main body of the computer.
How did Getac do it? By employing a variety of clever sealing mechanisms and methods, each designed specifically for anticipated usage of an interface or expansion port. The rear of the A770, for example, has no less than ten ports. Each is protected separately by a thick rubber seal. Fit and finish of those flaps is exemplary. They are neither too thick (which would make them hard to open and close, especially in the cold) nor too thin and flimsy. However, should one break or tear off, it can easily be replaced because each seal is secured to the case with two small Philips-head screws. Ports and interfaces that are too large to be sealed by a simple rubber flap sit behind hinged magnesium doors. Those doors have foam and rubber seals inside, and they can be secured with large screws that you can open with a screw driver, a small coin, or, if none of them are handy, even your fingernails. Sealed this way are the A770's two large media bays and also the battery and hard disk garages.
It is a good thing that those bays are so well sealed and protected as they provide unrestricted access to this machine's cavernous innards. Bay 1 on the right side is a two-story affair that can house a variety of optical drive options at the bottom and a couple of PC Cards on the top. Also in that bay are audio in/out jacks and a IEEE 1394 Firewire port. This means that you have to undo three screws in order to get to the CD-ROM or DVD drive (or a second hard drive, a second battery, a floppy drive or a combo drive) and when you do, those other ports are exposed. Getac didn't have much choice there as we don't know of any sealed optical drive mechanisms that don't need protection from the elements. The only problem we see for this approach is that it takes a bit of time to close those doors and tighten the screws. They are recessed flush into the doors, which makes it a bit difficult to open and close them without a special screwdriver.
Bay 2 is sort of a very large all-purpose expansion module hangar. It can handle additional PC Cards (even the very thickest ones), a variety of COM port modules if you need them for RS-232/422/485 legacy peripherals, a DGPS module, whatever wireless radio you want, or even SCSI2 devices. And if you use Bay 1 for an optical drive but still want a second battery or a floppy drive, they are available for Bay 2 as well. This means that you can configure the A770 in numerous ways. It can carry a complement of up to four specialized PC Card modules for specific tasks. Or you can put in a DVD drive and a second battery and then watch DVDs after a hard day in the field. Stereo sound is via two small (and sealed, of course) speakers on the front.
For a list of ports all you have to do is open, one by one, the rubber flaps in the back of the A770: power, two 2.0 USB, expansion port, LAN and RJ11 modem, video, parallel, serial, and IrDA.
You would not expect a standard, unprotected keyboard on a machine like the A770, and it doesn't have one. Instead, it has a shower and dust-proof rubber overlay 87-key "chiclet-style" keyboard. Those take some getting used to, especially since the QWERTY layout is slightly smaller than that of a standard full-size keyboard. For night use, Getac offers a LED backlight keyboard option. Below it is a touchpad and two sealed mouse-click buttons. If you plan on using the A770 in cold climates or high altitudes, Getac has a special touchpad that reacts even to gloves. Those same customers will be interested in Getac's hard disk heater option that allows operation down to minus 20 degrees Celsius.
In terms of performance, the A770's 1.4 or 1.6GHz Pentium M processors are a big step up from its predecessor's Pentium III chips. Combine that with up to a gigabyte of DDR RAM and up to two 40 GB hard disks and there are few computing tasks the A770s can't handle. Despite its much greater performance, the M processors are more energy-efficient and the primary battery alone offers up to three hours of operation. Another benefit of the M processor is that it does not need a fan in the A770, whose massive housing acts as a giant heatsink.
Only a few years ago, industrial notebooks had dinky little displays. That was in part because larger ones weren't available and in part because smaller displays are easier to protect. Well, Getac has enough confidence in the upper half of its case design that it offers the A770 with displays up to 14.1" diagonal. We have no reason to doubt their decision. The LCD lid is a very sturdy all magnesium alloy construction with hardly any flex at all. It's almost as thick as some Tablet PC slates and heavily protected with thick rubber bumpers. However, not all display options are available in all sizes. The A770 comes standard with a 13.3 inch display. The 14.1" screen is optional, and if you want a sunlight-readable transflective display or a touchscreen, both of those are only available in 12.1" format. The LCD housing has a sturdy magnesium spring-loaded latch lock that's easy to open and close even with gloves on. Perhaps a bit too easy. It could open by accident. All displays have 1024x768 XGA resolution. This is perfect for the 12.1" display. On the 14.1" model you wish for higher resolution to take advantage of all the screen real estate.
What customers is Getac pursuing with the A770? A wide variety. While the company has a long tradition of catering to military markets, the A770 platform is so flexible that it can easily be configured for all sorts of industrial uses, as well as other fields such as emergency services, law enforcement, field maintenance and public safety, to name just a few.
Earlier on we said that the A770 is so well equipped that it does not need a port replicator or expansion unit. However, if you do need one of those anyway, Getac offers both. The optional expansion unit provides room for PCI or ISA cards, the port replicator adds SIO and PIO ports as well as a VGA and four additional USB ports.
Overall, the Getac A770 exudes the calm confidence of a well crafted heavy-duty tool for tough jobs. It's a big and heavy piece of equipment that you can configure just the way you want it. There's a hefty metal-reinforced rubber handle to carry it around. And the whole thing is designed by one of the most experienced rugged notebook manufacturers in the world. It's no surprise OEM customers are lining up to resell Getac's offerings rather than design their own. -
Conrad H. Blickenstorfer
||1.6 GHz Intel Pentium M Processor (no fan needed)
||Windows 2000 or XP
||256MB expandable to 1GB
||12.1/13.3/14.1" XGA (1024 x 768) "ColorVue" TFT
||capacitive touchscreen optional for 12.1" display
||87-key full-scale with rubber overlay
||40 GB hard disk
||via drive bays
||12.25" x 10.0" x 2.75"
||12.7 pounds incl. battery pack
||Lithium-Ion ("up to 3 hours")
||10/100base-T, 56K V.90 Modem, numerous internal radio options
||2 USB 2.0, audio/mic, IEEE1394, RJ-11, RJ-45, VGA, PS/2, IrDA, dock, 2 PC Card Type II, serial, parallel