Twinhead International Durabook R8300 review

Twinhead International Durabook R8300

Several companies produce rugged laptops but many are categorized as just ‘business rugged' or ‘semi-rugged', the aim being to provide users with peace of mind even if they don't work in a particularly hazardous environment. See also: 22 best laptops 2014: What's the best laptop you can buy in the UK?

The Durabook R8300 on the other hand is described as a fully rugged laptop, and competes with models in the Panasonic Toughbook and Getac ranges. It's intended for use by engineers, police, the military, and others who need to use a PC outdoors, possibly in the rain and where dropping accidents are commonplace. So anyone that is prepared to pay a price premium for protection from these hazards.

In common with most fully rugged laptops, some aspects seem basic or dated compared to business or consumer laptops. The screen is a classic example with its 4:3 aspect ratio which looks outdated compared to most standard laptops. However, the R8300 isn't going to be used for watching movies on a wind-swept building site and the squarer screen is better suited to viewing business and engineering documents.

Likewise, the XGA (1024 x 768) resolution is low but, given the modest size of the screen, a decision perhaps made in the interests of ruggedisation, the 96 ppi pixel density is the same as that of most budget laptops.

As well as disappointingly restricted viewing angles, the colour gamut was a very low 55 percent sRGB, and this is noticeable in its poor rendering of image colour. Reading from the screen was also hampered by a pitiful contrast ration of just 100:1 in a chequerboard contrast test.

The processor, memory and SSD are similar to what you'd expect of a modern budget-to-midrange laptop and the benchmarks mostly confirmed this.

PCMark 7 scored the R8300 with 4197 points, while PCMark 8 returned results of 2625 (Home) and 3247 (Work). These suggest it's capable of running most normal Windows programs, with around the same speed as a £400-500 laptop.

Gamers might like the milspec looks but you're unlikely to play games on this notebook. Nonetheless we tested its graphics capability with the relatively easy Stalker: Call of Pripyat game benchmark. Played at native resolution and Medium detail, this gave an average framerate of 35 fps.

The SSD storage showed relatively poor throughput. In bench tests, the 128 GB SanDisk SSD could only muster 270 MB/s sequential reads and 197 MB/s writes, and peak IOPS were down at 44.2 k IOPS. The Durabook takes a SATA Revision 3 drive but results look more like it's connected to a SATA Revison 2 bus.

For the price the speed results might sound disappointing although it's sufficient for typical applications and would exceed the specification of any rugged-laptop competition still using a hard disk. See also 27 best budget laptops 2014 UK.

Twinhead International Durabook R8300

Twinhead International Durabook R8300: Rugged results

Needless to say, where the R8300 really shines is in its environmental protection credentials. Certainly it looks the part, the styling being more reminiscent of a toolbox than a laptop, but this is more than skin deep.

The casing is magnesium alloy which is far more durable than plastic. It has a textured finish which, coupled with its carrying handle, reduces the likelihood of it being dropped, even with cold and wet hands.

Even so, the R8300 should survive a tumble from normal carrying height, being tested against and certified to the US military standard MIL-STD-810G, which specifies drops from 4 feet (1.22 m) onto plywood over concrete onto all 26 of its faces, edges and corners. It also requires that the equipment must survive specified levels of vibrations, thermal shock, altitude and more.

Waterproofing was tested against the IEC 60529 standard and achieved an IP65 rating. This means it will survive jets of water from any direction. As such, it will be immune from even the heaviest rain.

We should explain that we didn't attempt any environmental tests ourselves although we were shown letters of conformance issued by independent test houses who are authorised to conduct these tests. (See also: Xplore Technologies RangerX tablet review - ruggedised Android tablet.)

With no external vents to avoid the ingress of dirt or water, air cooling is only possible from a small aperture in the top left corner of the top deck, just beyond the keyboard. From this a noisy buzzing fan was clearly audible as it intermittently revved up and down during any normal use.

Ergonomics considerations are vitally important for go-anywhere laptops. The R8300 has a daylight readable screen which, in our tests, registered a brightness of 588 cd/m^2 which far exceeds that of indoor laptops.

The keyboard has a red backlight for use in the dark and the widely-separated keys allow it to be used while wearing gloves.

The same can't be true of the small touchpad, though, which fails with a gloved hand even if the resistive touchscreen does work with gloves.

Given the cost and performance hit of adding touch-screen capability, and its questionably value on a laptop, we'd have preferred a touchpad that could work while wearing gloves.

In our tests, battery life was a fairly respectable 6 hours, 5 minutes, playing a looped MPEG video over 11n wireless. If you want to be assured of a full day's use, you'll need to recharge or carry a spare battery. See also: 22 best laptops 2014: What's the best laptop you can buy in the UK?

Twinhead International Durabook R8300

Twinhead International Durabook R8300: Specs

  • 13.3-inch (1024 x 768) semi-gloss, daylight readable, touch-sensitive (resistive) TN display
  • 2.0 GHz Intel Core i7-3667U (3.2 GHz Turbo)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • 16 GB DDR3
  • 128 GB SATA Revision 3 SSD
  • DVD drive
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • cellular (LTE)
  • 3x USB 2.0
  • 1x USB 3.0
  • 1x gigabit ethernet
  • 1x VGA
  • 1x RS232
  • 1x headphone, 1x microphone socket
  • 86 Wh li-ion battery
  • 200 x 294 x 56mm
  • 3.6 kg
  • 13.3-inch (1024 x 768) semi-gloss, daylight readable, touch-sensitive (resistive) TN display
  • 2.0 GHz Intel Core i7-3667U (3.2 GHz Turbo)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • 16 GB DDR3
  • 128 GB SATA Revision 3 SSD
  • DVD drive
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • cellular (LTE)
  • 3x USB 2.0
  • 1x USB 3.0
  • 1x gigabit ethernet
  • 1x VGA
  • 1x RS232
  • 1x headphone, 1x microphone socket
  • 86 Wh li-ion battery
  • 200 x 294 x 56mm
  • 3.6 kg

OUR VERDICT

It can't be denied that this is an expensive portable PC and, if you're used to buying standard laptops, the specification will sound pedestrian for the price. This is the inevitable cost of protection from rough handling, though, across all manufacturers. The good news is that you'd have to be more than ordinarily careless or clumsy to destroy the R8300 and you could shave several hundred pounds off the price by opting for a more basic variant with less RAM and even slower hard disk.

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