I hate rugged computers

“What a rip off!  All you do is add is a few cents worth of rubber guards to your corners and call it rugged. The CPU of your rugged laptop is at least 2 years out of date. My regular old civilian laptop does a thousand things your laptop doesn’t. And rugged laptops are heavy, oversized monstrosities! How can you justify your ridiculous price?”

Not an actual email from a not real customer.

Fortunately, the above fictitious email is not representative of our clients and partners. Most of the people with whom we deal understand the true worth of ruggedized computers. Every once in awhile we run into someone who is new to ruggedness and we have to sit down and explain the facts of life to them.

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  • “…all you do is add is a few cents worth of rubber guards to your corners.”

Actually, we do a lot more than that. AMREL’s computers are built rugged from the ground up. Most of the work that goes into them is not readily visible.

For example, AMREL laptops have a Fault Tolerant Isolation Design – an encapsulation process that protects individual components from water, dust, and other foreign matter. Analogous to a submarine, each chamber in the body of our laptops and on-board/fixed vehicle units is individually sealed. Protective chambers separate the following compartments: motherboard, I/O ports, removable hard drive, and swappable Application Modules.

Bear in mind that our rugged computers are not just built for getting knocked around. They have to meet exacting standards for operating in high/low pressure, rain, dust, humidity, salt fog, and extreme temperatures. This is one reason that “protective sleeves,” which promise to ruggedize your commercial computer are less than ideal.

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  • “The CPU of your rugged laptop is at least 2 years out of date. My regular old civilian laptop does a thousand things your laptop doesn’t.”

This is a criticism often leveled at technology fielded by the military, and that is not a coincidence. Many of the same factors that affect the military also affect us.

For example, the rugged computer market is much smaller than the commercial one, just as the military market is lesser than the consumer one. Not only does the lack of economy of scale mean we have to pay higher prices for specialized parts, but the lack of choice for vendors leads to uncontrollable delays. Delays lead to a longer development process, which hinders our ability to utilize the most recent technological advances.

Furthermore, ruggedized computers are used in critical applications for soldiers and police. We build computers as if someone’s life depended on it, because they often do. This leads to a quality control system that is far more strict and redundant than what commercial products are subjected to.  To maintain such high standards, delays are inevitable.

So, our product development cycle, like all rugged computer manufacturers, is much longer. Greater and lengthier analyses and tests are required. Under these conditions, it’s almost impossible for any rugged computer to match the latest consumer products with their much shorter development cycles.

Still, AMREL is very conscious of the gap between the latest commercial products and typical ruggedized computers. The good news is that while it still is a problem, we have made real progress in bringing up-to-date technology to the rugged world.

One approach that we have taken is to design our rugged computers to be extremely flexible. Unlike commercial mobile platforms, ours are built to be quickly customized. Adding new technology is easy and convenient.

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  • “… how can you justify your ridiculous price?

As mention above rugged computers do not enjoy the same economy of scale as commercial ones.

However, this is a bit misleading, because rugged computers are a very good value for their price. This has been confirmed by every study that’s ever investigated this issue. The most well-known is by VDC Research who concluded that “Ruggedized Devices – both large and small form factor – achieve a distinct TCO advantage.”

TCO is Total Cost of Ownership. Not only does it include the initial price, but also platform support, integration, connectivity, lost work time, lost data, repair, and replacement cost. The later factors can be much greater than the initial price.

Another way of phrasing this is that rugged computers break down less often, need less repair, and last much longer than commercial grade ones.  I don’t know about you, but whenever my commercial laptop gets over 4 years old, my repair man stars muttering ominous threats about his inability to get “ancient” parts, and how my motherboard won’t support the latest application or operating system. In contrast I know of one police department that has been using our laptops 7 days a week for 12 years. This sort of longevity is especially important to the military.

So complaining that rugged computers are more expensive than commercial ones is the same as comparing a 90-minute phone card with a 45-minute one, i.e. one is more expensive, but it lasts much longer.

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  • “And rugged laptops are heavy, oversized monstrosities!”

You haven’t been paying attention. AMREL has launched SlimLine, a new generation of extremely thin fully rugged laptops, tablets, and handhelds. They so radically change the conventional idea of durability, that one of our biggest problems is convincing our clients and partners that a laptop only an inch thick is actually fully rugged! We even have a rugged handheld that will run full Windows OS, but is so small that it will slide into a cargo pocket.

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Still rugged mobile computers are not for everyone.  You should NOT buy a rugged computer if:

  • The data on your computer is not important, i.e. you don’t mind loosing it due to failure.
  • Frequent downtimes and repairs are not a problem for you.
  • You don’t care that you have to replace your handheld, laptop or tablet every few years.
  • You operate your computer in an exceptionally stable, non-threatening environment.

If the above statements do not describe you, give one our experts a call at (800) 882-6735, or email us at cdinfo@amrel.com and learn more about the advantages of rugged computers.

Is your smartphone more reliable than your desktop?

I have encountered an interesting prejudice. Some people have confidently informed me that the smaller the form factor, the more reliable it is.  Laptops are more reliable than desktops, but less reliable than tablets, which aren’t as rugged as handhelds.

To be clear, whatever rugged platform AMREL sells you – tablet, laptop, or handheld – it has been built for the utmost reliability.   We build our computing solutions as if lives depend on them, because a lot of the times lives do depend on them.

If you have never heard of the “smaller is more dependable” myth, don’t worry about it; most of the experts that I talked to never heard of it either.  In fact, for reasons, which will be explained, it doesn’t make sense on multiple levels.

Still, I wondered why some people might think their smaller platforms are more dependable. Here are few theories.

The problem is not the hardware, but the operating system (OS). Most desktops still use Windows, while many smaller form factors do not.  Some point to Windows as the culprit behind the “bigger is more unreliable” myth. Windows has a number of issues which could contribute to more frequent breakdowns.

For one thing, the Windows OS on your desktop has a lot of updates, whereas the Android OS on your smartphone may be frozen.  Frequent updates create more points of failure and more “bloated” software. Furthermore, Windows seeks updates during the boot process, which can overload the CPU, leading to a significantly slower starting time.

Legacy issues are another cause of “bloated” software.  Your brand new Windows OS has to accommodate programs that were written when floppy discs were still considered an exciting new innovation. This leads to complications, more resources being used, and just more problems. Also, developers for the newer Android OS can learn from the mistakes that Windows has made previously.

Some claim that Windows is more susceptible to malware and viruses than the OS typically used on smartphones.  This makes sense considering how much older and widespread Windows OS are.

In addition to the Windows OS, some point the finger at poorly written applications. Apple is notoriously strict about the apps than can run on its equipment. Windows less so.

Nope, hardware is the problem. Supposedly, hardware used in laptops and desktops are much more varied than those found in tablets and smartphones. This is more challenging for their OS, and a more diverse supply chain contributes to quality issues.  I am not sure this is true, but some folks believe it.

More flexibility means less rigidity, which means less reliability. You have a lot more options on your desktop than your smartphone. A simpler, locked-in, frozen device has less ways of fouling up.  It is more likely that your machine gun will jam than your sword will break.

The simplicity of the smaller form factors means they’re easier to upgrade. All computer companies constantly improve their platforms. However, smartphone manufacturers have an easier time of fixing problems, because of the more limited nature of their solutions. Again, I am not sure I totally buy this explanation, but it is an argument that I have heard.

Actually, smartphones are not more reliable than desktops. We throw away broken smartphones. We repair desktops. We mentally compartmentalize the two tasks differently, so we think never think about debugging smartphones, whereas we remember the frequent annoying calls to tech support for our desktops.  Think of how often you buy a smartphone as compared to how often you buy a laptop or desktop.

The “smaller is more reliable” myth is really, stupid and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about technology. By far and away, this was the sentiment that I heard expressed the most by AMREL’s engineers.

“Compared to a smartphone, a desktop is a large truck,” explained Magnus Pyk, AMREL’s Director of Engineering. “It has more power, more torque, and just more room for more stuff. You can put an entire recording studio on a desktop, far more than what a tablet or smartphone is capable of. Smaller form factors are lowered powered, simpler systems. This is worse than comparing apples to oranges.”

In other words, you can’t compare the different platforms, because they are not comparable. They are built for entirely different range of capabilities. A compact car might get better gas mileage than a tank, but if I had to go into battle, I know which vehicle I would want.

Whatever form factor you do decide on, you may want to check out AMREL’s complete list of offerings.  No matter what size platform you choose, we have one that you will absolutely, positively be able to depend on.

Windows 10 Tips & Tricks [VIDEO]

I looked at a number of videos that offer the best “tips and tricks” on the Microsoft’s latest operating system. I found that vast majority fell into 3 categories:

  • Ones that featured narrators who spoke with nearly indecipherable accents.
  • Ones that featured narrators that spoke so fast that I couldn’t figure out what they were saying.
  • My personal favorites: ones featured narrators who spoke too fast with nearly indecipherable accents.

After nearly loosing complete faith in the internet, I checked out my old standby CNET.  CNET has a number of videos with clear explanations for Windows 10 as well as narrators with spoke in an understandable manner.

The videos proclaim what you probably already have heard: Windows 10 fixes many of the problems found in earlier operating systems.  After hearing someone yell for the umpteenth time “The start menu is back!” with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for transcendent sports moments, I grew a little suspicious.

Is it possible that Microsoft has deliberately screwed up some features, so that when they fix them later, people feel even more bonded to this OS? This is a classic technique used by domestic abusers and other grand manipulators.  President Lyndon Johnson used to berate subordinates unmercifully and then give them a car.  Of course, for this to be true, we would have to believe Microsoft to be pure evil.  I leave this to your own judgment.

Below are three videos that I found helpful.  You can also find more CNET videos in their How to webpage.

Windows 10 is here. Resistance is futile. [VIDEO]

Should you upgrade to Windows 10?  You should if:

  1. You don’t have enough anxiety in your life. Nothing like learning a new operating system to  raise dangerously low levels of stress.
  2. You really, really hate Windows 8. Microsoft set out to fix the mistakes of its earlier OS (The Start menu is back! Yay!).  This is why Windows 10’s unofficial slogan is “Now, 67% less annoying than Windows 8!”
  3. You absolutely, positively must play Xbox games on your laptop. There is an export feature that allows you to do this, and evidently it’s pretty cool.
  4. You have too much privacy and want to received personalized ads. Sure you can opt out of Microsoft’s snooping, but as Alec Meer of the gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun notes: “….  despite chest-thumping, we’re-all-chums-here talk about how ‘real transparency starts with straightforward terms and policies that people can clearly understand.’ There is no world in which 45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website constitutes ‘real transparency.’”

The consensus seems to be that Windows 10 is here to stay, possibly for a long time.  So, if you are a PC user, you will be using Windows 10. Before you upgrade, you  may want to wait for awhile until some of the bugs shake out.

For a more comprehensive review with considerably less snark, watch the video below.

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See you at SOFIC

SOFIC 2015 v2

 

Get a sneak peek!  AMREL will show off its new rugged Android tablets & handheld devices at this year’s SOFIC!

AMREL will feature a preview of some its newest, most advanced rugged computing solutions including:

  • Android/Windows solutions, such our new Android handhelds.
  • Super-slender laptops, such as  the ROCKY RV11 the thinnest, rugged laptop on the market that has a 15.6” display.
  • Powerful handheld & tablets, including our new Flexpedient Android tablet.

 We customize, design, prototype, and deliver solutions faster than anyone

 Learn more at: computers.amrel.com

AMREL at MCB Camp Pendleton

AMREL will be displaying its latest and greatest at MCB Camp Pendleton on Tactical & Tech Day, Wednesday,  April 22, 2015. We will be showcasing our line of super-slim, ultra-rugged laptops, handhelds, and tablets.

Special sneak peak! Come and get a look at some of our special products before they’re released to the market, including:

  • AT80 Rugged Android Tablet
  • DS11, a tablet so thin you won’t believe it’s fully rugged
  • Many others

Also, on hand will be the RS11 and the RV11, the world’s thinnest, rugged laptops with 13.3″ and 15.6″ displays, respectively. And you won’t want to miss our Android APEX AH53 handheld, so tough it has an IP67 rating.

Learn more about our rugged mobile computing solutions at: computers.amrel.com

Thinnest, Rugged Laptop with 15” Display is here!

RV11sliderclean1AMREL announced the launch of thinnest rugged laptop with a 15” display.  Leveraging 30+ years of experience of supplying rugged computers to warfighters as well as Public Safety officers, AMREL has developed a fully rugged laptop that is just 1.25 inch thick.

“Durable, rugged computers are traditionally regarded as heavy and cumbersome,” explained Kalvin Chen, AMREL’s VP of Operations.  “However, slimmed-down computers are becoming increasingly popular. At AMREL, we believe soldiers, police officers, and other end-users deserve the best of both worlds so we introduced our ‘Tough & Thin’ series.  This series is dedicated to reducing the size, weight, and power for their mission and application. The 15” ROCKY RV11 laptop is our latest addition.”

AMREL’s “Tough & Thin” series includes:

  • ROCKY DB6 – Atom-powered handheld that is the smallest rugged computer in the world with full Windows OS
  • ROCKY DF6 – ARM-based handheld which runs the Windows CE
  • ROCKY RS11 13” laptop – Only 1” thick
  • An Android handheld is expected to be released soon

“The ROCKY RV11 is an important member of this series,” states Mr. Chen, “because 15” is the size that most of our clients demand for laptop displays.”

Like all AMREL products, ROCKY RV11 is fully rugged.  Independently certified for MIL-STDs 810/ 461, and IP65, it comes standard with a durable Solid State Hard Drive.  Yet, it weighs only 8.16 pounds and is just 1.25 inches thick.

Despite its thinness, ROCKY RV11 doesn’t skimp on power. It has a powerful Intel® Core™ i7 Processor, well-suited for modern data-intensive applications.

Perfect for applications that require rigorous field work, heavy data input, and a large display, the ROCKY RV11can be used for:

  • Onsite Data Collection & Management
  • Front-Line Mapping & Situational Awareness
  • Oil & Gas, Mining, and Construction
  • Field Research & Surveying
  • Combat Control Solutions

To learn more about the RV11 click here.

The Next Big Thing for Rugged Computers

Since AMREL customizes most of the products we sell, we pay pretty close attention to what our customers want. While we do not claim to be prophets, we have noticed certain trends when we discuss computing solutions with our clients. Here is what we think will be “The Next Big Things” for rugged computers.

Big displays/ Small form factors
We get a lot of inquires about the RF10, the only rugged laptop that has a 17” display. Same thing about our DK10 tablet that has a 12” display. Maybe it’s the popularity of mapping applications or maybe everyone is aging and getting poor eyesight. Whatever the reason, people want BIG screens.

At the same time, they want smaller form factors. People are using tablets for tasks that once required laptops, and are using handhelds for applications that once needed tablets. Please call us if you know how to put a 17” display on a smartphone.

ARM race
One key to the popularity of smaller from factors are ARM processors. While more limited in their ability to support full computer functions, they use less energy than traditional processors (such as Intel).

To get around the limitation of ARM processors, computing solutions have adopted “fat server/thin client” model. Computing functions are off-loaded to the cloud. You no longer need a powerful desktop computer to download your email. When your email is cloud based, a simple low powered smartphone can easily check it.

My smartphone, my trash
A consequence of the preference for ARM- based small form factors is that hardware is cheaper and more disposable. If your desktop computer is destroyed, you have not only lost an expensive piece of equipment, but also a lot of valuable data as well. If your smartphone gets trashed, it’s less expensive to replace, and your data lives on in the cloud.

Considering disposability is one of its main attractions, a smartphone that is also rugged may sound like a contradiction in terms. Even if it is relatively cheap to replace, a broken smartphone is still a time waster and a general pain in the rear end. So, we are getting many requests for durable handheld computers. In addition to the DB6, DF6 and our other established small platforms, we plan to soon launch a new line of super-tough handhelds.

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Android rules, but mobile Windows is not dead yet
Android OS is clearly on the rise. Interestingly, this has not slowed down inquires to AMREL for Windows CE-based platforms. Institutions with legacy applications haven’t jumped on the Android bandwagon yet. While continuing to support mobile Windows OS, we plan to dramatically expand our Android offerings in the near future.

Attack of the super-thin computers
As you probably noticed, thin is in. Leaf through any computer magazine, and you will see ads boasting of their slim platforms. While this is primarily a phenomenon of consumer electronics, even the rarefied world of rugged platforms has been affected by “computer anorexia.”

Never one to pass up a good trend, AMREL offers:
• RS11 – With a 13” display, it’s the thinnest rugged laptop in the world
• DB6 – The super lightweight handheld
• RV11 – It is the thinnest rugged laptop with a 15” display on the market

This year we plan to offer a rugged tablet so thin you can cut cheese with it. Well, maybe not that thin, but still…

COTS, COTS, and more COTS
Classify this trend as “more of the same.” One of the biggest consumers of rugged platforms is the US Department of Defense (DOD). They have been COTS obsessed for years, and there is no sign of this mania letting up. COTS products are supposedly cheaper, have better supply lines, and the DOD doesn’t have to worry about keeping their production capabilities alive in times of low demand.

Of course the DOD still hasn’t lost its taste for highly specific requirements. This has led to the phenomena of “Customized COTS,” i.e. off-the-shelf products that can be easily modified. For almost 30 years, AMREL has pioneered “Customized COTS” and continues to be a leader in this field.

Quick & inexpensive prototyping
Incorporating end-user feedback for rugged solutions has always been problematic. With the pace of technological change rapidly accelerating and the increasing uncertainty surrounding possible future wars, adaptability has become ever more critical. Rugged solutions must be designed to be easily and inexpensively modifiable. Since customization is one of AMREL’s core capabilities, we feel very confident in meeting this challenge.

What do you think?
The above list is not be meant to be exhaustive, but just an informal collection of our impressions. What is your vision of the future of rugged computers? Send your thoughts to editor@amrel.com.

Learn more about AMREL’s offerings at computers.amrel.com

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10 Things You Need to Know about Night Vision

Do you need a computer that is night vision compatible? Before you buy, you should know the answers to these 10 questions.

What is a night vision compatible computer?
Night vision compatible computers do NOT possess the capabilities of night vision goggles. They do NOT allow you to see in the dark. Instead they restrict their emission of light, in order to prevent interference with or detection by night vision goggles.

Who needs a night vision compatible computer?
Generally, there are two classes of people who need night vision compatible computers: aviation crews and military ground troops, especially Special Forces. Ground forces use computers with decreased light emissions to avoid detection by the enemy. Airplane crews need computers whose light emissions are restricted, so they don’t blind a nearby pilot who is using night vision goggles.

Are there differences between night vision compatible computers used by aviation crews and those used by Special Forces?
Yes. Filters used to suppress the transmission of light have different level of strength. AMREL’s off-the-shelf night vision solutions use filters that permit light transmission of 2.5%, which is a commonly requested level (alternative filter ranges are available by request). Special Forces requirements can go as low as 1%. Aviation standards (MIL-STD 3009) are not as strict and permit 20% transmission.

One reason there are differences between the two types of night vision compatible computers is that they are used differently. A pilot will use his night vision goggles to fly, but will switch to using his naked eye when viewing instrumentation within the cockpit. On the other hand, a soldier on the ground will use his night vision goggles to view nearby objects as well as ones in the distance.

Another difference is that aviators prefer their night vision to have an anti-glare surface. Ground troops on the other hand do not care.

Sometimes, the markets overlap; Special Forces in airplanes will use computers with night vision solutions to avoid blinding the pilot who is using goggles to fly.

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What is “black background”?
Some Naval applications demand that that night vision compatible equipment emit zero radiation when they are turned off. The requirement for this specification is called “black background.” This leads to stricter requirements than is found in aviation applications.

Can night vision compatible computers have a workable touch screen?
Yes. The filter can diminished the effectiveness of the touch screen slightly, but most people do not notice this.

Why is the suppression of infrared range emissions important?
Night visions goggles use infrared (IR) range. Therefore, night vision filters must suppress light transmitting in that range, so that an enemy using night visions goggles cannot see their computer. Sometimes, you will see phrases about night vision compatible computers, such as “…. reduces your infrared signature.”

Consider the following graph used by Cevians, LLC (formerly a division of Wamco Inc.), an industry leading supplier of filters, to illustrate the suppressive properties of one of their products. Infrared starts at about 700 nm, so this graph shows zero transmission in that range.


nightvision graph

 

What is “full color rendering” and do I need it?

Night vision filters can suppress the spectrum unevenly. Sometimes, the image on the display of a night vision compatible computer will look distorted, even monochromatic.

This is a problem for a variety of applications, especially mapping, which may use color to convey critical detail and information

Night vision filters can be constructed for “full color rendering.” Red looks red, yellow looks yellow and so on. For many applications, this is essential.

What the heck is U´ and V´?
Pronounced “U prime” and “V prime,” these coordinates describe color distortion caused by filters (even “full color” ones have some). An expert can look at u’ and v’ and know how whether or not the filters are appropriate for his application.

Why should I care if my filter is “polymeric”?
Filters made from polymeric materials are not flammable. Especially important for aviation applications.

Are night vision compatible computers “sunlight readable”?
Not with the filters on. Many night vision compatible computers have filters that are removable, so they can be used in the daytime. This leads to an important often unasked question, “Where the heck do I put my night vision filter when I am not using it?” This may seem to be a trivial detail, but when designing a night vision solution, it is an important consideration.

Click here to learn about AMREL’s night vision solutions.

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AMREL New Rugged Night Vision Computing Solutions  

AMREL now offers a full line of turn-key night vision solutions, fully compliant with MIL-STD 3009 and CECOM (CSLP) standards.

“AMREL’s rugged laptops, tablets, and handhelds are the perfect platforms for night vision solutions,” states Kalvin Chen, AMREL’s VP of Operations. “The durability and reliability of our computers makes them practical for both ground and aviation purposes.”

The widespread use of night vision goggles has necessitated the adoption of light restricting filters for mobile computers. Aviation crews must be careful that the light of their laptops and tablets do not blind pilots who use night vision goggles to fly in dark, dangerous areas. Military forces on the ground are keen that enemies cannot detect their presence by using night vision goggles to spot light emitting from their tactical computers.

“Special Forces have used AMREL’s rugged computers for years,” explains Mr. Chen. “We are especially pleased that we can offer them this feature, which enhances their safety by limiting their detectability. Of course, our night vision computing solutions also meet the less stringent aviation standards.”

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AMREL’s Night Vision Computing Solutions virtually eliminate all infrared emissions completely, which is important, since night vision goggles usually work in that part of the spectrum. Overall light transmissions are restricted to just 2.5%. Other levels of light suppression are available on request.

AMREL Night Vision Solutions use the industry-leading SafeNight™* filters. These polymeric filters are nonflammable and offer full color rendering, which is important for mapping applications.

AMREL Night Vision Computing Solutions are available for:

  • ROCKY RS11, the lightest, thinnest rugged laptop in the world (13.3” display)
  • ROCKY DK10 fully rugged tablet (12.1” display)
  • ROCKY DB6 handheld, the smallest, fully rugged handheld with full Windows OS (5” display)
  • Other computing platforms available upon request.

For more information, visit: http://computers.amrel.com/?p=7491

*“SafeNight” trademark is property of CEVIANS, LLC – Formerly a division of Wamco Inc.