Given how expensive laptops can be, they’re surprisingly fragile. Not only are they easily scratched and scuffed, but a single drop can also crack the case, ruin the screen, or destroy components on the motherboard. Most laptops aren’t designed to stand up to much abuse, so you need to baby them. This is why there’s a whole category of rugged laptops — and the best rugged laptops can handle anything you throw at them.
Compared to the countless laptops for sale today by dozens of computer brands, there are a relatively small number of sugged laptops out there. But when a laptop is identified as rugged, it can withstand drops and shocks, water, temperature extremes, dirt, dust, and more. You can use it indoors or outdoors, at construction sites, in the woods, near water (even on boats) and anywhere else you need to work and stay connected, but the elements would quickly ruin a more typical laptop.
Here I’ve rounded up the 6 best rugged laptops — portables you can use whether you need to take them into harsh conditions, or you are just a bit klutzy and want some added insurance for your portable PC.
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1. Dell Latitude 14 7404 Rugged Extreme NotebookPros:
- Extremely rugged
- Can type or use screen while gloved
- Ports completely covered
- Small 128GB hard drive
- Almost 8 pounds
- Short battery life
Dell makes a superb line of rugged laptops, but the very newest models at not sold on Amazon. That’s okay, though; with relatively minor changes in the Latitude line from year to year, this Dell Latitude 14 7404 is still a superb choice despite not being a 2020 model. This is not a laptop you should choose for casual outdoor use; it’s among the most rugged machines you can buy, and is intended for scenarios in which it’ll need to stand up to real abuse. It has an integrated handle built into the case, big enough even for a gloved hand. The shell is made of magnesium alloy that can protect the insides from shocks and drops, and thick rubber numbers at each corner afford additional protection.
All the ports on this machine are protected by hinged flaps that don’t just pop open; they latch closed, so you need to actively unlock them to gain access to connectors. Those ports include a pair of USB 3 connections, HDMI, an optical drive, SD Card, Ethernet, and more. You can even remove the battery via one of these clasping covers.
Don’t expect a super-high-res display; ruggedized screens are necessarily a compromise, and this laptop has a 14-inch Gorilla Glass screen running at 1366×768 pixels, with a resistive touch screen. You can control it with a stylus (the stylus is captured inside the housing so you don’t lose it when it’s not in use) or your fingers, even if gloved.
The laptop has not just a MIL-DTD-810G rating — which is table stakes for rugged laptops — but also has MIL-STD-461F certification, which refers to its ability to work free from electromagnetic interference. The IP rating is IP65, which means no dust or other particulates can penetrate the case, and it has full protection from low-pressure jets of directed water from any angle (though it”s not necessarily safe from full immersion in water).
2. Asus Chromebook Flip C214 2-In-1 LaptopPros:
- 2-in-1 convertible design
- Rugged enough for daily abuse
- Survives 1-meter drops
- No IP rating
- Small 32GB storage
- Stylus not included
If you don’t need a tank of a laptop that can withstand, you know, being run over by a tank, there are ruggedized options that can stand up to abuse without weighing 8 pounds and looking like you’re carrying the nuclear codes around with you. Consider the Asus Chromebook Flip C214, a modest Chromebook that has been ruggedized to go places most other Chromebooks dare not tread.
This machine has the added advantage of being a 2-in-1 convertible, so you can use it as a laptop, or flip the screen around and it turns into a tablet. You can also use it tented, which is a useful mode for presentations or watching media. It’s built on an Intel Celeron N4000 processor and contains 32GB of storage, which isn’t a lot, but remember that as a Chromebook, there’s very little need for local storage — almost everything will happen online. The 11.6-inch touchscreen display has a resolution of 1366×768 pixels.
All of that is fairly standard fare for a Chromebook, but it also has a ruggedized body. It meets a limited set of MIL-STD 810G guidelines for durability, including the ability to fall from 1.2 meters while powered on without damage along with pressure tests (it can endure a 66-pound weight on the lid without damaging the screen as well as surviving a hinge torture test). The ports have also passed a durability test, being plugged and unplugged 5,000 times. The keyboard is highly spill resistant. The shell also has rubberized safety grips to prevent drops, and the 3D textured finish stands up abuse while preventing searches and other minor damage.
3. Panasonic Toughbook FZ-55Pros:
- Highly modular
- Full HD display
- Modern performance
- Not fully ruggedized
- Modular components are expensive
- 1.3-inches thick
Panasonic’s Toughbook series is virtually synonymous with rugged portables, and the Panasonic Toughbook FZ-55 is an excellent example of a somewhat — but not fully — ruggedized laptop, offering some interesting capabilities you won’t encounter in a lot of other models.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Toughbook 55 is the fact that it features a highly modular design — you can remove and replace components like you’re building a high-tech Lego laptop. The system is filled with bays in which you can insert a wide assortment of accessories, like optical drives, RFID readers, authentication readers, graphics cards, and additional storage. Even the keyboard is replaceable; this laptop is among the most customizable systems you will ever encounter. That said, these modular components aren’t inexpensive and you can end up spending a lot of money building a custom laptop.
Modular design aside, this is also a rugged laptop. It is built with a magnesium alloy shell and includes a built-in handle that’s large enough to accommodate a gloved hand. It’s certified to MIL-STD-810H, primarily for vibration resistance and temperature extremes. Its IP53 rating isn’t remarkable — that means it’s only partially protected from dust and sand and is only guaranteed to withstand spraying water, so best to avoid splashes, jets, and full submersion.
On the other hand, you get a fair bit of performance from this laptop. It features an Intel Core i7 processor and a generous 512GB SSD for storage. The 14-inch touchscreen is full HD (1920×1080 pixels). It is also a fully updated laptop when it comes to ports, revealing a pair of USB 3 and a USB-C connector behind latched port covers. The webcam is a Windows Hello-compatible model with face recognition for security. The keyboard is even backlit. So while you pay for the ruggedized treatment in terms of heft — it tips the scales at 4.6 pounds and is a beefy 1.3 inches thick — you’re not sacrificing a modern laptop experience.
4. MobileDemand Flex 10BPros:
- Rugged but portable tablet design
- All-day battery
- Excellent shock and drop protection
- Modest CPU and storage
- 1280x800-pixel display
- No Ethernet
When you’re shopping for your rugged portable, don’t disregard other form factors. For example, you might actually prefer a rugged tablet — particularly one that comes with a suitably rugged detachable keyboard. The MobileDemand Flex 10B is a rugged touchscreen tablet that could be exactly what you’re looking for, especially if you don’t need to do a lot of general-purpose data entry in the field.
While a lot of rugged laptops tip the scales at 4.5 pounds or more, the Flex 10B is just 2.1 pounds, which is a welcome relief if you need to carry it around all day around a shop floor or out in the field. It’s a capacitive touchscreen, which means it works even with gloved fingers and has a 1280×800-pixel resolution. It’s powered by an Intel Celeron N4100 quad-core processor, has 4GB RAM and a modest 128GB storage. In addition, the low-power processor and 3,000-mAh battery combine to deliver a solid all-day battery life.
The MIL-STD-810G rating means the laptop has passed rigorous drop testing — MobileDemand says that it can survive 26 repeated drops to plywood over concrete at a height of 4 feet. All the ports (including USB 3, USB-C and HDMI) are individually covered for protection from the elements. The tablet also includes a connection plate for affixing it, if desired, to a mobile or permanent mounting solution.
5. Panasonic Toughbook CF-31 MK5Pros:
- Extremely rugged
- Runtime over 24 hours with a second battery
- Includes LTE radio
- Weighs over 8.5 pounds
- Small 13.1 inch display has just XGA resolution
- No USB-C
if you need a monster of ruggedness, a model like the Panasonic Toughbook CF-31 MK5 is the right way to go. Despite a very affordable price, this system is the right combination of powerful, rugged and portable. It’s powered by an Intel Core i5 and has a 240GB SSD for storage. The 13.1-inch touchscreen display boasts an XGA resolution (1024×768 pixels). Perhaps the most compelling differentiator, though, is that this laptop includes a 4G LTE radio. That means the Toughbook is able to get online virtually anywhere, even when well outside of Wi-Fi range. Should it bother you that this isn’t a 5G antenna? Nope — it’ll be another year, minimum before there’s any practical benefit to 5G in most regions of the US. Even in a major city like LA, 5G coverage is extremely spotty right now and 5G devices fall back on LTE.
Panasonic made sure this laptop was ready for hostile conditions. It’s machined from a magnesium alloy case with an integrated handle. It’s MIL-STD-810G certified for a wide variety of hazards. It can survive a six-foot drop, shock and vibration, dusty and sandy environments, temperature extremes, and more. It’s also resistant to liquids including rain, humidity, and even sustained “jets of water” per its IP65 rating. Its MIL-STD-461F also certifies it’s able to work in areas with high electromagnetic interference. Not only is the storage drive mounted in a shock-resistant cage, but the drive is heated as well, ensuring it can keep working in freezing conditions.
The laptop is equipped with a full array of ports including HDMI, VGA, three USB 3 an SD card slot, and every port has its own individual latching door. A second multimedia bay can hold an additional battery (that delivers more than 24 hours of runtime). And despite all the hard-nosed survivability features, it still has a backlit keyboard for easier typing in dark environments. The whole laptop weighs in at a considerable 8.5 pounds, though.
6. Durabook S15AB G2Pros:
- Large, full HD screen
- Expandable with multiple drive bays
- Good price
- No rated water resistance
- No bioletric security
- Ports aren't seperately protected
The Durabook S15AB G2 is a mixed bag of semi-ruggedness, but depending upon your needs, it might be exactly what you’re looking for, offering some compelling features at a pretty reasonable price. Right out of the gate, the laptop’s most impressive feature is its 15.6-inch display, which is somewhat unusual in a world of rugged laptops that typically have smaller screens. The 1920×1080-pixel screen isn’t a touchscreen, however.
As for ruggedness, you get MIL-STD-810G certification for protection from a handful of useful real-world dangers, like 3-foot drops, shocks, humidity, dust, temperature extremes, and sand intrusion. That’s also reflected in the IP5X rating, but note that the “X” indicates it has not been tested for any kind of water protection. Durabook strangely claims the keyboards is water-resistant, but the IP rating definitely does not back that assertion up.
The laptop is obviously oversized — it weighs 5.7 pounds and is 1.2 inches thick — and is generously rubberized to protect the innards from drops and bumps. And the insides are fairly performant, too. It’s built on an Intel Core i5 and has 256GB of storage. There is a solid array of ports, including a pair of USB 3, one USB-C, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, and more. The only disadvantage here is that each port isn’t individually covered — you get a single door to protect all the ports on each side. That means if you have to open a door to reach the HDMI port, you’re exposing Ethernet, USB-C and USB 3 ports needlessly at the same time.
What is a Rugged Laptop?
Rugged is often in the eye of the beholder. Many laptops bill themselves as "rugged" because they have slightly more shock resistance or a beefier case. But real rugged laptops are designed to stand up to a whole different level of abuse.
First and foremost, any laptop that's truly rugged should be in compliance with MIL-STD 810G, which is the federal guideline that identifies all the tests that rugged gear needs to pass. More on that in a moment.
Any laptop worth its salt in the ruggedness competition will also have an IP rating, which tells you how resilient the laptop is when exposed to dirty/dusty environments and moisture or water.
And then there are other, less common ruggedness designations. You might see laptops that can claim a MIL-STD-461F certification, which refers to its ability to work free from electromagnetic interference.
Those are just the ratings, though; there are a lot of other things to watch for that go well beyond simple certifications. Consider the laptop chassis, for example; is it made of plastic or metal, and can it fully protect the screen from breaking if you put a lot of weight on it (or accidentally drive over it with a piece of equipment at a job site)? Speaking of the display, is it made with reinforced glass?
Likewise, how strong are the hinges? Are the ports covered or otherwise protected? Do the corners have robust bumpers to absorb shocks and drops?
What You Need to Know About MIL-STD 810G
You don't need to know all the tests that are contained in MIL-STD 810G; it's enough to recognize the abbreviation and note whether a laptop claims compliance. The battery of tests includes a lot of physical abuse (like drops, shocks, and vibration) as well as exposure to elements, like extreme heat, cold, moisture, humidity, and water.
But here's something not everyone realizes: If you see MIL-STD 810G on the documentation or marketing materials, that doesn't mean the laptop has passed an exhaustive set of mil-spec tests. There are about three dozen tests documented over nearly 1,000 pages -- that's too much for any manufacturer to handle for a product aimed at civilians. Instead, you'll find that the laptop has passed some number of MIL-STD 810G, tests, though the manufacturer is unlikely to list what specific ones they are.
Making Sense of IP Ratings
Virtually all modern portable electronics (even products not specifically intended to be rugged) have an IP rating. Short for ingress protection, it's usually composed of two values. The first one refers to protection from solid particles, while the second number is protection from liquids.
In real life, that means you'll see laptops described with IP ratings like IP65 or IPX2, for example. "X" means there's no data, while the higher the number the greater the protection. Each number has a very specific definition; IP67, for example, offers complete protection from dust and waterproofing for immersion underwater up to 3 feet in depth for 309 minutes.
The Best Value in a Rugged Laptop
As with any laptop, the right choice for you is undoubtedly based on a variety of factors that include your needs and requirements -- there's no one best laptop. If you need substantial protection, though, it's hard to beat Panasonic Toughbook CF-31 MK5 for a compromise among price, performance and ruggedness.
If you're more of a casual user who just wants a laptop with elements of survivability but don't intend to work on a construction site, or compute on the beach, then the Asus Chromebook Flip C214 might be all you need, at a superb price.
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