Revealed: the military standards and robots HP uses to test its laptops
It’s not often the torture testing behind the latest laptops is laid bare for the world to see but, at HP’s Global Influencers Summit in Shanghai, the firm showed off a selection of its toughest testing kit — as well as some impressive statistics about the stresses and strains its devices experience during the design process.
“All of our EliteBook products are put through military spec 810G testing,” explained Carol Hess, HP’s vice president for worldwide commercial PC marketing. That includes the new EliteBook Folio, and that means an extremely strenuous workout for a humble notebook. She said HP uses eight of the 810G standards benchmarks, including tests that measure for heat, cold, humidity and dust resistance as well as a laptop’s ability to handle vibrations and drops. “We drop [laptops] about 30 inches from a table, 26 times on each side of the unit.”
Scott Lowe, an engineer from HP’s Houston development centre — and owner of spectacular facial hair — unveiled a handset designed to hit computing equipment with thousands of volts of electrostatic charge. “We use this tool to generate several thousand volts,” said Lowe, “and we test many places on the computer — the touchpad, keyboard, connecters, the edge of the LCD.” Lowe doesn’t just stop at a quick spark: “we test to 8,000 and 15,000 volts, and we do 115,000 hours of testing” across the entire design cycle of a desktop or laptop PC.
Wayne Chen, a testing engineer from HP’s Taiwan development centre, then talked the audience through some of his favourite robots. One is a large metal arm that opens and closes four notebooks at once. Chen said that “we run it for 25,000 cycles, the equivalent of ten times a day for seven years,” and HP builds its hinges from magnesium alloy with hardened steel pins that Lowe claimed “last virtually forever”.
That’s not the only robot HP uses to test its laptops. Chen explained that “the latch can be a very complex mechanical design,” and one of his machines uses a three-stage mechanism to open and close the latches on the latest laptops to ensure smooth operation.
It’s a neat machine and, like the hinge testing robot, goes through 25,000 cycles on a new design. Keyboards, meanwhile, are tested for “up to ten million keystrokes, which is seven years of typical use”.
The biggest machines in the room, though, were two chambers — one designed to simulate high heat levels and another that can produce extreme cold. HP tests through “the entire operation spectrum”, with laptops on show in Shanghai operational at 0 and 35 degrees Celsius. Laptops are also turned off and subjected to wider variation in temperature, with low and high points of -20 degrees and 60 degrees Celsius mentioned by Lowe.
These tests are conducted through the design phase of a new notebook rather than performed on each machine that comes off the production line, but it’s obvious that plenty of work goes into finding faults and determining which machines will stand the test of time.
Hess is clearly proud of HP’s testing, claiming its procedures are “more [extensive] than other folks in the industry are doing”. If any other manufacturers are reading and want to invite us to their secret testing labs, we’re all ears.