Itronix GoBook III review

£2547
Price when reviewed

The Itronix GoBook III isn’t like most rugged notebooks. Normally, you’d have to put up with limited specifications to get that air of indestructability, but not here. Inside the base model, you’ll find a 1.8GHz Pentium M 745 CPU supported by 512MB of memory (2GB maximum) and a 40GB hard disk. If that isn’t enough, the pre-production model reviewed here comes with 1GB of PC2700 DDR SDRAM and the optional 80GB 4,200rpm hard disk.

Itronix GoBook III review

As you’d expect, the GoBook III design was tested for robustness at the factory, including surviving 26 drops from three feet onto plywood over a concrete base. The die-cast magnesium system complies with, among others, MIL STD 810F and IP-54 for ingress protection against rain, snow, dust and so on. Much of the latter is achieved by foam-sealed doors and rubber bungs over the various openings and, although there are fan/heatsink grilles, the cavity is shut off from the rest of the interior. An optional hard disk heater lets you boot when it’s -23C, and the BIOS has a stealth mode to control LED, fan, system beep, audio and screen output.

No matter what the conditions, the GoBook’s performance will impress. With a 2D score of 1.77 (helped by that 1GB of RAM), it can embarrass quite a few regular ‘performance’ laptops. It isn’t too shabby in the graphics department either. Admittedly, the 64MB ATi Mobility Radeon 9000 isn’t the beefiest graphics card around, but then this isn’t a gaming platform. It will, however, give a reasonable boost to 3D applications on the road.

You can’t fit much information on the notebook’s 1,024 x 768-pixel 12.1in screen, but it’s incredibly solid. You can rap it solidly with your knuckles without fear of damage. In spite of this, it’s still a touchscreen that responds reasonably well to a fingernail or the crude plastic stylus that clips into the lid. Surface graininess is kept to a minimum, although the backlighting is uneven and you’ll find the surface attracting fingerprints. But crucially, the semi-transflective panel is readable outdoors – even in direct sunlight.

Wireless is vital in a rugged notebook, and the GoBook III has it covered. Wireless LAN comes as standard (802.11b/g), and you can opt for GPRS, Bluetooth and GPS. GPRS/EDGE takes the form of a tri-band Sierra Wireless AirCard, providing an always-on data and GSM voice communication. A UMTS (3G) version is being evaluated, although there’s no release date yet. Fortunately, the design conforms to CRMA (Common Radio Module Architecture), making it easy to upgrade – all it takes is a Type II PC Card mounted inside the machine.

The GPRS radio has an external rubberised antenna on the lid. While there’s no great danger of it snapping, we do wish there was provision for clipping it back out of the way. Contacts under the notebook provide external antenna connections for an in-car dock too. When you’re back in civilisation, you’ll want to switch to the faster wireless LAN or 10/100 Ethernet, and there’s a V.92 modem if all else fails. If you opt for GPS you’ll get a tidy implementation, with a quadrifilar helix antenna in a 19mm-high bulge on the lid. With the screen open, this has a direct view of the sky.

There are plenty of other options too. You can slide the shock-mounted hard disk out after removing the battery and a locking screw, and the optical drive can be changed or replaced with an optional second battery. Not that you’ll necessarily need it, as the primary battery (with the radios off) ran for two hours, 26 minutes under heavy use, and for six hours, 12 minutes with a light load and the screen dimmed, so there’s considerable staying power. If you don’t go for the backlit keyboard option, you can rely on the glow-in-the-dark keys instead.

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