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June 21, 2011
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

New ruggedized computers for law enforcement

Dell and General Dynamics-Itronix report new models for public safety users

Computers that ride around in patrol cars have a hard life. Besides the inherent hazards of sloshed coffee and dumped Slurpees, they are subjected to vibration, dust, temperature extremes, and vicarious abuse instigated by the results and assignments displayed on their screens. The typical road warrior machine won’t last a week in a police environment. Two high-tech giants — Dell and General Dynamics-Itronix — recently announced new models of portable computers designed for the public safety and military markets.

General Dynamics-Itronix GD8200
The GD8200 from General Dynamics-Itronix is characterized as “the ultimate fully-rugged notebook.” Computers in this market niche generally come in two flavors: semi-rugged and fully-rugged. The semi-rugged models are hardier than a standard laptop, but won’t stand up to truly heavy abuse like being immersed in water or run over by a truck. The fully-rugged models do all that and more. The government specification for these machines is MIL-STD-810G, a thick volume that sets out how much shaking, dousing, burning, freezing, dropping and other perils they have to endure and still function.

The GD8200 is contained in a magnesium alloy case with an integrated handle. All port covers are sealed against dust and moisture, and the port covers lock to keep them from coming unexpectedly loose. The display is a touchscreen 13.3-inch DynaVue II, which is GD-Itronix’s brand that is readable in harsh, direct sunlight. You can have a glow-in-the-dark keyboard or a backlit model for night operation. There is an innovative “Stealth mode” startup option that boots the computer without any light or sound emission.

Inside is an Intel Core i7 processor running at 2.2GHz. If that’s all computer-speak to you, know that this processor will run just about any application on the market. Standard internal memory is 2GB, expandable to 8GB, with a choice of a heated 500GB or 750GB standard hard disk drive (HDD), a 500GB hybrid HDD, or a 120GB solid state drive (SSD). Solid state drives are, in essence, very large flash drives with no moving parts. They are generally faster than conventional HDDs and far more reliable, since there are no drive heads to crash. Unless you need the huge amount of disk storage that a conventional HDD provides (and you probably don’t), a SSD is the way to go for a rugged machine.

Internal wireless communication is via a Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n modem (that’s every wireless protocol available, including the fastest) and a radio capable of accessing a 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular data network. There is also a GPS receiver with high sensitivity software and Bluetooth.

Dell Latitude E6400 XFR and E6420 ATG
Dell Computer has been a major player in the home and business market for years, but hasn’t had much of an offering in the rugged computer landscape. This is a smart move for them, as so many organizations already have purchasing and maintenance agreements in force with Dell for their office computers.

Dell’s rugged and semi-rugged models are the Latitude E6400 XFR and E6420 ATG, respectively. The XFR uses the Intel Core2 Duo series of processors, while the ATG has the faster Core i5 and i7 series of processor chips. The XFR display is slightly larger than the ATG’s; both some in touchscreen or standard configurations. The ATG has options for a HDD up to 500GB or a SSD up to 256GB, while the XFR has only 128GB drives in conventional or solid state models. All of their HDDs have free-fall sensors on the motherboards that park the drive heads if the sensor detects an impending crash.

The E6400 XFR is advertised as having a “Ballistic Armor Protection System,” but is followed up with that meaning it meets or exceeds the older MIL-STD-810F standard. It doesn’t indicate specifically whether the machine will take a bullet for you, but my guess is that you shouldn’t try it to find out.

There are several wireless options with both models that include all flavors of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cellular data radios for EVDO and tri-band HSUPA networks.

Options with the Dell machines include Dell’s Mobile Video Evidence Management package for agencies that run their in-car video system on the car’s computer. The system will accept inputs from multiple cameras and the light bar, brakes, microphone, shotgun lock, and other equipment. The analog signal from the cameras is compressed onboard into the H.264 format and recorded onto a SDHC memory card. Video can be uploaded wirelessly to an access point at the station. Base price for the E6420 ATG is $2434.00; for the E6400 XFR, $4993.00.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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