Rust And Dust: How Rugged Laptops Stand Up To The Elements

Rugged laptops play a vital role in the success of many industries. From the military to public safety sectors, these heavy-duty pieces of technology can be (depending on their specific design) capable of withstanding total immersion in water, sand and dust penetration, and even explosive atmospheres. Considering the fact that the loss of a single laptop can result in costs up to and beyond $47,000, investing in a rugged laptop is in your best interest — but just how do we know these historically delicate machines are able to tolerate such extreme conditions?

Tests, Tests, And More Tests

The short answer is that they’re tested to failure. The U.S. military has devised a series of defense standards — also known as military standards, or MIL-STD for short — that ensure a piece of equipment can withstand a variety of environments, from the desert to the open ocean. The definition of these defense standards is as follows:


“A document that establishes uniform engineering and technical requirements for military-unique or substantially modified commercial processes, procedures, practices, and methods. There are five types of defense standards: interface standards, design criteria standards, manufacturing process standards, standard practices, and test method standards.”

There are varying tests beyond this initial description that define, by number, just what this equipment has been approved for. For example, MIL-STD-810 (a standard that many fully rugged laptops are held to) uses test methods to determine the environmental effects on equipment; all MIL-STD-810-approved rugged laptops can stand up to:

  • Low pressure
  • High and low temperatures plus temperature shock (both operating and in storage)
  • Rain (including wind blown and freezing rain)
  • Humidity
  • Fungus
  • Salt/Rust
  • Sand and dust exposure
  • Explosive atmospheres
  • Leakage
  • Acceleration
  • Shock and transport shock
  • Gunfire vibration
  • And random vibration

Although rugged laptops in the construction or maritime sectors may not be subjected to gunfire and explosions, rust, dust, and fungus pose significant threats to advanced technology.

Fighting Fungus, Salt, And Dust

We’ve come a long way since bacteria was first discovered in 1683, but that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to struggle with it. While you need only be concerned about the microscope organisms on the surface of your keyboard, fungus can prove to be an exceedingly challenging problem — especially if you work in humid environments.

Modern electrical equipment uses fans to cool motors and processors, which rely on intake ducts that bring in huge amounts of dust with the air. Introduce moisture and this dust creates a bed for mold spores to grow on; the delicate inner workings of computers can be compromised if it continues to grow and spread, forcing companies to purchase new ones.

However, if you eliminate the dust, you eliminate the possibility for mold to grow. At the same time, rugged laptops with MIL-STD-810 are also waterproof — the two things needed for mold spores to take off are eradicated at the very beginning.

If you can keep out the minuscule particles of dust, rugged laptops can survive — and thrive — in a wide variety of environments, including industrial. Machine shops frequently use CNC machines in their work; in many cases, CNC experts can achieve tight tolerances as small as 0.0005 inches. If the shavings flying off of these machines — which can sometimes be powder-like in size — manage to get into your tablet or laptop, you would have to crack the entire thing open and manually clean it to avoid damage. If left alone, they could scratch delicate components and even provide a base for rust to form, particularly if this work is occurring near salt water. However, these shavings are often larger than the average dust particle; if you’re protected against dust, you’re safe from both.

If your work takes you out to sea, in dusty or sandy places, or exposes your equipment to the byproducts of heavy machining, don’t take the risk. Using fully rugged laptops are the only way to ensure you’ll always be able to get the job done — and without needing to buy six new computers along the way.

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