DRS Armor 12.1″ Rugged Convertible Notebook

by Reads (17,419)

Rugged notebook and tablet computers are always a favorite with tech geeks no matter if they enjoy gaming or ultraportable notebooks. There is something about a computer you could throw through a car window and let bounce down the road, while continuing to function that warms our hearts. The DRS ARMOR C12 Convertible 12.1" Notebook is one of these military grade notebooks, which is designed to hold up to almost all rugged device standards. Read on to see how well the DRS ARMOR holds up against our testing.

DRS ARMOR C12 Convertible Notebook Specifications (base price $3,050):

  • Processor: 1.2GHz (ULV) Intel Core Solo Processor U1400
  • Memory: 2.5GB (512MB internal x 2GB user replaceable)
  • Storage: 60GB hard disk drive, removable, shock-mounted
  • Display: 12.1-inch sunlight-readable LCD (XGA: 1024 x 768)
  • Input: full-size 84-key keyboard with backlight, pressure-sensitive touchpad, 6 Tablet buttons (10 functions)
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC
  • PCMCIA card Type II
  • Secure Digital (SD) memory card
  • Interface serial port, analog RGB output (UXGA: 1600 x 1200)
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • Mic/line in mini jack (stereo), line-out mini jack (stereo)
  • LAN (10/100/1000 Ethernet), 56 K V.92 modem
  • Wireless LAN integrated IEEE 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi
  • Audio monaural speaker, PCM record / replay
  • Battery: 11.1v 5200mAh
  • Weight: 5.2 lbs. (2.5 kg) including battery
  • Dimensions: 11.2 x 10 x 1.9 inches (28.4 x 25.5 x 4.8 centimeters)
  • Warranty: 3 year parts and labor standard, extended options are available


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Design

The design of the DRS ARMOR notebook is very boxy, with no thought put into making it have soft rounded edges. The notebook is almost twice as thick as a standard 12" notebook, has rubber tabs sticking out at every angle from the edges, and has its own built-in carrying handle. Every part of the notebook that could hit an object if dropped is padded with rubber strips, and all vital components have thick metal panels protecting the body from sharp impacts.


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At first glance many people might ask where the ports are located, but when you take a closer look you see that every external port has its own water proof cap. This keeps dirt and moisture out when not in use, and also protects the fragile connectors in the event something might hit that area of the notebook. The only downside I found with these caps is some don’t fit that tight in place, and feel as if they could pop out if they are snagged on a rough surface.

The bottom of the C12, where you might expect to see easily replaceable components like a battery, you find access panels held in place with large screws. This keeps water out of the notebook with the o-ring sealed panels, and also keeps parts securely in place if the notebook is dropped.


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To get an idea of the ruggedness of this notebook, these are the tests that it is rated to withstand. I think the only one on the list that my Thinkpad could stand up to is the temperature range.

  • Temperature operating: 41°F to 113°F (5°C to 45°C),storage: -40°F to 158°F (-40°C to 70°C)
  • Humidity 5% to 95% RH (without condensation)
  • Altitude operating: 15,000 ft (4,572 m), storage: 40,000 ft (12,192 m), change rate: 2,000 ft/min (609.6 m/min)
  • Shock operating: 147 m/s2 (15 G), 11 ms, half sine wave, storage: 490 m/s2 (50 G), 11 ms, half sine wave
  • Vibration operating: 10 – 55 Hz / 0.075 mm, 55 – 500 Hz / 9.8 m/s2, sine wave, storage: 10 – 55 Hz / 0.15 mm, 55 – 500 Hz / 19.6 m/s2, sine wave 20 – 1000 Hz / 0.04 G2/Hz, 1000 – 2000 Hz / -6dB/Octave, random wave
  • Dust: 8 hours, 2 KPa, circulating talcum
  • Splash: 10 minutes, 2.64 US gal/min (10 L/min), omni-directional spray
  • Drop plywood: 35 inches (90 cm), face/side/corner, 26 total drops, concrete: 35 inches (90 cm), face, 6 total drops

Build Quality

The build quality and construction of the DRS ARMOR C12 is nice, but has a few parts that stick out as odd on a rugged military grade tablet notebook. The rubber bumpers on the edges of the chassis are held on with double-sided sticky tape and a single screw, and after a few days of use started to peel away. The screw kept the piece attached, but it was pulling the notebook in and out of my backpack that made the rubber bumpers start peeling off.

The screen was another area of concern, but in a way that really stumped us. The display lid is very solid and rigid, having no flex even when trying to twist it with a great deal of strength. The problem comes in when pressing on the rear cover, putting ripples over the LCD. My only guess is the panel is solidly attached to the outer frame, and any flex is transmitted to the LCD forming ripples. No damage was ever caused to the LCD during the review, but it was something that stood out since even budget consumer notebooks don’t have this trait.


The last minor annoyance was with the integrated carrying handle, whose plastic clasps didn’t have enough tension to keep a tight grip on the nylon strap. If you were to adjust the slack from the handle for a tighter grip, it would quickly loosen if you give the notebook a bit of a bounce while holding it. Metal clasps would solve this problem, but it was a problem none the less.

Once you get past those odd flaws, the notebook is very well built. The top and bottom panels are a rigid alloy, meant to hold up even when tossed around in the field. One feature that I really loved about this notebook was the spring-loaded metal latch, which held the notebook closed so securely that even a screwdriver would have a hard time prying the notebook open. The latch combined with the carrying handle turned the notebook more into a briefcase than a mobile computer.

The access panels on the bottom of the notebook also hint at the high build quality of the notebook, which are secured with very large screws, sealed with o-rings to keep out the elements, and have foam blocks underneath to keep constant tension on installed parts. The hard drive has an added layer of protection, with its own personal foam cage to protect the drive sharp impacts. The cage is constructed of a soft plastic shell taped shut, with about 1/2cm of soft foam around all sides of the drive. Even the SATA connection is designed to take abuse, being a flexible wire strand design. This lets the drive move independently of the notebook, while not putting stress on its own connector or the motherboard’s.

Display

The screen on the DRS ARMOR Convertible Notebook is a 12.1" passive touchscreen that is bright enough to be easily read outside in bright sunlight. Colors are bright, but have a washed out look because of the touchscreen surface. This surface also affects viewing angles, which sharply drop off from both blurred image and inverting colors. The main feature of the screen hands down is its super bright backlight, which made it one of the few notebooks I have reviewed that I could use outside on a bright day without squinting to view the screen.


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Being a convertible notebook, you can rotate the screen around to work in a slate or tablet manner. The touchscreen is a passive type, and worked quite well using a pen or fingertip. In slate mode the user has a good selection of buttons on the outside perimeter of the screen. One feature that some will enjoy is the buttons are all customizable in the bios, and can operate to commands if the function key is depressed when clicking one of the buttons. For those who might store the notebook in the slate position, or just want to prevent the accidental shutdown of the notebook, you can set a lock on the power button. This makes you press an additional key at the same time as the power button to turn the notebook on or off.

To operate the touchscreen, a pen is included, which is located on the bottom of the notebook. The pen itself is very basic and is another item where going the extra mile would have greatly improved the overall feel of the notebook. The pen’s tip was pretty rough, having a coarse feel when drawn on the screen. For the duration of the review, I used a spare tablet pen in the office, which had a much smoother tip. If I had to use this notebook on a regular basic, I would probably invest in a spare pen of higher quality that would be safely stored inside my trusty pocket protector at all times.

Performance and Benchmarks

The C12 has an Intel U1400 Core Solo processor, running at 1.2GHz. You might be asking why it doesn’t have a faster processor, or even a dual core model, but you have to remember that the notebook is passive cooled. Any excess heat is dissipated through the metal chassis and not through a vent.

It will not win any gaming performance awards, but it was quite peppy in Windows XP Tablet Edition with 2.5GB of RAM and a 5400rpm 2.5" hard drive. Office productivity software ran very smooth, and even large PDF’s were no problem.

The system benchmarks were about average compared to other single core low voltage processor notebooks.

Comparison Results for PCMark05

PCMark05 measures the systems performance as a whole.

Notebook PCMark05 Score
DRS ARMOR C12 (Intel Core Solo 1.2GHz ULV, Intel 945GMS chipset) 1,606 PCMarks
Motion Computing F5 (Intel Core Solo 1.2GHz, Intel 945GMS chipset) 1,557 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook P1620 (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.2GHz ULV, Intel 945GMS chipset) 2,113 PCMarks
Asus R1E (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, GMA 965 chipset) 4,679 PCMarks
Gateway C-140x (Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz, ATI X2300 HD graphics) 4,342 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics) 4,171 PCMarks
HP tx2000 (AMD Turion 64 X2 2.3GHz, Nvidia Go 6150 graphics) 3,738 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz, GMA X3100 graphics) 3,473 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege M700 (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, GMA 965 chipset) 3,399 PCMarks
HP tx1000 (AMD Turion X2 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 6150) 3,052 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X60t (1.66GHz LV Core Duo) 2,860 PCMarks
Asus R1F (1.66GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950 graphics) 2,724 PCMarks
HP Compaq 2710p (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics) 2,453 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics) 2,334 PCMarks
Gateway E-155C (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.06GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics) 2,205 PCMarks
Toshiba R400 (Intel Core Duo ULV 1.2GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics) 2,187 PCMarks

 

wPrime comparison results (lower score means better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
DRS ARMOR C12 (Intel Core Solo ULV @ 1.2GHz) 150 seconds
Asus U2E (Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 @ 1.06GHz) 86 seconds
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz) 98 seconds
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz) 68 seconds
Asus Eee PC 701 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76 seconds

 

HDTune Test:

 

Speaker

The ARMOR C12 is equipped with a small mono speaker that is located on the bottom of the notebook. While you can listen to music through it, it sounds more like a battery powered radio over a notebook. Leave the speaker to handle system beeps, and use the headphone jack if at all possible for music.

Heat and Noise

Being a passive cooled notebook the only noise you can hear is the faint seeking of the hard drive inside. It is very nice not to have to worry about dust or overheating problems, or even broken fans as the notebook ages.

Heat is minimal at best, even without active cooling. The entire notebook structure acts as a gigantic heatsink, spreading the heat around very evenly. Even after stressful benchmarks the notebook is still minimally warm to the touch. Notebook Hardware Control reports the CPU temperature as 39C while wPrime is running.

If we gave an award for the notebook that you don’t even know is turned on, this one would win it hands down. Combine the silent operation with any lack of thermal output and you have a really confusing, but nice notebook.

Keyboard

I was not overly impressed with the keyboard on the ARMOR C12 notebook. It was just a standard off the shelf keyboard that you would find on almost any other notebook, painted with a slightly more aggressive looking texture and color. While the keyboard is sealed from any water entry, it isn’t more rugged than your standard notebook. I would be worried about foreign objects breaking keys off if something fell onto the notebook while it was opened up.


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Key spacing and key size is about average for a 12" notebook, being slightly cramped, and taking a bit to get used to if you have not typed on a keyboard this size before. Key travel is average, with a bit of wobble in the action.

In the features listed on this notebook, ARMOR lists the keyboard as having a backlight option, which for the life of me I could not figure out how it works. No function was marked to control the keyboard backlight, only screen brightness. The keys don’t appear to have any hint of a semi-transparent section that light would pass through making me believe that it might be an optional feature, not included on all versions. Shining a flashlight through the keys also didn’t show any glimmer of light reflecting through keys nearby.

Touchpad

The touchpad feels like any other touchpad, although this one is sealed against outside elements. Size was standard, if not slightly larger than others found on notebooks of this size. Sensitivity and control was great, if not a little too sensitive.

The touchpad buttons are covered in a rubber shell, and have very shallow feedback. The pressure required to activate the keys is a greater than average, but still acceptable.

Ports and Features

Front


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Indicator light panel, massive metal notebook latch.

Rear


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Power connector, Headphone/Mic, Kensington Lock Slot, VGA, Serial.

Left


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3 x USB, SD-Card Slot.

Right


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PC Card Slot, LAN, Modem.

Wireless

Wireless performance on this rugged notebook was slightly below average, dropping off of wireless access points much sooner than other notebooks. Since this has off the shelf wireless components, my only reasoning is that the all metal shell somehow interferes with the wireless signal.

Battery

Battery performance was excellent; going above 5 hours with the screen brightness at 30% (full brightness is sunlight readable). When you cranked it up to max for use outside, battery life was on average an hour less, which was still excellent for a 12" notebook. Spare batteries are always an option for those who need longer battery life, but be prepared to break out a screwdriver or penny to remove the screws that hold on the battery plate.


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Conclusion

As a ruggedized convertible notebook, I feel the ARMOR C12 is a very good product with a few minor flaws. While some may argue that a notebook of this price shouldn’t have these issues, you still have to understand that this notebook still has excellent build quality overall, and can still be tossed through car windows without much of an injury.

Overall I was very impressed with the squint worthy bright screen, and the passive cooled processor that didn’t heat up the system one bit; you wouldn’t even know it was turned on half of the time. The only thing that would make this notebook more perfect would be a mini ruggedized optical drive included with the purchase.

Pros

  • Cool and 99% Silent (half the time don’t even know it’s turned on)
  • Waterproof design begs for checking email out in the rain
  • Sunlight readable LCD

Cons

  • Some plastic and rubber pieces not the highest quality
  • Included stylus is sub-par for a full-size notebook
  • Steep price tag

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