In terms of hardware the main difference between the two is the the CPU, with the Durabook offering an Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 at 2.4GHz, paired with 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. It scored a CPU score of 2,117 on 3DMark 06, quite a bit higher than the competition, and it is noticeably quicker when loading up apps, though both of these two are quick enough for your average office use. The Durabook came up just short of four hours of battery life through normal usage, which doesn't compare to the Toughbook's double-digit numbers, but is more than adequate for everyday use.
Wireless connectivity is quite similar to the Toughbook, using the same Intel ProSet WiFi chipset to offer 802.11a/b/g/n connectivity, also sporting Bluetooth and optional WWAN, WLAN, and GPS modules.
We presented the manufacturers of these two no-nonsense notebooks with a bevy of durability tests that we wanted to try, and while Panasonic's representatives were game for just about anything we suggested (even coming back with a few more brutal things to try), our Durabook contacts were understandably a little less eager. Both are rated to pass the MIL-STD-810F standards, which are a suite of tests encompassing the device's ability to operate under high temperatures, low temperatures, and resist dust -- even how susceptible its circuitry is to cause an explosions in a flammable environment. However, the Durabook is only rated as semi-rugged, vs. the fully-rugged Toughbook, so we had to go a little easier on it.
This meant that for the drop-test we were able to let the Panasonic free-fall from a height of three feet, while the GammaTech was dropped from a somewhat less realistic (in terms of likely real-world falls) one foot. Additionally the Durabook had to be off during the drop while the Toughbook was not only on but was running Disk Defragmenter. The Toughbook handled the fall like a champ, making a deafening thud and, as you can see in the video above, literally shaking the floorboards. It handled its drops with no issues at all, not crashing and not corrupting any data. The Durabook was rather less noisy when it hit, and being turned off there were no worries about data corruption, but it too handled the fall with no issues.
Crush-resistance was next, which entailed the application of 180 pounds worth of journalist to the closed lid of both notebooks. No creaks, no cracks, and no issues.
The Durabook completely sat out the cold-resistance test. We'd initially hoped to leave the Toughbook sitting on a pile of snow for a half-hour, but an early spring thaw left us looking for another option -- provided by a chest freezer that was operating a few degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. After shifting a few leftovers around we made room for the Panasonic and left it to chill for 30 minutes to no ill effect.
Finally came the most disconcerting test: water resistance. Again we had to take it easy on the Durabook, turning it completely off and pouring a small amount (100cc) of water onto the keyboard. We then had to thoroughly dry the laptop to GammaTech's test guidelines before turning it on again. It came right back up with no issue, and it seemed like everything was working -- until we tried to enter a complex password for another machine. Its keyboard now registers extra key presses, for example turning "b" into "b=" and creating other mysterious key chords. Again Panasonic was rather more brave, letting us leave the laptop on and hit it with a heavy shower from a kitchen sink sprayer. The only thing we needed to be careful about here was ensuring the ports were closed, but again it survived this challenge with flying colors -- and no keyboard flakiness.
Picking up the pieces
In the end only the Toughbook passed the tests with no issues, despite admittedly having a harder go of it than the Durabook. After we wiped the footprints off the lids of these two the only signs of duress remaining were a few very light scratches on the back, a handle that's perhaps a bit looser than before, and some big dents in the floor. The Durabook also looks none the worse for wear, though the keyboard behavior makes us think users should watch those morning cuppas. On both no data was lost, no drives corrupted, and no screens cracked. It's impressive for sure, but the bigger question for many is just how livable are these two notebooks.
Investing in a Toughbook is a serious commitment, not only thanks to its $3,000-plus pricetag, but also thanks to its heft and bulk. It's reasonably comfortable to carry around using its handle, and never having to worry about damaging it is comforting too. But, it's not something you'd want to throw in a messenger bag and sling over your shoulder, nor recline with in bed at night. In those regards the Durabook is much easier to live with, rounded angles making it comfortable on your lap and a relatively waifish profile making it far easier to slip into most standard cases. It can also be had for well under its $1,950 MSRP (we found them going for a bit over $1,600 at a few retailers), which makes it easier to pull the trigger on -- assuming you work somewhere that's generally dry.
Which is for you? The answer is neither if you covet ultraportables that are so light you'll think you forgot to take them along. Both of these two have their drawbacks, but the Durabook is the obvious choice for those who want something they won't have to wear kid gloves to use yet isn't the digital equivalent of a Hummer. (H1, naturally, not the wimpier H3). The Toughbook, on the other hand, is that uncompromisingly military-grade and beefy beast that's the natural choice for those who need to do serious computing in the field -- whether that be the sort of field frequented by the olive drab gloves of a special forces officer or muddy ones of a gardener.