Your notebook computer is probably sturdy enough to handle the bumps and bruises that come with airplane travel and maybe even the accidental tumble off a table. But can it survive prolonged exposure to 120°F heat or a weekend away on active duty with the Navy Seals?

For those seeking a brawnier portable, FieldWorks Inc., in Eden Prairie, Minn., has introduced the computer hardware industry's latest attempt at product specialization: the rugged notebook. Weighing in at 9.5 pounds, the FW5000 ($4,995 to $8,500) is a pretty ordinary 486DX4 notebook encased in a rubberized magnesium alloy frame. Just how hardy is it? The notebook can withstand a four-foot drop. (That's for those particularly brutal connecting flights.)

Apparently the notebook is catching on in companies that have demanding computing needs in fearsome field conditions. Dateppli Inc., in Midland, Mich., recently acquired 20 new FieldWorks laptops for its vehicle data-collection test systems, which measure things like the G-force created by driving around a turn or the force exerted on safety belts during sudden stops. Dateppli uses the FieldWorks notebooks to collect data day after day in the Florida sun (average temperatures in the 90s; humidity rarely below 80%) for various car companies.

The notebook even meets the military's rigorous standards. Special Forces outfits are now equipped to parachute into hostile territory with little more than a pocket knife and a FieldWorks notebook. With instruments attached by Lockheed Martin Corp., the notebook can help locate missile guidance systems. The Navy Seals, too, plan to carry the notebooks soon for communication in the field.

-- Joshua Macht

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