Butterfingers? If you're like us, the word made you think of a candy bar (Get out of our heads, Nestlé! Damn you and your peanut-buttery goodness!), but of course it really refers to a clumsy person, one prone to accidentally dropping things. Like you.
Don't bother to deny it; we've all fumbled our car keys or groceries -- or, worst of all, our notebook PCs. Systemax, the Ohio-based manufacturer that sells its wares mostly through its TigerDirect.com and Global Computer Supplies Web sites, aims to rescue your inner klutz with the Assault, a 14-inch-screened, 6-pound portable built to survive the shocks and spills of careless handling.
Ruggedized laptops, of course, are nothing new. Firms like General Dynamics Itronix, Rugged Notebooks, and Panasonic have long offered heavy-duty, heavyweight, and heavily priced portables certified to meet formidable military standards for impact, vibration, dust, dirt, water, and extreme hot and cold.
The Assault isn't meant for the most sadistic such treatment; like many of Panasonic's Toughbooks, it's what experts would classify as semi-rugged instead of fully rugged. Its keyboard and touchpad, for example, are meant to resist accidental water, coffee, or soda spills, but the whole system isn't submersible.
Still, the Assault's magnesium alloy case, rubberized-bumper-equipped corners, shock-mounted hard disk, and clear shield over the LCD make it stand out among the generic, low-priced laptops that Systemax and other store brands are best known for. And with a pretty-well-equipped price of $1,300, it doesn't charge a lot extra for a lot of extra protection.
The $1,300 Assault model T72212P at TigerDirect.com includes Intel's Core 2 Duo T7200 -- a 2.0GHz dual-core CPU with 667MHz front-side bus and 4MB of shared Level 2 cache -- along with 2GB of DDR-2/667 memory, a 120GB hard disk, DVD±RW burner, and Windows XP Professional. Our test unit was the same except for Vista Home Premium, which according to Tiger's build-your-own page would add $30.
The build-your-own Assault starts at $1,000 with skimpy specs such as a 1.86GHz, 2MB-cache Core 2 Duo T2350, 512MB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive. You can push it closer to $2,000 with extras such as a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo T7600 and 250GB hard disk.
While the T7200 has been on the market a little while but remains a thoroughly respectable mobile processor, the Assault snubs Intel's current "Santa Rosa" portable platform for the geriatric 945GM chipset and molasses-based GMA 950 integrated video -- along with an old-school 1,024 by 768-resolution display instead of following today's widescreen fashion.
It's a good thing that ruggedized-laptop customers don't play games, because the Systemax crashed in one antique XGA-resolution title (Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory) and struggled to 12 frames per second in another (AquaMark3).
At the same 1,024 by 768 resolution, the system plodded to a so-very-low score of 247 in Futuremark's 3DMark06, and took nearly four minutes to render Maxon's Cinebench R10's sample scene (using both CPU cores).
But the Assault's 2GB of memory, 120GB WD Scorpio 5,400-rpm hard drive, and other components did their share when it came to less graphics-intensive benchmarks. The Systemax earned a not-half-bad PCMark05 score of 3,571 (CPU 4,803; memory 3,917; hard disk 4,092; graphics 1,031), and a a rating of 97 -- virtually tied with the 2.66GHz HP Compaq dc7800 desktop we tested in October -- in BAPCo's SysMark 2007 Preview.
Considering its appeal to someone who might, for instance, work at a construction site all day, we were mildly disappointed by the Assault's battery life: Our medium-strenuous work sessions averaged just under two and a half hours. A larger (9- instead of 6-cell battery) is a $150 option. Other options include 60-day trial versions of various Microsoft Office 2007 editions; our test unit had no software bundle apart from the OS and Adobe Reader 8.