Review This laptop is squarely aimed at those who find themselves biding their time waiting for a Sahara sandstorm to pass, or need to check email while hanging upside down from an offshore oil rig.
The first impression is that this thing looks like it should come with handcuffs, like one of those top secret briefcases only seen in movies. The silver-grey magnesium alloy chassis and rubber protrusions do nothing to disguise the take any punishment nature of the device.
Getac's B300: hardcore, heavy and high-priced
To help make carrying it a heck of a lot easier, there's a retractable handle on the front, which can be folded back to keep it out of the way during use. The keyboard and trackpad are also designed for use in less than ideal conditions.
Unlike the recently reviewed E100 tablet PC, which is designed for portability, the B300 is not light. Weighing in at 3.56kg, it's a hefty device. Although quite heavy, the weight will be offset by the lightness of your wallet after forking out a minimum of £1600 ($3500) for the thing. The configuration of our review unit would set you back around £2468 ($4690)
Every port and opening is sealed to protect it from the elements. Even the fingerprint reader below the keyboard has a slide cover.
Behind the rubber seals, you'll find the various connectors and interfaces. On the left is the removable optical drive and battery. The right side is home to the hard drive bay, a pair of USB ports, PC Card and ExpressCard slots, memory card reader, four-pin Firewire port, external aerial connector, Wi-Fi switch, microphone and earphone sockets, and Ethernet and modem jacks. On the back is the power socket, an extra USB port, docking connector (behind its own slide) and a pair of serial ports.
At the back, the docking connector is protected behind its own slide
All of this protection ensures that the B300 complies with the US Defence department MIL-STD-810F standard and the IP54 ruggedness standard. What this boils down to is that it's resistant to dust, water spray, humidity, shock, vibration and can operate in temperatures from -20° to 60°C.
From a technical point of view, one of the most impressive things about the B300 is the lack of any ventilation. This laptop packs in a pretty hefty Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which can get pretty hot at the best of times. Judging by the feel of the entire case after a few hours use, it seems that Getac uses the chassis as a kind of heat sink. It doesn't get dangerously hot or uncomfortable to use, but it does get pretty warm after a while.
As well as the 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 CPU, the review-unit B300 packs in 2GB of DDR 2 memory, a 120GB hard drive and an Intel 965 integrated-graphics chipset, dynamically sharing up to 384MB of system memory.
Benchmarks run at 1024 x 768
The specs deliver pretty much the performance we were expecting, scoring around 3160 in PCMark 05. Obviously for this price, you could purchase a much more powerful machine, but it would lack the robustness of this model.
The integrated graphics core means that this is never going to handle complex 3D graphics, but it does score a fairly respectable 550 in 3DMark 06, which means it will handle video and general graphics perfectly adequately.
Thanks largely to the choice of processor, the battery performance is pretty impressive. Under a continuous heavy load, the 7800mAh battery lasts pretty much exactly four hours before giving up. Under general use, owners will get between six and seven hours of runtime, depending on screen brightness and wireless activity.
The B300 also sports an 'Eco' button which will help extend the battery life by turning off all the communications modules, lowering the screen brightness and slowing down the processor. Those in need of even more duration than that can opt to replace the optical drive with a second battery.
The optical drive can be replaced with another battery for extended runtime
We were pretty impressed by the E100's 800cd/m² sunshine-readable screen, but the B300's 13.3in, 1024 x 768, 1200cd/m² screen is truly astonishing. That said, this is an optional extra - as standard, the unit comes with a 500cd/m² panel.
As well as the usual components, this model can come with optional GPS and cellular connectivity modules.
Above the screen is a button that automatically cranks the screens brightness to the maximum, perfect for the glare of outdoors, but will practically blind you if you hit it in a darkened room. As with the E100, the B300 has a light sensor that can be used to automatically adjust the screen's brightness depending on the ambient lighting conditions.
Perhaps the most peculiar thing about the B300 is that buyers may configure it with an optional touch-sensitive screen. Touchscreens are normally reserved for tablet PCs. The only reason we can figure to use a touch screen on the B300 is to facilitate navigation while wearing gloves or when using the touchpad is difficult.
There's a retractable handle on the front, which can be folded back
Like everything else with the B300, the touchscreen is hardened against the elements. This means that although it's resistant to scratches, dust and water, the screen requires a pretty solid prod in order to register a touch.
All this means that the B300 is a niche product, and the hefty price tag pretty much precludes anyone just looking for a laptop that can take a few knocks. It's pretty much solely in the domain of those who need to use a computer in unpleasant or extreme environments, people probably not all that interested in speeds and feeds as long as the machine can get the job done.
The B300 is about as tough as you can get and still be functional. Although expensive, the wide range of optional extras will ensure that customers can get all the functionality they need while out and about - in whatever harsh conditions they find themselves in.