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Rating Laptop Cases

By Erin in Technology
Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 02:54:26 AM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

I'm looking for a new laptop. Now, this is no easy matter. There's so many things to decide -- what things to include, what things to leave out, what things to compromise on, how much money I'm willing to part with. But the most important part for me, and one that is often overlooked, is the case.

In a perfect world, my laptop (when closed) would be strong enough to be treated like just another college textbook. I can shove it into my bookbag, lug it around all day, slam the bag down on a desk, all with no damage.

But, as we've all realized by now, this isn't a perfect world. So I'm asking for suggestions. What experiences have you had with lapcases? Which really stand up to a beating? Which ones break in an instant?


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Rating Laptop Cases | 28 comments (25 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Dell Inspiron 8100 (3.50 / 2) (#1)
by notafurry on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:07:24 PM EST

That's what I have for my work laptop. It's pretty heavy, and a little expensive, but it can really take a beating. I carry it in a backpack with only minimal padding, which is routinely tossed into my truck for the commute. It's also been dropped by clueless airport security people twice ("Oh, it's a laptop, I'll just snatch it over to my buddy with two fingers... ooops, it weighs more than I thought!") without a problem.

Besides, how can you beat a laptop with a DVD drive *and* an 8x CD-RW, plus 1 GHz processor, 384MB of RAM, and 40+ GB hard drive?

well... (3.50 / 2) (#2)
by raaymoose on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:13:58 PM EST

If you feel like putting out some extra money you can invest in a Toughbook. I've got the model CF28... it's a few years old now but it's stood up to my careless abuse. Dropping it, stepped on it, spilling things on it, I'm suprised its still alive. Sounds sort of like what you're looking for.

which screen? (3.00 / 1) (#9)
by Bwah on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 05:04:16 PM EST

Do you have the one with the supposed "sunlight readable" display? Does it really work? Been looking for a laptop that would survive life on a sailboat for a while and this one looks like it may fit the bill...

To redesign an infinite ensemble of universes: what terrible responsibility, what arrogance ... It sounds just like the type of thing your average Homo sap would do for a dare. -- Stephen Baxter
[ Parent ]

I don't know (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by raaymoose on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 06:03:49 PM EST

I don't believe mine has that particular feature but I can't say I recall ever using it with sunlight directly on the screen. Sorry.

[ Parent ]
yup (none / 0) (#27)
by sqrtx2 on Mon Feb 04, 2002 at 06:41:13 PM EST

We use a similar toughbook model on our construction sites and the sun readable displays do work well so far as I've seen.
[ Parent ]
Viewsonic ... (none / 0) (#20)
by Allusion on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 11:11:21 AM EST

I don't know if this helps at all, but I work in a family business where we develop kiosks that are placed on golf courses and driving ranges and Viewsonic has some nice high bright flat screen moniters that are readable in almost direct 12:00 sunlight (they're fine if you tilt them a tiny bit)

AIM: Allusion420
ICQ: 61966358
[ Parent ]
Ti Laptops (4.00 / 3) (#3)
by forgey on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:14:49 PM EST

Anything with a Titanium case is going to be quite abit tougher.

The IBM Thinkpads have a series of Ti laptops and are really quite well designed. I've watched the sales rep do some crazy stuff to his laptop including droping it from shoulder height and pouring water right into his kepyboard while the laptop was still running. Not only that they are sleek little machines.


Really? (3.50 / 2) (#4)
by Electric Angst on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:26:20 PM EST

You need a laptop with a sturdy case? You don't say?
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." - Nietzsche
dont go titanium! (4.00 / 3) (#6)
by jeffy124 on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:42:14 PM EST

The Apple Titanium laptops are great, but wont hold up to the abuses you mention. The casing is soft and bendable, so cracking the screen and internal hardware is something very easy to do without a proper case for the machine itself. I personally have never broken one, nor have i heard horror stories. But I used one for 6 months during a recent internship, and I know that it wont hold up to what you need it to. If you do go titanium, make sure you get a laptop case made specifically for it, as it's wide screen makes it not fit into most laptop cases. The case has extra padding and sturdiness to keep the laptop from bending.
You're the straw that broke the camel's back!
Apple iBook (3.50 / 2) (#7)
by fluffy grue on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:47:07 PM EST

I'm happy with my (12.1") iBook. It's quite sturdy.

(And -1, diary)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Buy a hardcase for it... (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by demi on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 04:55:13 PM EST

Asking any laptop, even a 'ruggedized' one which will be at least 75% more expensive than normal, to be able to take a beating is not realistic. If you intend to treat your computer like a textbook, then don't be surprised if it winds up inoperable or stolen. I mean, if it was my 1-2 thousand dollars on the line, I wouldn't just toss it here and there... I would protect my investment.

Here is what I did. I use a big, heavy VAIO all-in-one as a desktop replacement. I went with Sony because it was the only one with a large, halfway ergonomic keyboard (I have big hands), and it seemed tough enough. Then I went out to OfficeMax and bought a hard briefcase. For some reason, everyone loves the messenger bag style of briefcase nowadays and so hard cases are really cheap. Just buy an adequate laptop, whichever one meets your needs, and then go out and buy a tough hard case with plenty of room inside it. If you are really worried about dropping or destroying the computer, leave it inside the case while you are working (use the inside of the briefcase as a 'desktop').

I can remember when a portable computer was somewhat exotic. Now I see college kids running around with laptops plastered with stickers and fobs; I know those computers weren't necessarily purchased with their parents' money, but those are very expensive toys which alone cost as much as a semester of tuition in most US state colleges.

If I had to say which laptops could be the most durable, you would do best to go with lightweight ones, like the new iBooks, or the Ultrathin Sonys, etc., because (unless it's armor plated or something) a heavy object will damage and deform itself more than a light object will upon impact at equal speeds , due to conservation of momentum. There are computers with magnesium and titanium cases, but those are for heat dissipation, not impact resistance.

My laptop case.. (3.50 / 2) (#10)
by core10k on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 05:05:47 PM EST

Is a leather-bound 8 1/2x11-size-note holder. But then, my laptop (and indeed, currently my only computer) is a super tiny 2 1/2 year old Thinkpad 240.

I've also dropped it about a half dozen times, sometimes on concrete. Laptops are more durable than you think...

Before I forget... (4.00 / 3) (#11)
by core10k on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 05:07:16 PM EST

They're more durable than you think, BUT don't press against the laptop area behind the screen, pressure on the back of laptop screens really messes them up (your hinge or the screen itself will be ruined if you use too much pressure too often).

[ Parent ]
IBM Thinkpads (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by MrAcheson on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 05:11:05 PM EST

A friend of a friend works as the computer tech for a christian missionary organization. They recommend that the missionaries going abroad buy IBM Thinkpads to the extent that they will not help missionaries that bought something else anymore. Its too much trouble for them to try to arrange tech support through dell, etc in Uganda. The reason for this recommendation is that thinkpads, while not rugged in the technical sense, are at least tough enough to get dropped off a table or have something spilled on them without going to see St. Peter. And they have enough experience with this sort of thing to know, unfortunately for them.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

Apple iBook (4.50 / 2) (#13)
by SvnLyrBrto on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 05:27:28 PM EST

Not the new slim & sexy iBook; the old "Clamshell" one that everyone used to make fun of for looking like a purse.

My laptop needs are almost the same as yours. I need something that can be tossed in my backpack, and I don't have to worry if I'm on the go.

(Granted, I got a nice backpack with a padded laptop sleeve anyway. But it's really nice in that it does NOT look like a laptop bag from the outside... you'd never guess that there was a computer in there)

That iBook is built like a friggin tank, and has served me quite well for just over a year. The shiney finish is scratched up in places, but other than that, it's damn near indestructible. And you get that feeling just looking at it and seeing the 1/2 inch of extra plastic surrounding the guts.

All that armor adds a fair bit of weight tho. And it IS a hefty laptop... but no more heavy than a good sized textbook. But that's a small price to pay for a 'book sturdy enough that you could bludgeon someone to death with it, then open it up and go back to watching Austin Powers on the DVD player.

I swear, as cool of those Sony laptops look, I get the feeling that I could break them in half just by breathing on them funny.

Oh, and the iBook has totally BADASS battery life too. Last time I flew from Florida back to California, I was able to watch two full-length movies (Groove, and Air Force One) on a single charge.


Imagine all the people...

Flexible plastic (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by Keleher on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 12:58:48 AM EST

I'd still be careful with the screen. As armored as the old iBook is, the plastic on the back of the screen is surprisingly flexible compared with the rest of the case. I cracked the screen on mine by stuffing it into a bag with a couple huge schoolbooks. Although if you don't try stuffing 2" of iBook and 7" of books into a 8" thick bag you should be fine (yes I am an idiot).

Personally, I still use an old Apple eMate for portable wordprocessing (pretty much all I ever do on the road). The battery life can't be beat, and it's far more durable than an iBook. It's not good for much other than word processing though.


[ Parent ]
Toughbook or iBook (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by lucidvein on Fri Feb 01, 2002 at 10:53:43 PM EST

There was recently a discussion on this topic here. The one that sounded pretty durable was the Panasonic Toughbook.

Personally I'd choose the new iBook for durable portability if that is what I was looking for. But to me a laptop is just a compact desktop. Don't do much traveling where I don't have access to ssh and home...

Tosh (none / 0) (#17)
by pwhysall on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 01:13:18 AM EST

Amongst other, more BOFHly things, my job entails supporting a number of senior-level staff who are somewhat less than gentle with their PCs.

The winners so far have been the Toshiba Satellite Pro series, because

  • they have everything built in, (floppy/CDROM/modem/network) so there's no dangly bits to break or lose
  • They're pretty well constructed
  • They have a reasonably well protected screen which is
  • Nice and bright
  • They're cheap (relatively)
  • They have sane and reasonably priced 3 year warranties
From a support point of view, these devices have been damn good. I couldn't care less about the user experience - all laptops are evil to a large-handed person like me.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
prasario (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by nodsmasher on Sat Feb 02, 2002 at 05:30:31 PM EST

ya iv got a compaq presario 1400
i bring it in my backpack to scoul every day for notes it hasn't broke yet and its more fun to goof off in class if you have a dvd player
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
Titanium Powerbook G4 + Aluminum Zero Halliburton (none / 0) (#22)
by jlinwood on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 02:04:59 AM EST

I've got one of those nifty Powerbook G4's with a Titanium shell. Everybody says you have to be extra careful with those, so I baby mine. I had bought a Zero Halliburton Aluminum Briefcase a couple of months before I got the TiBook. Luckily, my silver briefcase holds the Powerbook perfectly. There is a wide band that holds the laptop in place. The whole setup looks pretty stylish when I whip the shiny silver powerbook out of the shiny silver briefcase.

I've also got some Dell laptops for work. One of these is a brute, a desktop replacement. It's probably 8 pounds, and feels like it could take a beating. The other is lighter, slimmer, and more "cheap plasticky". I keep that one in a nice softside briefcase I bought for interviews senior year of college.

I've heard good things about the Toughbook from Panasonic if you want one that can survive some tossing around in your book bag.

My titanium power book (none / 0) (#28)
by epepke on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 05:47:58 PM EST

I have one of those. Once I had it on my table during the day, and my dog got entangled in the wires and sent it crashing to the floor. Of course, I found out about it when I got home. I turned it on, and it seemed to run fine, that is, until I tried to eject the CD. I heard a horrible grinding noise and quickly removed the battery. I noticed that the corner at the CD drive had been pushed in, and one of the pieces of metal over the slots had been hairline broken and bent to cover the CD hole.

"Oh, shit!" I cried.

I took the case off, pushed the metal back into shape with my fingers and ran it again. The disc ejected fine, with no damage. Everything worked OK and has done for weeks. I didn't even remember that it had been dropped until I read this article.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
My limited experiences... (none / 0) (#23)
by Rediscover on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 08:39:50 AM EST

(Warning: long post)
Erin, my own experiences on what you asked, possibly followed
by comments (denoted like so -> (C: xxxxx)). This will probably
sound like griping...
Also, these machines are assumed to be unmodified and
without floppy or cdrom or dvd.

Sony VAIO: Picturebooks: OK, not bad, OK. Holds up well
to being stuffed into a bag, bounced around, et al. I have
dropped these multiple times and they have survived (I'm
*certain* it was luck/carpet/etc). (C: The keyboard is
probably OK for MS-Win*, but *SUCKS* for UN*X. The
battery life **blows**. Has Firewire/IEEE-1394 but no
232/422/485 serial unless you mod the IR out).
Non-picturebook VAIOs: Suck. *DO NOT* allow anything
to get dropped onto them - I've had too many problems with
crushed internals (especially the hard drive, though why
this isn't happening with the PictureBooks I don't know)
and don't stuff them into an already-too-full bag.
Panasonic ToughBooks (non-armored): OK, but I haven't
spent more than 6 weeks with a specific machine (/they/
keep retrieving them from me).
ToughBooks (armored): Incredible. I often will demo
them by kicking them (literally) to the stairwell and
then down a flight or two of stairs, sometimes into
puddles or other water sources. (C: Way too large to
get into *any* of my bags/backpacks/et al).
IBM ThinkPads: I've had experience with both kinds, the
way-cheap-low-end and the normal/higher range. Both held
up OK, with drops being survived. (C: I've had nothing
but problems with the low-ends' recharge/battery stuff.
Tons-o-grief). None of the keyboards I've used have
had adequete water protection (though I've been told
that I've got the wrong ones).
Dell: Latitudes under 500MHz: Cool. I'll take another
300 or whatever please (just not the 366MHz). (C: If you
have good audio drivers these are decent; but get two
batteries (min), use at least two-at-a-time; don't expect
a lot). Multi drops on my 2xxMHz units and my 300MHz units
(gads, do I dislike that vid chip (NeoMagic) and my audio).
Survives most minor splashes into the keyboards (read: typing
at the bus stop in rain or that ill-designed martini glass).
(C: take LockTite (probably trademarked or (R)) or something
like it to *all* of the screws). Overall, I'm still not
impressed, though.
Latitudes above 499MHz: I have had nothing but problems.
The case/chassis is way too bendable, making for bad keyboards
after I retrieve it from my bag or just carry it around (my fault)
with the screen open by the chassis corner. *Your* job, if you get
one, is to add a /real/ grounding wire between the keyboard
and ground. Look for the ones with the non-fitting upper-
chassis-towards-the-upper-keys... As an aside, they survive
occasional dropping (usually).
Non-Latitudes: Extremely limited experience, though
it has been tolerable.
PC/104 (& 104+): Love it. Charmed makes a cool looking
case that I *have*not* tried. (C: Most dislike these non-
laptop form-factors, I use it with a BAT chord keyboard
or the Linux kybd hack + a home-made BAT-like one, and
I usually use it with audible output (not video; like
emacspeak), sometime I'll use these with an HMD or other
non-std visual display).
Compaq iPAQ 36xx (whatever, that StrongArm handheld) and
Palm and
Newton and
Helio and
Visor: All of these are good, but I know I exercise more
care with the iPAQ (I cram the sleeve on backwards before
it goes into my bag (doesn't fit too well backwards, I think
someone goofed on that one)). Holds up to most drops (especially
the Palm III series and the Visor - substitute hockey puck
probably). (C: extremely limited audio output on the Palm &
Visors and Helio, barely usable on the Newton as the sole output).

Background on my portable computing habits:
Leave physical work location, stuff laptop or whatever into bag/
backpack/whatever that already is overstuffed. Convince laptop
it_will_go_into_there. Maybe have an earbud in listening to email.
Get to bus stop. Attempt using laptop, possibly in light rain
(but I do try to shield it). Get on bus. Continue using laptop
though the screws are trying to rattle free (see entry for Dell).
Get off bus, put laptop back_into_the_overstuffed_bag. Go
traipsing through downtown, up steps, down shafts, hopping into
mud puddles, jumping down steps, dropping bag while exchanging
money at counters, snatching it back up, dropping it again at
the restaurant, possibly using it there, splitting for pub,
pulling out laptop, possibly getting vodka dripped onto it,
having people snag it to see something, dropping onto floor
once-in-a-while, go home, check email & sites when sun is starting
to be seen, go to coffee, use laptop some more, go to park, use
laptop there, go to work (using laptop enroute). Never turn
laptop off if possible. Also, pulling laptop out and hooking
in charger at restaurants & pub (where I keep extra AC adapters).
That is a calm day. Extra-cirricular events excluded.

Other info: If you live near a seaport, try finding a marine
electronics store. They have products to protect electronic
equipment from water - use liberally. Also, apply Si compound
to the chassis where the keyboard wants to touch, the goal is
to limit the amount of liquid that can get passed (you already
used the anti-water spray all over the kybd, right?). Last,
add more Si stuff to the hard drive mounts, then reinstall the
drive (carefull, too much is really bad). I keep thinking about
adding brass reinforment rods to the chassis but have never
done it. Use at own risk, blah, blah, blah.
Still haven't found a _laptop_ that has all the
righ ports on the correct side (why?).
- R/db

Disposable (none / 0) (#24)
by TON on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 01:07:27 PM EST

I know, laptops aren't really disposable, but...

What do you plan to use this laptop for? I mean is it going to be your primary machine? Just something to use in class? What do you need it to do?

Do you really need such an abuse proof machine? Or, would a machine that you don't really care about abusing do the job?

I guess what I'm getting at is how to best spend the money. If you pay more you may get a really top-notch laptop that will stand up to the punishment you predict for it. If you don't need all the bells and whistles (e.g mostly text processing, email, some web only) then buy a really cheap used laptop and forget about it. If it breaks, it's not the end of the world. You still need a better main system, but a good cheap desktop and a cheap used laptop might only set you back as much as one really good laptop.

Of course, if you really need the whole shebang, forget this.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


Laptops (none / 0) (#25)
by calvran on Sun Feb 03, 2002 at 04:41:39 PM EST

I use a Compaq Presario 1400 xl340
I see them selling for $800 these days.
Great laptop, has been dropped a couple of times. The biggest dent in it is from it falling about 3 feet off of a bed onto a hardwood floor, while running, I believe, and on its screen after hitting a corner. Damage done? Corner is chipped, "mystyle accent kit" no longer stays on independantly, due to the lack of a clip on one end. Nothing a little pvc tape couldn't solve, to avoid buying new ones for $50. Those things function as perfect bumpers, once you tape them on well. The laptop is very durable (I've seen devices with screens crack with much less than landing on a hardwood floor.) and also works very well. The only real issues with it are the color kit thing that doesn't hold up well on its own (but works as a nice bumper) and a slow video card, and a NIC that doesn't work with Linux. Besides that, it is a nice laptop. And for cases, I normally use a messanger bag, but I also have a cool laptop backpack that is nicely padded, for when I go on planes and stuff.

Dell Inspiron 8000 (none / 0) (#26)
by n8f8 on Mon Feb 04, 2002 at 12:24:05 AM EST

I have a Dell Inspiron 8000. I bought it because the Price/Feature ratio is simply the best. Unfortunatly the case leaves a lot to be desired. Besides looking goofy, the case cracked at the hinge on the LCD when I dropped it once from a hieght of about one foot. Everything works fine, but I think next time around I'll opt for somthing a little sturdier. Magnesium seems to be the way to go, but there is a lag of about a year between when new features make it into sturdier models.

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Rating Laptop Cases | 28 comments (25 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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