What is MIL-STD-810G? Pulling Back the Curtain on Rugged Tablets and Laptops

These days, it seems you can’t swing a Toughpad without hitting a mobile computer maker selling what they claim to be a “ruggedized” device.

But in today’s market, what does “rugged” really mean? Sure, a customer can be assured that the device is at least a little more durable than an ordinary consumer product, but how durable and in what ways? How can you be assured that the technology you’re investing in will be reliable when it counts the most?

This may seem like a matter of semantics, but questions about ruggedization have real consequences for end users. Today, there aren’t many professions left where computer downtime does not have a major impact on productivity.  In the case of first responders and military personnel, to declare computer uptime as “mission-critical” is to understate the responsibilities they’re tasked with every day.

MIL-STD-810G: A Closer Look

For the most extreme working environments requiring fully rugged technology, one important thing to look for is whether the device was tested to meet MIL-STD-810G specifications (commonly shortened to Mil-Spec). This refers to the Military standards developed by the U.S. Department of Defense which have become a common benchmark in validating the level of ruggedization in a piece of technology.

There are numerous MIL-STD-810G tests, which determine how well the device withstands scenarios such as drops, high altitudes, dust, liquid, vibration and extreme temperatures. MIL-STD-810G was introduced in 2008 and supersedes a previous set of standards, MIL-STD-810F. Our fully rugged

Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets each pass numerous Mil-Spec tests; for example, a summary of tests performed on the Toughpad FZ-M1 can be found here.

What is IP65? Ingress Protection Testing Explained

A separate, but equally important, standard for rugged devices is their Ingress Protection rating. Commonly shortened as IP, this classifies how well electrical enclosures are protected against intrusion of solid objects, dust, and water, according to our friends at Rugged PC Review. When used to indicate sealing of rugged computers, the IP rating tells you whether dust or water can get into your computer.

IP ratings actually include two important pieces of information – the first digit notes the device’s protection against solids or dusts, while the second digit notes protection against liquids. The higher each digit is, the better the protection.

Our fully rugged devices are IP65 or better, meaning that they are totally protected against dust (noted by the 6) and protected against low pressure jets of water (noted by the 5). Our rugged handheld tablets carry an IP68 rating – the 8 notes that they are protected against immersion in water. IP ratings are especially important to consider when devices will often be used outdoors.

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Evaluating Rugged Devices: Best Practices

Given the dependence on Mil-Spec to evaluate rugged devices, I’d like to call attention to some common misconceptions and important recommendations to help anyone considering which rugged laptop or tablet to deploy:

  • Ensure that the right tests were passed – Potential buyers shouldn’t hear “Mil-Spec certified” and assume the device is rugged in all respects. There are numerous types of tests, all done independently, so verify whether it has passed the ones that best reflect the environment it will be deployed in. For example, a computer that will be mounted in an Arizona police car should put considerable priority on passing the extreme heat and vibration tests. A manufacturer may claim to have a “mil spec” ruggedized device, but when you read the fine print, you may see it was only tested for altitude and not drops or spills, the most common causes of failure.
  • Remember that not every test is created equal – Currently, the Armed Services do not conduct actual tests or certify that rugged devices meet Mil-Spec standards. Each supplier of rugged computing equipment is expected to assure or guarantee adherence to the standards. Always ask for third-party validation that the tests were passed. Also, remember to ask for details – for drop tests, for example, ask how many devices it took to pass and from what height. While MIL-STD-810G allows up 5 samples to be used, Panasonic only used one unit for the testing done to fully rugged models like the Toughbook 19. Even more noteworthy, the same unit was used for the 26 drops at 4 feet, then the same unit was dropped again 26 times from a height of 5 feet, and then the same exact unit was dropped 26 times from a height of 6 feet.
  • Know the boundaries of every test – There are varying degrees of Mil-Spec tests, and many of them simply don’t go far enough to ensure reliable use in certain applications. The 810G water-resistance test, for instance, doesn’t compare to the level of rain that a disaster response team might encounter in a tropical storm. Panasonic tests fully-rugged Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets beyond Mil-Spec requirements in many categories, such as spraying fully-rugged laptops with water for 12 hours (other standards related to ingress protection, or IP, also exist). Panasonic’s fully rugged devices are also held to a higher standard on drop tests, with four-foot drops onto every angle while the unit is operating. We offer several models with drop ratings of five or six feet, and our rugged handheld tablets are tested to resist drops of up to 10 feet.
  • In the end, failure rates are what counts – After all, Mil-Spec is just a test. Whether a computer continues to operate smoothly after several years of abuse in extreme environments is the best determinant of how rugged they really are.  Even if a computer passes the dust-resistance Mil-Spec test, the only way to ensure it will withstand years of blowing dust (whether in Iraq or West Texas) is to check the failure rates. Panasonic is currently the only laptop manufacturer to make its failure rates public – our service records (for units in and out of warranty) show an average annual failure rate of only 2.99% for Toughbook models.

Panasonic has consistently raised its standards of reliability for nearly two decades, and we will continue helping mobile professionals across every industry navigate the increasingly complex landscape of rugged standards. Do you have more questions about rugged computers? Ask them in the comments below.