As technology gets cheaper, smaller and lighter it gets increasingly incorporated into our everyday lives. Laptops, in particular, face a new challenge because of this: durability. It’s no good having the latest and greatest notebook if it can’t withstand a few knocks, the odd coffee cup rested on its lid and once in a blue moon a short tumble to the floor. Certainly, build quality plays a major part here, but if you know your next machine is going to be in for a tough time it’s going to need more than that. The term that used spring to mind here was Ruggedised, which generally meant a heavily reinforced machine twice the size, weight and cost of the more vulnerable device it was replacing. Thankfully, we now have Semi-Ruggedised machines - a rather self explanatory name - that provide a half way house between the indestructible and highly destructible and Elonex was keen to show us their interpretation.
The Elonex Soliton Safari lives up to its name by measuring a reasonable 33.3 x 27.6 x 3.6cm (WxDxH) and weighing in at a cartable 3.1kg while featuring a magnesium alloy chassis. The benefit of using a magnesium alloy – much like Apple does with its iBooks – is that not only does it look and feel great, its incredibly strong yet lightweight. In addition, Elonex has equipped the Safari with a spill proof keyboard, heavy duty locking DVD tray and even a set of lid hooks at the side of the screen to replace the usual central clasp which has always been a traditional weak spot.
Perhaps most importantly, the Safari’s specification has passed Military Standard (MIL-STD) 810E certification which includes a test where each face, edge and corner of the laptop is dropped a total of 26 times from a height of 36 inches. So ultimately, even the clumsiest among us should be safe.
The internals of the Safari are nothing to be sniffed at either. A Pentium M 1.6GHz Dothan chip with 2MB cache sat at the heart of our machine, backed up by 512MB DDR RAM, an 80GB Hitachi ATA100 4,200RPM hard drive, ATI Radeon 9700 graphics card with 128MB VRAM, and while our review model featured a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive all shipping models will come with a DVD writer capable of 4x DVD+R, 2.4x DVD+RW, 2x DVD-R and 2x DVD-RW as well as 16x CD-R and 10x CD-RW.
Connection options are also plentiful providing three USB 2.0 ports and single serial, FireWire and S-Video Out connectors. There’s a Type II PC Card slot, a modem socket, 10/100 Ethernet port and integrated 802.11b/g wireless networking.
If I can nitpick these specifications, I would pick out the RAM which only runs at 266MHz whereas it would have been nice to see some faster 333 or 400MHz memory installed. I haven’t mentioned the 15 inch display either which, though bright and clear, is limited to a slightly disappointing 1,024 x 768 native resolution. A memory card reader wouldn’t have gone amiss either, but of course this would be another point of entry for dust and water, so it’s understandable why Elonex would shy away from such a feature. All in all, at the quoted price these are not major downfalls.