Notebook Pc's For Support Engineers

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A couple of years ago our dept used Dell Latitude XPi's and these were almost bullet proof. Then we were forced to move onto Dell CPi's, these were good but not as rugged as the XPi's. Now we have to use HP 4150's and they don't seem to like site work.

Can any members offer their experience with notebook pc's used by support engineers that don't cost the earth and survive a couple of years site work before retirement.


I have been using a Compaq Presario 6155 for 1-1/2 years and I have nothing but good to say for its performance in the field and in the office (when my tower went down). I have AutoCad and all the various PLC/SLC packages on it. I have a mouse and pad that I use instead of the touchpad, the touchpad is okay with me but it is tiresome for long sessions. I love the big and vivid display (14.1 active), speed is acceptable (pII-266), and the drive space is ample (2.1 gig). I archive routinely to my desk tower system to
relieve the laptop's hard drive. It has received some hard knocks with no damage, but I probably just got lucky on that count. Both thumbs up here.

Sid Roberts

[email protected]
I have had good luck with both Toshiba Satelites and IBM Thinkpads. I have an older Thinkpad that computationally is badly out of date but it still runs without a hitch (a 360C). It is still used for ladder logic and programming scanners.

For dirty environments, the little eraser head mouse seems to last much longer than the pad style and has less problems.

The IBM's seem to be pretty compatible, my 1725 runs windows and linux. While not cheap, the new Thinkpads just introduced appear to be pretty solid (I think they have titanium cases or something).

I have one Toshiba that has been to a number of sites and is now being lugged around a college campus and it seems to be holding up fairly well.

A few things I have noticed about maintaining notebook computers. 1 - buy a good case with a suspension system in it (I have dropped my computer case more than once, even down an airport escalator and it has survived). 2 - try to keep it clean, if the site is dirty, don't let it sit out any longer than it has to and then vacuum it out as soon as possible afterwards. 3 - Better (more expensive) computers seem to last significantly longer than cheaper ones assuming you aren't going for the most technologically advanced model.
I recently asked this same question to the list and the most common reply was to use a Dell laptop. A number of suggestions were also made for Toshiba and Gateway. One person recommended the HP 4150, which you do not seem to like.

I ended up buying a Toshiba Satellite, which seems to work fine, so far. I might have bought a Dell, but I needed it right away. The company that I previously worked for has always had good luck with Toshiba in the field. It also was compatible with Windows NT. IBM thinkpads have NT support also.

I think that NT compatibility is important because it suggests standard hardware with fewer Win95/98 specific drivers and hardware. DOS compatibility is important sometimes, but it is
never advertised these days. It was reported that some laptops may not even run DOS anymore. This suggests that new laptops are not truly "PC compatible"

Bill Sturm

Ranjan Acharya

It was reported that some laptops
may not even run DOS anymore. This suggests that new laptops are not truly "PC compatible"

We use Toshiba Satellite Laptops and Dell Laptops.

NT compatibility has never been a problem with either brand.

We stopped buying Toshiba a year ago when their warranty fell behind Dell's warranty and their price move higher.

The DOS compatibility of the Dell machines is awful. The older Satellites were excellent for DOS stuff. I cannot say what the new Satellite machines are like though.

What is "PC compatible" nowadays anyway -- e.g., the extra memory between 0xD0000 and 0xEFFFF (taking Video ROM somewhere in 0xC0000 to 0xCFFFF and ROM in 0xF0000 to 0xFFFFF) seems to be up for grabs for ROM and the PCCards in the laptops, too bad if you need UMBs. Just try to run 386MAX, QEMM386 or something other than MEMMAKER on your new laptop and watch the fireworks.


Rooney,John Peter

Friday, 9 June 2000.
My wife recently purchased a Compaq Presario with a great big monitor. This helps old eyes!
I worked out some MTBF numbers on the spreadsheet application program over the weekend. The report looked good. On Monday, 5 June 2000, I came into work, put the "A" Disk in place and tried to print out a copy using the EXCEL application program on my DELL running Windows 95.
Everything locked up!
Even CNTRL-ALT-Delete would not shut it down.
I had to pull the electrical plug.
My point: watch out for using one "machine" and then putting the results in another.

John Peter Rooney, ASQ CRE #2425
E-mail: [email protected]

Raesemann, Robert C.

Panasonic has some good ruggedized units available for field use. They are more expensive than off the shelf office computers but in the long term may be cheaper as they will probably not break as often. The units have magnesium cases that will stand up to a good bit of abuse and all of the opens are protected to withstand the unit getting wet. They are also protected against dusty environments.

There are other brands out there that are probably just as good. If you are going to use the laptops in the field I would definitely spend the extra money. It doesn't save money in the long run to have a technician or engineer out of service because their machine is broken. You should probably also consider what kind of replacement service is available or have spares on hand.

Anthony Kerstens

A weird story about Thinkpads and Compaqs:

Two years ago I was installing a system with the Telemech. Magellis units. After every download of a program to the units, the IBM would lock-up and require rebooting. There was no problem with the program download as it was successful, just the laptop locking-up upon completion. At the same time, I tried a Compaq Contura 4/25. It couldn't
communicate at all.

This in no way a reflection of current models. However, if you might consider testing the com ports for whatever you're using. The problem may have been with a com port driver specific to the Magellis software in combination with possible unusual hardware for the com ports.

Anthony Kerstens P.Eng.
I'm very happy with the Panasonic Toughbook series. Nothing falls off, or out, and it works and works.

I used a Toshiba Satellite notebook at work, and that was ok for normal usage, but with everything that used the serial port, we had problems. We used it for a PLC or a Digital Relay, and sometimes it connected and sometimes don't. So we get used to do the work at a desktop PC and only used the notebook at commissioning, taking into account that one cause for the problems of
communication was the notebook. Usually, we transferred to the user's notebook (not a Toshiba) and it worked fine. And this is not
only our case, other users with Toshiba's had the same problem. Some of them, have changed it to Dell and it is working ok.


Ranjan Acharya

More stuff about COM ports - COM ports and APM are the BANE OF LAPTOPS in industrial use IMHO.

We have had oodles of trouble with the COM ports through DOS and Windows (all versions).

The APM is sometimes the cause (parts of which cannot be disabled according to IBM who were hounded by a customer of ours who are a monster company with lots of pull -- IBM told them nothing would be done -- too bad, so sad).

We had a problem with Dell Inspiron laptops locking up. Dell took a while to get back to us since the engineering for that sub-component is done in Taiwan and they have to deal with time / translation when something goes wrong. This one ended up being the CTS/RTS line not having enough oomph (interference from the APM software -- when disabled and replaced with a souped up cable the problem went away).

The souped up cable refers to replacing a cable that worked for years -- with a new "all wire" edition.

The moral of the story, for us at least, is to consider disabling all APM, wherever possible and keeping an eye on which cable you use.


Jeremy Duvendeck

The new Magelis units have PCMCIA flash cards that you can easily transfer the program to (no cables required!). This makes it very convenient!

Thank you,

Jeremy Duvendeck
Application Engineer
e-mail: [email protected]
i'm using a NEC Versa 6230 i bought in january '98. it's been in daily use and travelled regularly to client sites around the country, and held up well. i'm about ready to replace it, but for a more powerful processor, not because of wear and tear. although i must say, i'll be happy to carry around something a little lighter; the NEC may be a laptop, but it's not little.