Rugged laptops aren’t something that crosses the average consumer’s path very often, but the best Windows laptop for you is the one that meets your needs. If that’s something rugged and capable of standing up to punishment, you’re in good hands. There are some excellent choices for those who need them, but the Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 is the best of the bunch.
Best Overall – Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33
Not laptop use is conducted in the comfort of an office. There are many situations that demand something that can take a serious beating. For example, industries such as healthcare and construction demand durability, and that’s where the practically indestructible Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 comes in.
This chunky 2-in-1 can operate like a tablet or a laptop, and whatever the conditions, it’ll keep on working. It even comes with a pen included for digital inking in the workplace. The list of features this laptop has is truly mind-blowing, but each has been added to meet the needs of the TOUGHBOOK buyer.
The latest version improves the internals and adds eSIM for the first time, alongside Band 48 CBRS support, loudspeakers for use outdoors in noisy environments, hardware buttons for easy operation in gloves, a great looking display, tons of ports, and a body that you’d have to run over with a truck to stand a chance of breaking.
It has weaknesses, like a poor trackpad and no additional battery in the keyboard portion, but as far as go anywhere laptops go, this is unbeatable.
- Excellent display, design, and port selection
- Very bright 3:2 “2K” display
- Supports 4G, Band 48 CBRS, eSIM, inking
- Many modern features added
- Trackpad is dreadful
- Keyboard back light is still dim
- Keyboard doesn’t extend battery life
Runner-up – Panasonic TOUGHBOOK FZ-55
If you look around at many construction sites or even hospitals, there’s a good chance you’ll see some form of Panasonic TOUGHBOOK. There’s a reason for that: You get legendary build quality with a Windows PC that you actually want to use, and that will easily outlive whatever reasonable life span you might imagine.
The TOUGHBOOK FZ-55 isn’t the most rugged, nor the most portable, laptop in its range, but it’s a terrific all-rounder. You get rugged toughness along with a laptop that’s still portable enough to lug around easily and packed with great tech. It only really falls down a little compared to the newer CF-33 because it hasn’t been updated in a while. It’s hardly underpowered, though, and the standard battery alone is good for up to 19 hours.
But as always, there is a bundle of options and accessories to choose from when spec-ing up your TOUGHBOOK. These include the usual options you’d see on a laptop, as well as dedicated AMD Radeon Pro graphics and LTE. Still, the TOUGHBOOK has support for additional modules and specialized accessories. The FZ-55 is also Secured-core PC compliant, so it’s not just on the outside that it’s tough.
You can buy pre-built versions of the FZ-55, but the manufacturer can also help spec up a more custom option if you have specific needs.
- Plenty of protection
- Swap batteries on the fly
- Optional GPS and LTE
- Incredible battery life
- Secured-core PC compliant
- Older generation processor
- Low standard storage
Best Budget – Acer Enduro T1
One of the biggest drawbacks to rugged hardware is the price. It isn’t unwarranted given what you’re getting, but it’s still offputting to those with a tighter budget. Fortunately, with the Acer Enduro T1, you can have insane toughness with the bonus of not making your wallet cry.
There are sacrifices, though. In keeping the Enduro T1 affordable but also tough enough to be a truly rugged device, Acer had to cut back in other areas. The most obvious is the processor. Where more expensive devices are using Intel Core i5 and i7, the Enduro T1 has to make do with a Celeron, limiting its use to less intensive tasks. It also doesn’t have pen support, or a keyboard included, or an option for LTE.
But what there is for this money is excellent. It’s MIL-STD-810G and IP54 rated, and it can take the punishment outdoors. The accessory pool is also quite strong, as is the battery life, two aspects that prospective users of such a machine will be interested in. The Enduro T1 proves that rugged doesn’t have to equal expensive.
- MIL-STD-810G, IP54
- Excellent standby battery life
- Strong battery life during usage
- Panel bonded touch screen
- Supports several optional accessories
- Weak Celeron processor
- No keyboard
- No LTE option
- No pen support
Best Ultrabook – Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
You can’t look for a business laptop and not at least consider the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The 9th Gen model has finally launched, and as cliche as it is, it’s definitely the best one yet. It keeps the same traditional design as its predecessors, including its trademark ruggedness and lightweight nature.
It still looks great on the outside and the features that business customers care about are still present and correct. New for 2021 are some great improvements like a 16:10 display and for the first time, 5G connectivity. The bump to 11th Gen Intel CPUs also provides a boost to performance and battery life.
Staples such as Windows Hello biometrics and a webcam privacy shutter return for another year, as does the all important port selection. You’ll find Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, USB-A and HDMI on the latest X1 Carbon along with an expansion dongle in the box for even more.
Fans of the red pointer will also be happy to see it continues to live on in the X1 Carbon in 2021. The more things change, the more they stay the same! The latest X1 Carbon is slated to be available in February 2021.
- Superb display
- Built-in privacy and security features
- Thin, light and durable
- Great battery life
- Red pointer for Lenovo fans
- Gets expensive
- Lacks inking support
Best Gaming – ASUS TUF Gaming A15
Rugged laptops aren’t reserved for folks who climb mountains or operate construction sites. The specialized hardware is very fancy, but there’s also some consumer-friendly choice. There’s the ASUS TUF Gaming A15, a MIL-spec rated laptop that’s both powerful and tough for gamers.
Inside, it’s packing plenty of heat for gaming, with an 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 4800H paired with an NVIDIA RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and 16GB of RAM. It’s got a 1TB NVMe SSD as standard with a vacant slot for a second, and the RAM is upgradeable, too. The sides are laced with ports, including HDMI 2.0, USB-C and USB-A, and Ethernet.
The rugged aspect is unexpectedly good. The MIL-STD-810H rating is a big deal for a gaming laptop, and while you’re not going to be hurling it off a cliff, it’s perfectly well protected against smaller drops and everyday knocks and shocks.
The A15 is also tested to work at extreme temperates, from 49C (120F) down to -32C (-25F) for days at a time. And with protection from up to 95% humidity for extended periods, wherever you live or visit, your laptop can cope.
- MIL-STD-810H rated
- 90Wh battery
- 8-core AMD Ryzen CPU
- RTX 2060 GPU
- Attractive price
- Screen flex
- Can get noisy
- Keyboard font is offputting
Best Premium Ultrabook – VAIO Z
VAIO hasn’t been Sony for some time, but the brand lives on and is making some quite extraordinary laptops. The VAIO Z is one of the most incredible Ultrabooks on the market today, and despite its sleek appearance, it is actually very tough and has the rating to back it up. It’s also incredibly expensive, though compared to other rugged hardware, it’s perhaps easier to swallow.
The VAIO Z body is constructed using a new “three-dimensional molding” technique that allows it to use Carbon Fiber everywhere. It can now be curved round edges, and as such the VAIO Z is essentially all Carbon Fiber. That makes it incredibly strong, with a MIL-STD-810H rating, as well as incredibly light.
The internals are pretty amazing as well. Unlike most Ultrabooks, VAIO has gone with Intel’s 11th Gen 35W Core i7-11375H processor. That alone is enough to make it stand out, and the rest of the spec sheet is equally impressive. You’re looking at a 4K DCI-P3 anti-glare display, up to 32GB of RAM and 2TB of NVMe storage, Thunderbolt 4, and a 53 Wh battery.
Not too long ago, a laptop like this would have been a thing of fantasy, but here it is. So long as you’re ok with the price tag.
- Extremely light
- 35W 11th Gen Intel H series CPU
- Fantastic 4K HDR display
- MIL-STD-810H rating
- Unique and stunning design
- Extraordinarily expensive
- Intel Iris Xe Graphics only
- Can get noisy under load
The rugged laptop space is niche, and there isn’t masses of choice out there, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any compelling laptops. For those who need the added toughness, getting the right laptop is absolutely crucial.
On all fronts, the mighty Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 is a winner. It’s virtually indestructible, it’s got a ridiculous amount of ports and options to create just the laptop you need, and as a bonus, if you work outdoors, you’ll have no problem seeing or touching the display.
It’s not thin, not particularly light or portable. But it looks and is built like a tank. And that’s what really matters when you’re buying a rugged laptop.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Richard Devine Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore, and Windows Central. Currently, you’ll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming.
Sean Endicott is a tech lover who manages to go through too many devices because he isn’t careful enough. He’s learned a thing or two about making sure that the weak points of a device are reinforced.
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