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Getting Tough with Laptops
Jeff Pasternack
Every once in a while there's a time in a TechnoPeasant's life when a new computer must be purchased. This decision is made much more difficult because TechnoPeasants know just enough to be dangerous, mostly to innocent, unsuspecting sales people. And such was the case when I decided to purchase a new laptop.

When I purchased my Falcon Northwest desktop computer a few years ago, I focused on multi-tasking speed and went with the fastest motherboard, 2nd fastest processor, 512 of RAM and the top graphics card. This laptop purchase, however, made my decision-making process veer away from those stalwarts and tackle the problem from a blue-collar working man's perspective.

Not too long ago I opened up 1-800-GOT-JUNK? down in Palm Beach County, Florida. As the name suggests, its a business that removes junk from homes and businesses. As the owner, I'd be spending a lot of time in rough environments, such as inside trucks, at the dump and real estate offices. A somewhat lazy sort of guy, I figured that the laptop wouldn't always be nicely tucked away in its bag, there'd be plenty of dust flying around and the thing would basically be knocked around quite a bit.

Also, I wouldn't be running any graphic-intense applications on it, aside from playing a movie from time to time. So instead of prioritizing on system speed, I focused on ruggedness and weight. It just so happened that while I was thinking about all of this, I had the opportunity to meet one of Florida's finest officers, who blithely suggested that I should, in fact, pay attention to my speed, ahem ahem.

Rugged laptops are graded on a whole different spectrum than dainty laptops; meeting U.S. military standards (IEC 68-2-32 / 810-F MIL-SPECS), having spill-proof keyboards and shock-proof hard drives and magnesium casing are all part of the mix. In a blue-collar sort of way, you could spill your beer into it and drop it 3 feet on its corner onto a gloppy, wet cement floor and the unit would be fine. These units, however, can weigh 11 pounds, which instantly removed them from consideration.

There's also a subset called semi-rugged, which has some of the rugged features and they weigh much less, which I value. And so my education began with calls to Rugged Notebooks, Itronix and Portable Computer Solutions, which resells the Panasonic Toughbook. My conversation with the first two were typical and went something like this:

TPR: Happy day, I'm looking at your <insert manly name> laptop online and wanted more information.
Them: No problem, what agency are you calling from?
TPR: Uh, the Pasternackian Defense Initiative?
Them: Excuse me?
TPR: Ok, you're excused.
Them: What?
TPR: You asked to be excused, yes? So I said ok, you're excused.
Them: Was that a joke?
TPR: Did you laugh?
Them: What? No, who is this?
TPR: I'm calling from the Pasternackian Defense Initiative.
Them: Who?
TPR: Look, I'm the customer, I ask the questions. If you had questions, you would be the customer, yes? Besides, if you'd heard of PDI before, there'd be a problem.
Them: Is this some kind of joke? Who put you up to this?
TPR: Hah hah, ok, you're right, the folks down in the shop did, boy, you're quick today, must be the coffee you're mainlining, eh?
Them: What?
TPR: Exactly. <click>.

Loyal readers of this column over the last five years know one thing: I love to torment people who answer phones. I just can't help myself. Besides, if a company asks me what agency I'm with, they take themselves all too seriously. My conversation with Portable Computer Systems (, however, went smoothly and I spoke to a woman named Angela.

I must admit, Angela was pretty adroit. She asked me to describe my business environment, explain my desire for ruggedness and basically made me prove to her (and thus myself) why I needed her product. She walked me through their product lines and in about 30 minutes we settled in on the 3.4 pound Panasonic Toughbook Y2. Yes, 3.4 pounds. 3.4 pounds. A sneeze on a bad day weighs more than that.

I gotta tellya, of all the computer-purchasing processes I've had in the past decade, this was tied for the easiest one ever. It was so easy, in fact, that I was a bit nervous afterwards. I'm usually the guy who comes out of a buying experience with tons of extra stuff. I can work Dell salespeople over something fierce and obtain cameras and all sorts of things. But in the end, its only a Dell, which in my experience means 20% of the time you're gonna have a problem right out of the gate. In this transaction, I came out of it feeling like when I bought my Falcon Northwest. In my gut, I felt like Angela had an appropriate, thoughtful answer for each probing question and that this laptop would be the exact fit for my needs.

When my Y2 came, it was programmatically clean with none of the garbage that other companies pre-load. No trial software, no free this or that, no Microsoft Office trash. Just the operating system, CD-burning software and that's all. I loaded my favorite applications and in an hour or so I was up and running.

My Y2 runs my 1-800-GOT-JUNK? business applications just fine, but doesn't have the speed of an IBM Thinkpad. The screen is just fine for me to watch a movie, but wouldn't be confused with a Sony. But you know, when it slid off the seat of my 1-800-GOT-JUNK? truck, bounced off the floor and then fell onto the ground at the landfill, it wasn't going to be confused with an IBM or Sony, either. It ran just fine, and that's the most important thing.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review. If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at