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Mobile Computers: Central Processing Units

The latest mobile computers for public safety are pumped up with some serious processing power.

October 24, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Dell
Photo: Dell

Back in 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon Moore postulated that the processing power of computers would double every two years. This theory now known as Moore's Law is now one of the most prescient of scientific predictions. It's also why your wristwatch probably has more computing power than the navigation computers that guided the astronauts to the moon and back 40 years ago.

Moore's Law is clearly evident in the inexpensive home and business computer market. Today's cheapest laptop computer on the shelves at Costco would have been an engineering marvel 15 years ago. But until recently, processing power has been lagging behind in computers designed for public safety applications.

There are a couple of reasons why public safety computers are often slower and less feature filled than consumer and business models.

Public safety computers, especially mobile data systems, tend to be ruggedized so they can withstand the vibration, shock, and environmental hazards of being operated in vehicles. Accordingly, many manufacturers have focused their energies and resources on making these computers tougher, not so much on making them smarter or faster. All of that system hardening and vibration protection is costly, so rugged computers tend to cost as much as three times more than consumer models. One way that companies have controlled the cost is by using less powerful processors, while offering customers upgrades on demand.

Until recently, this wasn't a big deal. Large Metropolitan Police Department didn't need state-of-the-art computers in its cars. So it was happy to take shipment of slow but durable mobile data systems.

But in the last few years that's started to change. The public safety mobile data customer now needs fast and rugged. That's because of tools like automatic license plate readers (ALPR) and high-end computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. That software requires state-of-the-art processing power.

Fortunately, there are now plenty of computer makers willing and able to supply high-powered mobile computers for law enforcement. Here's a look at the latest offerings from six of the top players in the market.


A huge player in the consumer and business markets, Dell entered the ruggedized mobile computer market in 2008. Dell's public safety flagship is the Latitude E6400 XFR laptop, a powerful and tough machine designed for graphics intensive applications in the field.

The Latitude E6400 XFR is so tough that you can go on YouTube and see video of it being drenched by a firehose. It meets MIL-STD 810F and even exceeds that ubiquitous standard in some categories. The Latitude's case is made of a high-tech non-metallic material used in missiles and high-performance aircraft that Dell calls "Ballistic Armor." Note: This material will not stop bullets, despite its name.

And when it comes to processing power it's a muscle machine. The Latitude's CPU is an Intel Core 2 Duo with vPro technology, and its graphics card is an Nvidia Quadro.

Dell developed its latest Latitude with a "no compromises approach," according to Steve Gilbert, Dell's world wide business development manager for Rugged Computing Solutions. Independent labs and third-party testers clocked the Latitude E6400 XFR at 90 percent faster than its leading competitor, he adds.

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