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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


Many officers associate onboard computers like Motorola's three-piece MW810 with the mobile data terminal (MDT). But there's really no comparison. Although the on-board computer system essentially looks like an MDT, it's much more powerful and much more versatile.

One of the selling points of the MW810 is its installation flexibility. The central processing unit (CPU) can be mounted in the vehicle's cabin to simplify the wiring or in its trunk to save space.

The MW810's flexibility also extends to the many processor options available to buyers. Processor options range from an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 with a clock speed of 2.53GHz and a 6MB L2 cache to an Intel Celeron M575 with a clock speed of 2GHz and a 1MB L2 cache. Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth support and 802.11 a/b/g/n with multiple antenna ports.

Display options include 12.1-inch and 8.4-inch screens. The displays are sunlight readable with brightness ratings of 1200 NIT.

Ergonomics are excellent on the MW810. Unlike laptops, the keyboard can be moved to match the work style of the user. The backlit, full-travel keyboard has a built-in mouse, so officers can use it in a variety of typing positions.

Motorola designed the MW810 specifically for patrol car use. It even has officer safety features, including GPS and Dead Reckoning GPS. The combination makes it easy to pinpoint the location of an emergency vehicle even if it is in a tunnel, surrounded by tall buildings, or in a parking garage. Motorola's development team also made the MW810 capable of working with ALPR software and hardware.


Many cops think the term "Toughbook" is synonymous with rugged notebook computer. And that tells you how dominant Panasonic is in this market.

Recently, Panasonic upgraded its flagship Toughbook 31 to increase its processing power and capabilities. The Toughbook 31 is now available with Intel Core i5 or i3 processors with clock speeds up to 2.6GHz. The graphics card has also been updated to an ATI Radeon HD6750 with improved 3D graphics for GIS and other graphic-rich applications.

Panasonic also upgraded the survivability of the Toughbook 31. It now meets all MIL-STD 810G standards for shock, drop, vibration, temperature, and altitude. It's also rated IP65 for liquid and dust ingress.

The display on the Toughbook 31 is a 13.1-inch XGA LCD with a brightness rating of 1200 NIT. Screen brightness can be dropped to as low as 2 NIT for night viewing. Customers can also opt for Panasonic's CircuLumin technology, which enables full-circle viewability in bright sunlight to pitch darkness.

The Toughbook 31 offers users a wide variety of wireless connectivity, including 802.11 a/b/g/n, optional Bluetooth, and 3G. It's certified for use on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon networks. Later this year, Panasonic plans to have the Toughbook 31 include embedded support for 4G networks.

Rockwell Collins

Rockwell Collins' iForce is a three-piece onboard computer system that's designed to have a minimum footprint in a patrol car. Users can mount the CPU in the vehicle's trunk or in its cabin, depending on preference.

The iForce is more than a computer system, it's essentially a computer-based communications system. It helps officers communicate with each other, communicate with databases, and-through voice command or through the 13.3-inch touch screen display-communicate with their vehicles. It's also equipped for interagency communications, as it can crossband between any radio installed in the car. This is one of the reasons why the iForce is now on duty with the California Highway Patrol.

Unlike most public safety computers, the iForce is not operated solely on Windows software. The system controls all of the vehicle's mission-critical functions such as lights, sirens, and radios on a military-grade Linux-based computer. "We don't design things and base them around a Windows OS so that when you get the 'blue screen of death' everything fails," says Preston Johnson, Rockwell Collins manager of strategy and marketing for public safety business.

The iForce also offers full Windows compatibility through a Windows module. This allows agencies to run such software applications as CAD and report writing programs.

There are two processors in the iForce system. The Unix-driven Base Computer Module (BCM) is powered by a Freescale MPC-512E with a clock speed of 400MHz; the Windows Computer Module has an Intel Core 2 Duo processor with a speed of 1.2GHz. The system meets military standards for rugged performance.

Johnson says users should not think of the iForce in the same terms as a rugged laptop. "You haven't lost anything by replacing your laptop with the iForce system," Johnson adds. "It's just that the iForce computer is inherently much more capable and rugged than a laptop."

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