Dell has launched its first semi-rugged notebook PC and plans to compete with Hewlett-Packard and Panasonic for customers who need a computer that can cope with abusive vibration, humidity, altitude and dust.

Dell's Latitude ATG D620 notebook is an "all terrain grade" product designed for use by construction workers, military and police officers, or ambulance and fire-truck drivers.

The computer has a shock-mounted, 80 Gbyte hard drive, surrounded by rubber so it can protect users' data if dropped off a table. Other rugged features include a spill-resistant keyboard, port covers and an extra bright, 14.1-inch LCD screen.

The ATG has an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and shares common parts with the Latitude D620, said Gregory Dvorak, product manager for Dell's Latitude PCs. Using shared components makes a corporate IT technician's job easier, he said. Both versions of the D620 can share spare parts, from the docking station to batteries, power adapters, optical drives, BIOS and driver software, wireless LAN and integrated mobile broadband.

One drawback is that the ATG's ultra-bright LCD uses extra battery power. To be legible in daylight, the screen uses 500 nits of brightness, far above the 200 nits of a typical corporate notebook, Dvorak said. Each nit equals one candela per square meter.

"If you run it at full brightness, there will be an impact on battery life. That's a tradeoff to meeting that customer requirement," Dvorak said. Aside from turning down the brightness, users can upgrade from a six-cell to nine-cell battery, add a secondary battery in the media slot, or mount the notebook on a vehicle dashboard and plug it into auxiliary power.

Dell is selling the Latitude ATG D620 for US$2,499 on its US website, with plans to sell it in other countries in coming weeks.