Pen Computing Issue #8

January/February 1996

Pen Lab Review

HardBody PC

Formerly called the "Grunt II" Texas Micro's rugged military PC is now ready to enter civilian life.

When Texas Micro delivered the first three prototypes of its new "Soldier's Computer" to the US Army in the June of 1994, the nickname "Grunt" kind of naturally came out of discussions and evaluations. So the computer became known as the GRUNT. The initial evaluations of the GRUNT were successful, and Texas Micro soon saw a good deal of interest from the commercial market, but, ahem.. can't you guys do something about that name? Eager to oblige, Texas Micro searched far and wide for a name not already trademarked by the friendly folks at IBM or elsewhere, not an easy task. Finally they came up with "Hardbody Handheld PC," hardly the most elegant name, but, after all, it's meant to convey that this is a rough and tumble product.
In order to make the Hardbody PC appeal to a more civilian clientele, Texas Micro completely overhauled the design. The case, though rugged and tough, has good ergonomics and everything is kept very simple and easy to repair. Texas Micro claims that you can put together a Hardbody PC from a bag of parts in just 10 minutes.

Physical examination
The Hardbody Handheld PC looks and feels purposeful and sturdy. There is no creaking or twisting. Though relatively stout and substantial, the unit weigh a manageable 3.2 pounds. The front of the computer features a bright six-inch diagonal transflective LCD which is easily readable even in bright sunlight. The digitizer is a capacitive touch screen from MicroTouch Systems. This means that you can operate the screen either with your finger or with a tethered electromagnetic pen. There are membrane switches for brightness and contrast on the front, and three lights indicating battery status, disk activity, and power on.
On the right side of the unit is a well-protected PC Card bay with room for a Type II and a Type III card. The back features a metal heat sink with a standard camera tripod screw mount. On the left side is an adjustable strap that allows you to carry the unit in your hand like a palmcorder. On the top, under a weather-protective cover, are two serial ports, a parallel port, a floppy connector, a video port, a PS/2-style keyboard connector, as well as the pen and AC/DC ports. As for ruggedness, the intrinsically safe Hardbody PC is built to withstand a four foot drop and other MIL-STD-810E specifications, and also offers NEMA 4 protection against dust, rain, and splashing water. The Hardbody PC is equipped with a muscular Intel 80486DX4/75MHz processor and can accommodate up to 32MB of RAM. There is a fixed 260MB IDE hard disk and higher capacity drives are available.

The system is powered by a single Duracell Nickel Metal Hydride battery. Texas Micro claims a battery life of four to eight hours depending on the application. Our benchmark found almost exactly two hours of continuous operation with all power management disabled.

Performance testing
The Hardbody PC handled itself well in our performance benchmarking tests, easily outmuscling any other 486-class pen PC in the PCBench DOSMark and Processor tests. The IDE hard disk also performed well and scored among the top of all pen PCs we have tested. A fairly slow video subsystem, however, limited the Hardbody PC to only average WinBench test scores. Our test unit was one of the final preproduction models, and we hope that Texas Micro will tweak the video system before the final release, thus removing the one blemish in this fine athlete's performance record.

Honorable discharge
All in all, we think that the Grunt/Hardbody PC will easily make the transition from military into civilian life. The unit is very expandable and can accommodate a slew of interface options, ranging from GPS to LAN to sound to digital photography. It's easy to see how this machine could be used by utilities for service dispatching and reporting, facilities management, service mapping, and so forth.

Final assessment
Overall, there is much to like about Texas Micro's Hardbody PC. Its simple, rugged case and design are trust-inspiring, its performance surpasses that of most of its competitors (especially once the video system is optimized), and the unique pen/touch screen works well for a variety of different tasks, from real, ahem... grunt work all the way to sophisticated mapping and imaging applications. This computer may have been designed for the military, but its real impact may be in commercial field service applications.

/Texas Microsystems, Inc., 5959 Corporate Drive, Houston, TX 77036 · (713) 541-8200