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Atom-powered Mobile Clinical Assistant in a space-saving form factor
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer -- view PDF version)

Taiwan-based Samwell Group is a global technology solutions provider concentrating on the convergence of Internet, computing, and telecom technologies and software applications. "RUGGEDBOOK" is Samwell's brand name for their complete line of semi-rugged and fully rugged mobile computing products that include rugged convertible notebooks, ultra-mobile PCs, Tablet PCs, and Mobile Clinical Assistants such as the RUGGEDBOOK MCA9 shown here.

The RUGGEDBOOK Mobile Clinical Assistant MCA9 is based on the company's SR820 model, a very interesting 2.4-pound computer that essentially provides Netbook functionality in a tablet form factor. However, unlike the SR820 that is geared fur duty in demanding outdoors environments, the MCA9 was designed to break into the increasingly lucrative medical computing market.

The folks at Samwell properly observed that with the increasing availability of wireless communication, health care personnel no longer only operate fixed computers but also mobile devices. These portable systems are used for computer-aided dispatching, point-of-care reporting and many other clinical data capture and monitoring tasks. Operation in clinical environments requires computing equipment that is easy to clean and disinfect, and also equipment that is water resistant and rugged enough to withstand the occasional drop.

Those familiar with Mobile Clinical Assistant devices know that most of the MCA products on the market today closely follow the Intel MCA reference platform that was first introduced in early 2007. The goals of that platform were easy to use, easy to carry, easy to clean and disinfect, and capable of capturing data in a variety of ways, including RFID and bar code scanning. There is, however, no law that says all MCAs must follow the Intel reference design. In fact, it can be argued that there really is no compelling need to have an integrated carry handle and that the very popular wide aspect-ratio WSVGA display format is a suitable alternative to standard XGA. So why not use Samwell's SR820 as the basis for a MCA? Indeed, why not. So let's take a look at the MCA9:

The sleek device measures about 10 x 6 inches and is just an inch and a quarter thick. Weight is 2.4 pounds, making it easy to take this machine just about anywhere, and also considerably less than all other current MCAs. It's also about the same as your average non-rugged keyboard-based netbook with this size display. The wide-format display measures 8.9 inches diagonally, which is smaller than that of a standard MCA, but large enough to have been accepted by many millions of netbook users.

One the processor side, Samwell chose the Intel Atom Z530P, which is running at the same 1.6GHz clock speed as the N270 chip that powers most netbooks. The accompanying "Poulsbo" chipset includes a GMA graphics system, high definition audio, a PATA controller, and PCIe, SD and USB support, and uses only about 2.3 watts, which means that the total CPU and chipset consumption isn't even 5 watts. This low power consumption affords the MCA9 two qualities that are almost mandatory for use in clinical environments: Long battery life and no fan. The lack of a need for a fan is particularly important as MCAs must have as few nooks and crannies where dirt and germs can accumulate as possible!

For storage, the MCA9 slate comes with either one or two GB of DDR2 memory, a 16GB solid state disk, and another 16GB via SD Card storage (Samwell initially also listed a 1.8-inch 120GB PATA hard disk, so that presumably remains available). For communication, the MCA9 includes Bluetooth Class II, Version 2.1 with EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) and 802.11a/g/n WiFi. There are also optional WWAN modules.

Since clinical environments heavily depend on quick and accurate data capture, the MCA9 has an integrated 13.56 MHz RFID reader that supports the ISO/IEC 15693 ("proximity cards") and ISO 14443 A/B standards ("vicinity cards"). The MCA9 can also accommodate an internal 1D or 1D/2D barcode scanner, and it comes with a 2-megapixel digital camera with its lens on the backside of the unit (i.e. designed for documentation rather than video conferencing).

All of the MCA9's ports are on the left and the right side of the device. On the left you find an RJ45 LAN jack, microphone and earphone jacks, a USB port, and the power jack. On the right side is a second USB port alongside a VGA and the barcode scanner window (where a RS232 serial connector is in the SR820).

In terms of ruggedness, the fanless MCA9 has a wide operating temperature range of 32 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The device has IP65 sealing which means it is totally dustproof and can handle low pressure jets of water from all directions. Samwell also claims compliance with a battery of MIL-STD-810G testing procedures.

Mobile operation is via touch/stylus. Alongside the right edge of the display is a button area that contains hardware controls for power, WiFi, Bluetooth, screen rotation, brightness, volume, but no directional navigation.

From an Intel Atom-powered device with its extremely low thermal design power we expect exceptional battery life, and the MCA9 delivers with an estimated six hours. Combined with its small size, light weight, ruggedness and sealing, the RUGGEDBOOK MCA9 is an appealing choice for a variety of clinical environment computing, diagnostics, documentation and reporting tasks.

Added 11/2009, updated 11/2010
Type Rugged Mobile Clinical Assistant Tablet PC (fanless design)
Processor Intel Atom Z530P w/ 533MHz FSB and 512KB L2 cache
CPU Speed 1.6GHz
CPU Thermal Design Power 2 watts
Chipset/Graphics Intel US15WP system controller hub (SCH)
Standard/Max RAM 1GB/2GB DDR2 SDRAM
OS Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Windows 7
Disk/drive 16GB solid state disk + 16GB SDHC
Media Bay NA
Card slots 1 SDHC Card, 1 SIM
Display type TFT (optional sunlight-readable display) with LED backlight
Display size/res 8.9-inch/WSVGA (1024 x 600 pixel)
Digitizer/pens Resistive 4-wire touch screen
Keyboard/scale Optional external
Housing Magnesium alloy housing
Operating Temp 32 to 140F
Sealing IP65
Drop 3-foot operating
Shock MIL-STD-810G
Humidity MIL-STD-810G
Condensation unknown
Thermal shock MIL-STD-810G
Vibration MIL-STD-810G
Altitude MIL-STD-810G
EMI/Safety FCC, CE, cUL (EN 60601-1 and EN60601-2)
Size (WxHxD) 9.9" x 6.0" x 1.3"
Weight 2.4 lbs.
Power 4-cell Li-Ion 11.1V, 5,200mAH, 57.7 watt-hour ("max. 6.0 hrs")
Interface 2 USB 2.0, 1 mini-USB, gigabit RJ-45, RJ-11, video, audio in/out, multi-IO port (contact pin with USB/RS232/Power signal) for cradle, optional 2- or 5-megapixel camera and optional 1D or 1D/2D barcode reader
Wireless 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth Class 2 v 2.1 with EDR, 13.56 MHz RFID reader (supports ISO/IEC 15693 & ISO 14443 A/B standard); optional WWAN module (HSUPA/E-GPRS)
List price inquire
Webpage Ruggedbook MCA9
Spec sheet MCA9 official specsheet
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