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The Ranger X-series is available in two versions, the 500X and the 300X. The 500X is the fully loaded version; it comes with built-in Wi-Fi (802.11b wireless LAN) and Bluetooth capabilities, 128 Mb of SDRAM and 512 Mb of non-volatile flash memory. Its Intel XScale processor runs at 520 MHz. The 300X comes standard with an XScale processor as well, but runs at 312 MHz. Its RAM capacity is 64 Mb and its Flash memory size is 256 Mb. Extra cost options for the 300X include upgrading the processor to 520 MHz and adding the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities, or both. These upgrades are only possible at time of purchase.
Dennis York, TDS' development manager and leader of the development team, showed me the fruits of their labor by disassembling a new Ranger before my eyes. He painstakingly pointed out the innovations and improvements of the next-generation data collector, many of them below-the-surface features that improve the functionality, flexibility and usability of the unit. At the same time, great pains have been taken to retain a lot of the original Ranger's look and feel so users who upgrade will have an easy transition.
When TDS began the development of the original Ranger in the late 1990s, various third-party hardware platform providers told them that surveyors needed a unique product. Some of the criteria for the hardware unit were not only known by the TDS developers but understood as well, including high-powered computing, long battery life, environmental ruggedness (especially with respect to cold temperatures, and moisture, drop and shock resistance), long operating life on a single set of batteries, easy-to-use power management, an easy-to-read screen and uncomplicated operation with gloved hands. The original Ranger was a state-of-the-art development and a product that surveyors received well. But this first attempt at designing and building hardware, successful though it was, was also a great opportunity to gather feedback.
The Ranger X-series is the culmination of that feedback. The new Ranger basically has one main board with another board to handle plug-in cards and radios. While there are many chips and other components on the boards, they are not hugely crowded. "We concentrated on lowering the chip and part count. By doing so we made a simpler product to build, and thereby improve ruggedness and reliability," York said. The rest of the innards are connectors, gaskets and miscellaneous pieces that connect the electronic components and provide the tremendous level of environmental integrity that is proved by its IP67 rating and compliance with the military standard MIL-STD-810F.
While users will love the new radio capabilities of the Ranger, they might not appreciate the engineering headaches that had to be solved to make it practical. York pointed out the screws that attach the back case to the front, spaced at 1â4 of the wavelength of radio waves that are most likely to cause interference. The spacing helps to keep interference to a minimum. In addition, the interior of the polycarbonate case is completely metalized as an additional shield. While electronic devices like the Ranger must be shielded from troublesome electromagnetic interference (EMI), they themselves can be sources of interference. The Ranger's high-tech EMI weapons work in both directions.
The stylus provided with the unit stores in a slot on the top of the display. The pointer end is used for operating the touch sensitive screen; the opposite end is a screwdriver that can be used on the attaching screws for the end cap and the PowerBoot Module.
A side-by-side comparison with the original Ranger and the new X-series shows many external physical changes. The new Ranger looks smaller; it is three-tenths of an inch shorter, a tenth of an inch wider and two tenths of an inch thinner. And the new Ranger weighs a tenth of a pound less than the original. But the looks of the two units are quite different. The Ranger X-series looks sleeker, with the sharp edges of the original Ranger softened. The keypad has virtually the same number of keys but has a more streamlined design-shape, color and layout all help to make it that way. The force required to press a key is now slightly more (in response to customer feedback), and a circular directional pad has been added, incorporating the cursor control keys on the periphery and an additional Enter key at the center. As the Ranger now runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile for Pocket PCs, certain Microsoft-mandated keys are now found on the unit; of these, the most recognizable to Windows desktop users will be the Start key.
"We used customer feedback to add features to build on the original Ranger's reputation. The result is the new Ranger: more power, more memory and expandability. And initial feedback from surveyors and our dealers has been even better than we could have hoped for," said Tom Stevens, director of sales and marketing - survey products.