Top products: The class of 2009

GCN Labs picks the best products from 2009, based on more than 150 product reviews and rigorous testing.

Each year, the GCN Lab, part of our sister publication Government Computer News, tests hundreds of new products. This year, they picked eight that stand out as the crème de la crème, the performers they thought would be sound investments for any government agency.

These are eight products that can help a government agency face the challenges of the second decade of this new millennium. Winter might soon be upon us, but these products offer the hope of a smoothly humming, more cost-effective government in the new year.

Panasonic Toughbook 30
The GCN Lab’s annual rugged roundup is a tough road, literally, for most computers. We stick to military regulations for our testing and do everything: shock, heat, humidity, cold, salt fog, vibration and even underwater testing — depending on what a unit is designed to withstand.

The tests never seem to be a problem for the Panasonic Toughbook line, especially the company’s newest workhorse, the Toughbook 30. This unit is built like a tank. It’s a bit heavy and somewhat unwieldy, but if you need a laptop that will survive where others fear to tread, this is the choice.

HP Z400 Workstation
For the high-end user, a workstation computer could be the only thing that has the power to perform tasks such as working with geographic information systems or computer-aided design. But the price of a typical workstation might be too high for a network administrator to properly equip most users.

Fortunately, there is the HP Z400 Workstation. The Z400 is powerful enough to handle almost any resource-intensive job with performance to spare, and it is priced quite reasonably to boot.

It plowed through our performance tests with ease. There was also plenty of room for upgrades, with a variety of expansion slots, a few drive bays, several Serial Advanced Technology Attachment ports, and eight USB ports, all open and available for additional features. With a retail price of $1,638, the Z400 is a good bargain, considering all you get.

Belkin N+ Wireless Router
After half a decade, the N amendment to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11 wireless standard was finally published in October. In the meantime, brave manufacturers have been putting out draft-N access points and routers for the last two years or so, following the most current draft of the N amendment.

We looked at a lot of draft-N access points, and one stood out from the bunch as the best overall: the Belkin N+ Wireless Router

It had the highest transfer speeds at shorter distances and held its own at more extreme ones, making it ideal for most implementations.

eSoft InstaGate 604
Changing network security appliances can be a bear of a task, especially if the device is in-line, meaning it sits directly between the router and the rest of the network. Changing several appliances at once is even harder.

Many manufacturers have combined the purpose and function of their appliances, which can lower the purchase price but further complicate the installation process. It means that all of the replaced devices need to be uninstalled simultaneously or the new one will only perform a few of its functions.

The InstaGate 604 from eSoft addresses that problem, offering the best of both worlds. eSoft has taken a modular approach to network security appliances, allowing a network administrator to buy only the functionality that is needed, adding more later as necessary.

Lexmark X 782e
It seems as though we reviewed more printers than any other product type this year, with two full roundups dedicated to them — one for standard printers and one for multifunction printers — plus a half-dozen stand-alone reviews. Of that entire pack, the Lexmark X 782e really stood out.

With print times of 1 minute, 1 second for both our 30-page color and black-and-white test documents, the X 782e was easily one of the fastest units we looked at all year.

Beyond speed, it was also one of the easiest to use. There is a large LCD screen that not only tells you what the printer is doing, as in “printing page 15 of 35 of printertest.doc,” but also makes using the system simple. The touch screen lets you fax, print or scan. It takes the intimidating-looking unit — one of the largest that we looked at this year — and makes it very friendly.

The one negative could be the price, which is almost $4,500 depending on how it’s configured, but that should soon be made up with its large duty cycle, blazing fast speed and ease of use.

ViewSonic VG2427wm
This was the year LCD monitors really stepped up their game. In the past, there was a huge difference in quality between a 21-inch display and anything larger. But companies seemed to get over those technical problems to begin delivering true colors, accurate lines and stellar graphics in large formats.

All of that makes the ViewSonic VG2427wm’s victory in our LCD roundup even more impressive. It was the cream of a very impressive crop.

The VG2427wm is a 24-inch widescreen LCD with a reasonable $499 suggested retail price. Despite the huge display, it has one of the smallest footprints around, with a tiny circular base that acts like a Lazy Susan to turn the monitor in any direction. It also pivots and tilts vertically.

Kanguru e-Flash flash drive
The GCN Lab tested a lot of cool gadgety devices this year, from an iPod app for learning Arabic to an e-mail organization tool.

But the one that wowed us in terms of performance was the Kanguru e-Flash flash drive. The Lab is usually not at a loss for words, but for this one, we ran out of synonyms for “fast.”

How fast was it?

It transferred a full gigabyte of data in 13.3 seconds, so fast we almost missed it. In addition to being fast, it was a multitasker, always a plus in the do-more-with-less world of 2009.

System Mechanic 8.5
Computers can be tricky. Even a shiny new system can quickly become a slow-moving, slow-booting paperweight if not maintained. And maintaining a computer is not as easy as changing your oil or pumping up your tires. Computers have a lot of things working against them, from sloppy programming to fragmented registries and the exploits of hackers. Thankfully, System Mechanic 8.5 can give users peace of mind along with powerful tools.

The beauty of System Mechanic 8.5 is that it works on many different levels. Users can simply push a single button to fix most of their computer’s ailments. But if you want, it also lets you get under the hood and make some pretty powerful changes and configurations. Just be sure you know what you are doing before you delve into the advanced options.

For the full reviews of these products, go to