Compaq laptops have a reputation for shaky reliability. Dells used to be extremely reliable, but their reliability seems to have fallen off in the past few years. It is likely that you just got a lemon from Dell, if it failed after 10 days. Obviously a high-quality notebook can survive in the vibration of your truck for years, since your Powerbook has.
As for longevity, a laptop that sees heavy use (several hours on a typical day) will usually go belly-up at 2 to 3 years of age. That's just a fact of life in the industry. But since technology is moving so quickly that two-year-old laptops are near obsolete, most people who use their laptops that much will replace their laptop in that timeframe anyways.
I'm using a Dell Inspiron 5000e that I bought in October of 2000. I average over 4 hours a day of use, and it served me fine, with no hardware problems whatsoever, for 2 years and 6 months. Two years, 6 months, and a couple days after purchase (late March, this year), the level 2 cache blew, as did some of the main memory. I have a 3-year warranty, so Dell replaced my CPU, motherboard, and memory. The system worked fine for another three months once I got it back, but last week Dell had to replace the motherboard again, as well as the graphics card, because the system was having trouble booting (BIOS-level boot failures).
My P3 700 with 16MB graphics card won't cut it for the stuff I'm trying to do these days, so I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the 5680 and 8890, and will most likely buy one of the two. I'm hoping the P4HT and DX9-compliant graphics card will give it more than two years to obsolescence.
- Whatever you buy, get an extended warranty. Ask how comprehensive the onsite support is, and see if it would be reasonable to get parts shipped to your next destination for on-site repair there. I'm guessing most companies can't do this easily, and shipping the computer to a depot and getting it back may be a massive pain for a trucker, so one major criteria for which computer you buy may very well be the possibility of getting onsite warranty repair service while on the road. Onsite, in case you aren't familiar with the term, means the company overnights or 2nd day airs the needed parts for you computer to a local technician, who sets up an appointment to come to your current location and repair your computer while you wait.
- I'm not sure what your objection to Toughbooks is, but I assume it's the generally poor performance per $. If you go to Group Mobile
they have descriptions of different ruggedness standards including protection from vibration, categorize the notebooks they sell by level of ruggedness, and list what the laptops are ruggedized against. Under their notebooks, check out the Warrior 2510 - it passes military specification vibration and drop testing, and is both more powerful and cheaper than comprable Toughbooks (which are more ruggedized against dust and impact, it seems). (Don't ask me who makes the Warrior, though.) They also sell computers designed to be mounted in a vehicle, and have links to suppliers of mounting hardware for affixing a laptop to your truck.
As for Sagers specifically, I can't really comment on their reliability as I have heard too few acounts of ownership to really judge, but from what I have heard, Sagers are more reliable than average laptops on the market.