Top positive review
278 people found this helpful
on January 31, 2010
I know my review is extremely long, but I've tried to provide as much information as I can. I will continue to update this review periodically and respond to comments, so if you have questions please feel free to ask.
A note on the error:
A lot of people picked up this laptop on sale at Best Buy for $500. It was an error on Gateway's part; they put in i5 chips instead of i3 chips, but the box was labeled as i3 and the laptop has the Intel i3 inside sticker on it. The system bios says it has an i5 and benchmark tests prove it does have an i5-430m. It will get up to 2.53 ghz when turboboost comes on. Stock speed is 2.26 ghz. Hyperthreading means it has 2 physical cores and 2 virtual cores. This laptop does have a $750 msrp value, but I wouldn't have paid $750 for it. Many people got them on sale because of a mistake. In any case, this is a solid laptop, although not at the retail price of $750. I think for $750 there are definitely a lot of good laptops out there, but you need to buy with your goals in mind. If you want a gaming laptop, look for a really good video card. What you need varies by what you want to do with the computer.
The laptop feels sturdy, the screen has little play in it and stays firmly in place to wherever you open it. It looks sleek, is thin and pretty light at under 6 lbs. A 15.6 inch screen is a nice balance between size and portability, in my opinion. 17.3'' is great but they can weigh a pound or two more as the entire laptop is bigger as a result. 15.6 inches fits in my backback with no problem. Overall I really like the design and build quality of this laptop even if it is plastic. The only aluminum-cased laptops I've ever seen are the macbook pro ones from Apple, and those cost upwards of $1500. If you want a metal or carbon fiber one, get a macbook pro or some other high end model.
This thing is fast. The i5-430M is an excellent chip. You can google benchmarks on it. The i3 is 30-40% faster than a C2D, and the i5 is quite a bit faster than the i3 because of turbo boost technology. It also gives better battery life than the i3 because it has speed step and lower voltage. It's odd that the faster chip gives you better battery life, but that's just another perk.
4GB DDR3 1066mhz (3.68gb usable it says) is excellent. DDR3 is the newest type of RAM and it's still really expensive. The Gateway website says it recognizes 4gb RAM max but it actually will take 8gb. It only has 2 RAM slots so if you get 8gb it'll be maxed. However adding anything more than 4gb RAM would be pretty much useless for most people. I haven't been able to get this to use much more than 2gb, let alone 4. 4gb RAM is perfect for most people, get a solid state drive if you want a performance boost.
320gb 5400rpm hard drive is plenty of space. Whoever wrote the product description made a mistake because it is a 320gb hard drive. It's roughly 284 usable after having been formatted and with the Gateway Recovery Partition still in place. Many people don't understand that when you buy a 320gb hard drive, you do not get 320gb of space. No, you have not been lied to. Manufacturers use decimal notation (320gb = 3.2 billion)but computers read binary, so it's really about 298gb. You always get slightly less than what the manufacturer says, I believe it's 7% less than what is advertised, so this one holds about 298gb. The Recovery Partition takes up some space as well, so for usable space it's in the 280s unless you get rid of the partition. If you want a 500gb hard drive, they're easy enough to buy online and put in yourself. There are guides online for how to do this; it's very easy to do on this model. You remove a few screws from the bottom panel and you have access to the hard drive and the RAM. To remove the hard drive you take out 2 more screws and then pull the hard drive down to free it, and then you can remove it from the case. A solid state drive would make this ridiculously fast, but they're very expensive right now because they're bleeding edge technology. In a year or two they'll be way cheaper and absolutely worth the money for an upgrade.
The screen looks good. It's a glossy LED-backlit LCD screen. The resolution isn't super high, but this isn't a $2000 laptop. It's 1366 x 768. Most people will want to use the HDMI port to watch blu-ray on their LCD/plasma tv. With a 15.6 inch screen you can still enjoy blu-ray movies even if they aren't on a huge screen. I notice they have a lot of detail, but a small screen really doesn't do blu-ray justice. That's what HDTVs are for. This screen, like all budget laptop screens, suffers from poor viewing angles. I really don't mind this at all, but some people want an awesome screen. If this is a concern to you, be prepared to spend $1500+.
The optical drive will play blu-ray movies and you can use it to burn CDs and DVDs, but not blu-ray discs. No one can distinguish between 720p and 1080p on a screen this size, so it not having a 1080p resolution isn't a dealbreaker for me. While I've noticed that blu-ray movies are much crisper and have more detail than standard DVDs, the difference isn't as significant as viewing a dvd and then a blu-ray movie on my hdtv. This laptop will let you play 1080p on your hdtv via the HDMI port, but you can't actually get the full 1080p experience on the laptop itself because the screen's resolution is not 1920x1080. The 720p/1080p difference only matters on bigger screens and depends on how far away you're sitting from the screen. If you want a 1080p screen, you're going to pay the premium price for one. I think this resolution is fine for both blu-ray and normal tasks. As far as the optical drive goes, you can't burn blu-ray with it. If you are wanting to burn blu-ray movies, I imagine you're going to want to be able to do HD encoding, and for that you really want an i7 quad core desktop setup anyway.
There are tactile buttons up by the screen for mute, volume up, volume down, wireless on, etc. Very cool.
The laptop feels cool to the touch. I had it running for 5 hours and it wasn't even warm on my legs. Update 6-16-10: After using this for several months it still stays very cool. CPU temp usually stays in the mid to high 30s C, peaking around 43C when computer is under light use. This is very cool for a laptop. The hard drive also stays cool, in the low 30s C. I've been able to get the temp up to 83C using Handbrake to encode video to .mkv with h.264. That's the max temp I've achieved.
Windows 7 Home 64 bit is pre-loaded. It's better than Vista.
The computer will not continue to charge if you plug it in and it's already a really high charge, say 96-100%. This is a good thing. It means it won't charge the battery when it's not needed. So it will say "96% plugged in, not charging." What ruined my old laptop battery was overcharging and heat.
The keyboard isn't the best ever, but I tend to have low expectations for laptop keyboards. I never buy $2000 laptops, so for the price you can't expect something incredible. I have no problem with this keyboard, though. It has the number pad on the right so you can work with numbers a lot easier. This doesn't have a standard 10-key layout, though. The period is above the number pad instead of between 0 and enter at the bottom. I find this to be annoying, but it's ok. Having a number pad at all is a great feature.
The touch pad is somewhat difficult to work with, but overall it's not that bad once you get used to it. I think all touch pads feel slightly different, so it's something that you have to grow accustomed to. I adjusted the settings to remove the two-finger gestures, tapping and what not, so it works much better than it did when I first turned the laptop on.
Normally there are two buttons, one for left and one for right click. This has a plastic bar where you click on the left or right side. I don't really like it, but for me it's not a deal killer. It took a little getting used to. I think the advantage that it offers is that you won't accidentally right click as much. Otherwise it's an odd bit of engineering. This won't matter if you carry a mouse.
128mb of integrated video memory is good, but not enough to play most modern computer games that need 256, 512 or higher. If you're doing something that's GPU-intensive (photoshop CS4+, playing games like Crysis, etc) this will be something to consider. If you need more video graphics, look elsewhere. Make sure to update the graphics driver on the Intel website. Apparently I can't put a valid link in my review despite it being the correct link to the Intel website. You'll have to do a search for it yourself. On the Intel website under Support you can use their Intel graphics update utility or search for the correct update by selecting the operating system and clicking on drivers to find the new updates. As of 6-16-10 the current driver is 8.15.0010.2119
A 6 cell battery isn't the best. A 9 cell would have been amazing, and it's possible there are 9 cell batteries available for this, but 9 cell batteries are heavier than 6 cell ones, so it's a trade off. It gets a little over 4 hours on the lowest power setting. Make sure to go into advanced power plan options by clicking on the battery icon. You should change the "power saving" plan's advanced options. You'll want to set the CPU to use 0% max while unplugged. It's still enough cpu power to watch streamed video or play blu-ray movies and your battery will last a lot longer on a charge while unplugged if you do this. You can also set the cooling to passive so the fans won't come on; this will give you a little extra battery life as well. Getting over 4 hours on a single charge with a laptop that performs as well as this one is fantastic. It's not a netbook, so expecting 12 hours is unrealistic. This thing has a lot of power even in the power saving mode with the adjustments I suggested.
The webcam is only 0.3 megapixels, but this is fine for most people. I don't notice much difference between this one and my 1.3mp Hercules Deluxe Glass webcam. Amazon and other places sell nice Logitech 2.0 megapixel ones, so consider buying one of those if you need a really nice webcam. I imagine they're better than most (if not all) internal webcams and can be had for less than $70 on sale.
This is a great laptop for the price. It will do anything a college student needs unless he or she does something graphics-intensive (playing games like Crysis). If you can get it for $500-$600 it's a fantastic price. At $750, I'd look elsewhere for one with more video memory and a better case/keyboard/track pad.
Gateway makes fine laptops, despite some people thinking the brand is bad. What most fail to realize is that Gateway, Dell, Acer, Apple, Asus or whatever other company don't make most of the parts that go into the laptop. On this one the processor is made by Intel. The hard drive is made by Seagate. The motherboard is made by another company (I believe this one is an Asus). The RAM for this is from Samsung. Most of the hardware is made by another company. The differences are really in the way the laptop looks: the exterior, the keyboard, the touch pad. These companies outsource and contract out pretty much all of the work. They don't really build anything anymore. It's all made in China. Yes, even the $2000 Macbook Pros are made in China. Brand does not matter as much as it used to.
I read a statistic from SquareTrade (they provide 3 year warranties) that 10% of laptop failures in the first 3 years of a laptop's life that were reported to them were from drops/spills/accidents. Don't eat/drink around your computer and try not to drop it!
In the end if you take care of your laptop, don't let it get dusty, don't drop it and don't spill anything on it, it should last three years, at which time you should think about upgrading again. A general rule for electronics is that if they work for the first month, they're going to keep working as long as you take care of them. Make sure to get a can of compressed air and remove dust at least once a year. Dust kills computers because fans and heat exhaust vents get clogged so the computer can't cool itself properly.
Download VLC or Media Player Classic Home Cinema and use that for watching movies rather than the PowerDVD8 software that comes on the laptop. You need PowerDVD for watching blu-ray, though, because you need a player that will decode the encoded blu-ray content. For anything not blu-ray, I use VLC (a free movie/music player that will play basically anything). Also consider downloading Avira (free, excellent anti-virus), Spybot S&D, Ad-aware, Malwarebytes, Ccleaner, and Defraggler (to periodically defragment your hard drive). Microsoft Security Essentials is also a pretty decent anti-virus, although I prefer Avira. I suggest using a free firewall program like Comodo Internet Security Premium. These are all very important applications to have. Stop using Internet Explorer and get Firefox. I suggest using the following add-ons: Noscript, Adblock Plus, Flashblock and Web of Trust. These will block scripts and flash (you can allow things you want to allow) and Web of Trust will help you not go to sites labeled as containing malware. If you're careful, you won't have to deal with getting a virus. Don't forget to update the video card driver from the Intel website. I hope this has been helpful.
6-16-10 Some more updates: Again, I've updated quite a few things throughout my review. I'm glad people have found it useful. I still really enjoy using this laptop. (The Intel driver update fixed the video problem I mentioned earlier, so I've removed that section from my review.)
There is a high pitched noise that comes from the left speaker and is also noticeable in your headphones when they are plugged into the headphone jack. It's not noticeable coming from the laptop speaker if there's any ambient noise, but you will hear it in your headphones. If you google the Mosquito ring tones, it sounds something like 17 or 18khz, but not exactly. It is certainly annoying if you're sitting in silence, which is the case with me because I live in a very quiet apartment. I haven't found the cause yet. It does not make this noise while in safe mode or at the BIOS screen, so I imagine it's a software-triggered issue rather than an inherent hardware problem. It seems to happen while the CPU is not under load. I imagine a BIOS update might fix this issue. It might be hardware-related, such as a fan that needs to be replaced. In any case, it's not enough of a problem to really bother me. I listen to music and then I can't hear the noise it makes. 6-16-10: I don't notice this sound anymore, so it must have become a lot fainter. I'm leaving this paragraph here because I think it's relevant information about the laptop. Overall I'm still very pleased with this laptop.
Update 3-3-10: I'm updating several things throughout the review, most notably that there are only 2 RAM slots. I'm still very pleased with this laptop and think it's a great buy.
Update 4-2-10: Slight update for the optical drive section.
Update 6-16-10: I found some embarrassing errors in my review that were present because of the edits. I think I've caught them all. I edited a few things here and there, mostly minor details that weren't totally correct. I removed the thing I mentioned about jittery video because that hasn't happened at all since Intel released the updated drivers for the integrated graphics. I'm still pleased with this laptop. It performs well, has good battery life, and does what I need it to. I've watched blu-ray movies on my hdtv and they look fantastic. I'll continue to update this review as time goes on. I know it's incredibly long, but I hope all the information remains useful to people.
Update 7-12-12: It's an old laptop now at 2.5 years old but it still works great. It runs warmer than it used to. I use it as a home theater PC, which means I have it hooked up to my TV to watch streamed content online or movies on Blu-ray. It still runs and I haven't had any real issues with it, so it was a nice purchase. There are much better laptops out there right now. This one is entirely outdated and overpriced at $800. Hopefully no one buys such an old laptop when there are superior models out now for less.