Under its plain silver-and-gray case, the latest version of the Gateway 450XL is a thoroughbred. From performance to features to design, we found little to fault in this 1.7-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M-equipped portable.
Our review machine's fast mobile chip, the latest from Intel, helped it earn a PC WorldBench 4 performance score of 125, slightly faster than the score of 122 achieved by the average 1.6-GHz Pentium M-equipped notebook we've tested.
Battery life is also impressive: just a minute shy of 5 hours in our tests. The large T-shaped battery power pack pops easily out of the bottom of the notebook, and a convenient LED power gauge on the end lets you check how much juice you have left. A $20 upgrade buys you a high-capacity battery for an even longer run time.
The 450XL offers not only currently common connections such as a modem and a port for microphone and speakers, but also the older parallel, serial, and PS/2 ports. It also includes dual PC Card slots, which is especially unusual in new notebooks. A composite TV-out port, a FireWire port, and two USB ports round out the connections.
The standard configuration of the 450XL comes with Centrino Wi-Fi, but you can opt for a faster Gateway-branded Broadcom 802.11g card instead ($59 extra). Microsoft Works 7.0, a suite that's fine for small or home offices, is bundled.
The 450XL's modular bay lets you expand the notebook's capabilities in several different ways. In place of the optical drive (a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination in our unit) you can swap in a secondary battery ($79 extra) for working far beyond 5 hours in one sitting. Also available: a secondary 40GB hard drive ($150), a DVD-R/RW drive ($250 at time of purchase), or even a six-in-one memory card reader ($70). For floppy fans, Gateway also sells a modular internal floppy drive for $20. The hard drive and memory should be easy to upgrade; the former is held in by one bottom screw and slides out of the front of the notebook by its end cover, and the latter resides under a bottom panel held in by another screw. Buying the notebook's 512MB of RAM on one module so as to leave a RAM slot open costs a reasonable $50 more (ours came on two).
Finally, Gateway sells a $129 port replicator that connects to the bottom of the notebook and replicates all the major connections for easier desktop use.
This configuration of the 450XL weighs a fairly light 6.5 pounds (minus the adapter) and measures 1.5 inches thick--not too unwieldy for lugging in a carry-on bag every now and then.
The light-gray keyboard is flat, with no "ergonomic" slant like most other notebooks, but it's easy to type on and boasts big, square mouse buttons and a programmable rocker button that can scroll, change window sizes, or launch the Start menu. Four small buttons above the keyboard can launch your favorite applications.
The built-in stereo speakers are loud for a notebook, and the quality isn't bad, but the only hardware control for volume is a combination keystroke. DVD movies looked fine except for letterbox bands.
We received one of Gateway's last printed user manuals, an item the company is phasing out. That's a shame because Gateway's manuals have been thick and comprehensive. As of October, the notebook will come bundled only with a less convenient, PDF-based manual.
The Gateway 450XL is a do-it-all, home-oriented notebook that offers umpteen upgrade possibilities.