Gateway's 7.7-pound desktop-replacement laptop, the M520XL, makes high-end laptop features affordable. The heavyset, black, Wi-Fi-ready unit features a multiformat DVD burner; a 15.4-inch, wide-aspect screen; an 80GB hard drive; four USB ports; and a six-in-one card reader that accepts everything from SD Cards to huge-capacity Microdrive cards. All in all, that's pretty attractive for $1650.
The M520XL's built-in stereo speakers have fairly robust volume, and that volume is easily controlled by buttons above the keyboard. The 3.06-GHz Mobile Pentium 4 532-based system performed very well in our speed tests, tying an IBuyPower Battalion 101S equipped with a slightly more powerful 3.2-GHz Pentium 4 chip, with a score of 77. But like many laptops with Intel's Mobile Pentium 4 processor, the M520XL's battery life was disappointing, lasting less than 2 hours.
Typing on the touchpad-equipped keyboard was straightforward, without unpleasant surprises. The only port notably absent from the M520XL is a video-out port, useful for connecting a TV to view DVDs, for example.
The M520XL has few expansion options. The optical drive is fixed, so there's no possibility of swapping in a second hard drive or battery. Only one memory slot, located in a bottom compartment, is user-accessible; the other is off-limits beneath the keyboard. Gateway sells no docking station or port replicator for this model. On the other hand, upgrading the primary hard drive should be a snap, thanks to its easy-to-access location. You simply remove one bottom screw and tug on the drive's front cover to remove it.
The one area in which Gateway laptops surpass all others is helpful documentation. At a time when few vendors supply a thorough, easy-to-search manual in either printed or electronic form, Gateway provides both. And while others vendors intentionally bury their support contact information, Gateway puts it on a sticker on the bottom of the notebook, including the toll-free number and hours. Nice job.
Make out like a bandit with the $1650 Gateway M520XL's juicy feature bundle, including a six-in-one card reader, but don't expect much in the way of expansion options.