At a Glance
This big small-office/home-office notebook isn't flashy, but does include a nice high-resolution screen.
Intel's new processor gives Gateway's desktop replacement notebook a shot in the arm, helping to produce one of the highest performance scores we've ever recorded for a laptop.
Equipped with a top-of-the-line 2.16-GHz Core 2 Duo T7400 chip and 1GB of DDR2-667 SDRAM, the M685-E earned a WorldBench 5 score of 109. Compared with an HP Compaq nx9420 using the older 2.16-GHz Core Duo T2600 CPU, our review unit was 7 percent faster, a small performance boost. Its battery life is pretty good, too, as our review system's 12-cell battery lasted 3.6 hours--1.3 hours longer than what we got earlier this year when we tested a 2-GHz Core Duo T2500 version of the M685-E with a less powerful 8-cell battery.
Offering an ultrahigh-resolution 17-inch screen and an nVidia GeForce Go 7600 video card with 128MB of dedicated RAM, the $2094 (as of 9/8/06) M685-E remains a good yet somewhat expensive choice for consumers and small businesses in need of a portable workstation for multimedia presentations, photo and video editing, or even gaming. Gateway says that it will soon resume offering a graphics card with up to 256MB of video RAM, barring continued supply problems.
The machine's weight is not too oppressive at 8.3 pounds, or 10 pounds with the chunky power adapter. Though the speakers sound a tad flat, the volume is sufficient for presentations and for light entertainment. Basic productivity applications are included, in the form of Microsoft Works 8.
On a laptop this big and costly, typing should be easier than it was on our test model. Although the keyboard makes room for a dedicated numeric keypad, it seems to do so at the expense of the right Shift and arrow keys, which are half size and take quite a bit of getting used to. The indentation beneath the mouse buttons is also uncomfortable.
Aside from a plethora of USB ports, the connections and storage are rather wimpy for a desktop replacement unit. The M685-E has basic audio ports, network and modem jacks, a monitor port, a FireWire port, and one PC Card slot. The memory card slot takes six types of cards if you count all the flavors of MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, and SD Card.
You're limited to one 100GB hard drive and a fixed dual-format DVD drive. Unlike some workstation-class notebooks, this one doesn't offer dual-bay configuration options to double up on either. The M685-E also falls a bit flat on small conveniences. It lacks a wireless communications switch and volume control buttons. There's an external power gauge--but, oops, it's mounted on the inside edge of the battery, which means you have to flip the notebook over, slide two bottom releases, and pull it off the back to check the level.
Although I could find no mention of it in the user manual, both the dual memory slots and the hard drive are user-upgradable. For cable management Gateway's $179 port replicator snaps onto the bottom of the notebook and adds serial, parallel, S-Video out, and line-in ports.
Equipped with Intel's latest chip, the Gateway M685-E offers plenty of raw performance, no doubt about it. But you'll have to live with some design inconveniences and an uncomfortable keyboard.