capsule review

Gateway P-172X FX Desktop Replacement Laptop

At a Glance
  • Gateway P-172X FX

    PCWorld Rating

A notebook catering to the gaming set is sure to deliver a flashy design and good horsepower. And Gateway's latest racer, the P-172X FX, doesn't disappoint.

Before even jacking open the 17-inch display lid, you can't help but notice the copper-colored trim lining this portable player. From the font choices on the keys and color scheme to the glowing, backlit shortcuts atop the keyboard, this is obviously targeted at those who attempt to "pimp their rigs."

The hard plastic, glossy exterior almost makes you feel like you're slipping into some racecar. Well, one that revs a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo T8300 Intel CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and nVidia's GeForce Go 8800M GTS graphics board.

Sure enough, in our WorldBench 6 performance tests. the P-172X FX finished right behind the powerful Micro Express IFL9025, with a score of 96. At the display's native 1920-by-1200-resolution, however, neither Crysis nor World in Conflict--two extremely demanding games--got out of first gear. Crysis ran at slide-show speed, slogging along at 11 frames per second, while World in Conflict managed 16 fps. When we ratcheted the screen resolution down to 1024 by 768 pixels, each game reached 23 fps--decent performance for a discrete notebook graphics card.

This laptop also hosts a slew of useful outputs, including a FireWire port, three USB ports, and eSATA and HDMI outputs. The trayless optical drive lets you feed the disc into the slot. - but that's nothing that we haven't already seen in a MacBook Pro. Still, it's nice to see in a relatively affordable gaming machine. 

The P-172X FX's keys feel sturdy, are well spaced, and have good response; and the keyboard doesn't dip when you start hitting the keys (except the flimsy multimedia shortcut keys) with mounting enthusiasm. Also, Gateway seems to have treated the keys to resist spills and the stray Cheetos crumb. Even the numeric keypad is large enough to use easily.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the trackpad. Oh, sure, the pad is the "right" size and has a handy scroll zone, but something's amiss. The touchpad is positioned too far to the left side of the wrist rest. In most games the player uses the W, S, A, and D keys for movement and uses the mouse to control the camera). But the P-172X FX's configuration crams all of the essential controls into one uncomfortable zone. You're better off plugging in an external mouse.

Someone say peripherals? Two words: Buy headphones! The P-172X FX has some of the lousiest audio to excrete from a desktop replacement notebook. Watching a monster take Manhattan in Cloverfield, the two top-mounted speakers sound terribly tinny. And whether listening to that symphony of destruction or Metallica's Enter Sandman, the audio sounds so hollow you might as well use an empty soup can.

Battery life is another shortcoming. In our tests, the P-172X FX ran for just 2 hours, 42 minutes on a charge; the average I've battery life for laptops in this category is about 3 hours.

The notebook's moderate price tag ($2000) and solid performance catapults it into the upper echelon of recent desktop replacements. But if you care anything about audio, Gateway isn't exactly bringing its "A" game.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    As an affordable portable gaming box, the P-172 XFX gets a couple things right and a couple others painfully wrong.

    Pros

    • Stylish and sturdy keyboard
    • HDMI and eSATA ports

    Cons

    • Simply terrible speakers
    • Off-center mouse is a little awkward
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