Gateway MC7803u All-Purpose Laptop
At a Glance
Gateway's new notebook is an entertainment tease. While the price is right, some of the performance isn't.
I'll say one thing about Gateway's MC7803u: It sure doesn't look like it costs only a thousand bucks. Honestly, I'm a little surprised by how the company managed to craft a slick-looking all-purpose laptop and still keep it on a tight budget. Of course, you don't need to be a Mensa candidate to realize that corners must be cut. But after seeing the results, I'm wondering whether the right corners got the axe.
Spending $1000 won't net you the fastest machine on the block, but the MC7803u does all right for itself. It runs on an Intel 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T5800 CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 512MB AMD Radeon HD 3650 GPU. All of those components make sense if you're Gateway, looking to come in on budget. In reality, however, you end up creating a machine that barely ekes out a score of 78 in WorldBench 6. Though hovering around the average is fine, that kind of performance is hardly capable of delivering a decent game experience. In fact, in our tests Gateway's machine could muster only 79 frames per second in Doom 3 and 94 in FarCry at 1024 by 768 resolution. In comparison, another machine that promises multimedia speed is HP's HDX16. Granted, that model is almost twice the price as configured for our review ($1973), but its high-powered hardware delivered 90 frames per second in Doom 3--at 1280 by 1024 resolution.
Gateway wins back a couple points in battery life, as in our tests the MC7803u managed to survive 3 hours, 48 minutes on a charge of the included battery. This system may not last as long as Lenovo's ThinkPad SL400 (which chugged along for 5 hours, 8 minutes with its massive nine-cell battery), but it hovers right in the range of what we expect of all-purpose laptops. And for portables that require juice for 16-inch screens, its results aren't so shabby.
Something is amiss with this laptop's glass display, though: The 16-inch screen is a little washed out. From the middle to the upper end of the brightness settings, its colors get blasted. A little fine-tuning at the lower settings, and the screen was serviceable long enough for me to write this review on the machine. Perhaps the native 1366 by 768 resolution is a little weak for such a large display.
I think there's a method to that madness--trying to run most programs at a higher resolution would require a better discrete GPU and a meatier processor. But while I like the thought of using a glass display, imagewise it's like trying to polish a...well, you know. As for the craftsmanship, the edge-to-edge display seems nice, but I don't like how the glass pops out from the edges. All it takes is a smack in the wrong place, and the sweet-looking lid with leather trim could be history.
The keyboard feels good. It's not just the firmness of the key presses or the spacing between the buttons; I like the finish on the keys, too, and I also dig the subtle backlit orange glow of the keys on my review unit. It's perfect for easy viewing in the dark--and with a press, you can kill the extra lights. While this laptop's typing experience is not quite as luxurious as what you find on some other notebooks (such as HP's HDX16 or Lenovo's SL400), it offers a certain level of comfort and, for lack of a better term, a satisfactory "clackiness" when you start tapping away. You know when you've hit something.
I wish I could say the same for the neat-looking multimedia shortcuts that flank the keyboard. The buttons eventually fade into the background, but while they linger, they don't register presses easily; I had to mash down on the panel to start Windows Media Center (the HP HDX16, in contrast, requires only a light touch). The textured touchpad feels nice enough, framed in metal and surrounded by a leather wrist rest, but the mouse buttons feel a little too loose--not that they seem about to break off, but it is a place where you can see the seams showing.
The layout is pretty sensible. A total of four USB ports occupy the sides. VGA and HDMI cover the low and high end of the video-output spectrum, respectively. You get modem and ethernet connections, as well, and under the hood are Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Rounding out the selection are a PC Card/ExpressCard slot and a five-in-one flash card reader on the side, two headphone jacks and one microphone jack in front, and a Webcam atop the display. But don't try looking for eSATA or FireWire ports here. Blu-ray? A nice thought, but you're out of luck.
Unfortunately, the sound is another victim of Gateway's corner cutting. The MC7803u has front-firing speakers and no discernable subwoofer to speak of--and the results are less than stellar. The audio doesn't get particularly loud, and it comes across kind of hollow. Honestly, it's hard for me to call something an "Ultimate Entertainment" system if it lacks the gumption to run games such as Fallout 3 well or the power to sound good.
Would you mind lugging this laptop around? Measuring 15.2 by 10.5 by 1.9 inches, and weighing 7.7 pounds (8.8 pounds with the power brick), it's a little hefty for toting. But considering again that this portable manages to hit the $1000 price point, it's not all bad.
In fact, the price weighs heavily in making this laptop a solid contender. Just remember that, while it looks good on the surface, the MC7803u makes some compromises that prevent it from properly delivering some of the entertainment you might have in mind (such as games). If you're willing to spend a little extra scratch to get a whole lot more oomph from an entertainment notebook, check out HP's HDX16 if you're inclined to splurge. Otherwise, Lenovo's IdeaPad Y510 is a little on the older--and less powerful--side, but still manages to bring some basic all-purpose entertainment to the party while costing under a grand.