capsule review

Gateway P-7808u Laptop

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Gateway P-7808u Notebook

    PCWorld Rating

    A great desktop replacement that is ironically undercut by an almost identical but significantly cheaper model from Gateway.

Gateway's return to tech prominence is largely due to a series of incredibly cheap gaming laptops sold directly through Best Buy. In fact, one of the earliest models, the P-6831FX (and later the P-172X FX), offered so much bang for the buck that it was nearly impossible to find in stores. Gateway has since expanded sales through other online retailers, with slightly adjusted configurations of the same laptop; and the P-7808u now takes its place at the head of the class.

While the P-7808u's sticker price ($1800 as of April 13, 2009) isn't eye-catchingly low, it looks a lot better when you consider what you get under the hood: a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor, 4GB of speedy 1066MHz RAM, a 500GB hard-disk drive, and an nVidia GeForce 9800M graphics system with a full 1GB of RAM. You won't find many comparable 17-inch desktop replacements for the price.

Strangely, the P-7808u's WorldBench 6 score of 92 put it at the low end of the performance spectrum (by comparison, the Gateway P-7811FX, which costs significantly less, received a mark of 90). In our battery drain tests, the P-7808u ran for 3 hours, 20 minutes. This desktop replacement's greatest strength was its handling of games, as evidenced by its impressive frame rates on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (60 frames per second) and Unreal Tournament III (67 fps) at 1024-by-768-pixel resolution.

Though most of the internal components are cutting-edge, the screen appears to have been a compromise choice. On desktop replacements, it's not uncommon to see screens with resolutions of 1680 by 1050 pixels or even 1920 by 1200 pixels; the P-7808u's screen has a native resolution of just 1440 by 900 pixels. Text looks crisp and legible, but the lack of screen real estate is a bit disappointing. The general quality of the screen is a bit above average, with slightly muted colors, relatively poor black levels, and a shallow vertical viewing angle.Still, unless you're doing color-critical work, it's far from a deal-breaker.

Otherwise, the P-7808u leaves little to complain about. The solid black-and-copper body, while clearly crafted with gamers in mind, is subtle enough to fit in comfortably in more-subdued settings, and the wide assortment of ports should accommodate all but the most specialized of requirements. Connection options include three USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA port, a four-pin FireWire port, an ExpressCard 54 slot, gigabit ethernet and modem jacks, a VGA port, and an HDMI output. Among the other features are a five-in-one card reader, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam with built-in microphone, a physical wireless on/off switch, and external microphone/headphone inputs and outputs.

The P-7808u invites RAM and hard drive upgrades, enabling users to gain access to these components by removing one of two panels on the bottom of the laptop, and supplying a user manual that provides clear instructions on how to proceed with the upgrades. A second hard-drive slot lets you add storage or configure dual drives in a RAID setup. The CPU is easy to reach and replace, too.

One of the standout features of the P-7808u is its keyboard. The full-size keys come complete with a four-column number pad, and the keyboard's sturdiness and excellent button travel make this one of the best input devices I've used on a non-ThinkPad laptop. Each button provides a nice solid click, and I noticed virtually no flex even when I was typing furiously.

The generous touchpad is substantially recessed into the palm rest; the resulting border clearly defines the pad's boundaries and gives you a physical way to find the scroll area. The touchpad buttons make a shallow but satisfying click when depressed. The media playback buttons above the keyboard look touch-sensitive, but they require a full depression. The volume strip next to the media playback strip is touch-sensitive, and it responds well without being too sensitive.

Don't expect to replace your home stereo without adding some external speakers, though. The included two-speaker sound system isn't a total waste, but it lacks the power to fill up more than a small to medium-size room. I didn't notice any distortion when I cranked up the volume; however, the bass was noticeably weak, as was overall definition. A nice set of headphones can make the world of a difference.

Gateway limits its bloatware throw-ins to a small assortment of ISP and productivity software trials; you also get a Gateway-branded series of games from WildTangent. The included Windows Vista Home Premium operating system is the 64-bit version, which enables the system to use all 4GB of its internal RAM. The remainder of the included software takes care of burning CDs and DVDs, watching movies, and using the Webcam.

The Gateway P-7808u is a very capable desktop replacement, incorporating some high-end hardware for a very reasonable price. But unless you plan to make heavy use of software that specifically engages the quad-core CPU (3D rendering, for example), Gateway's own P-7805u is a better deal because it is essentially the same laptop, except with a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, a smaller but faster hard drive, no Bluetooth module, and a price tag that is $650 dollars lower.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    A great desktop replacement that is ironically undercut by an almost identical but significantly cheaper model from Gateway.

    Pros

    • Solid keyboard and build quality
    • Ample power for the price

    Cons

    • Poor screen a cost-cutting casualty
    • Performance is a bit disappointing
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