Gateway NV7915u: More Brawn Than Brains
At a Glance
Gateway NV7915u Notebook
Gateway's NV7915u desktop-replacement laptop has modest performance and good design, but is a beast to pack.
I'm getting too old and lazy these days to travel much farther than to my desk, couch, or bed. The good news is that Gateway seems to have made the $649 NV7915u laptop just for people like me. Industry jargon calls such models desktop replacements, but "luggable" is a better word for an overstuffed and oversize notebook PC. In this class of laptops, you generally get a larger screen and keyboard, and just enough portability that you can lug your computer around the house. And if you must, you can squeeze the machine into a large bag and take it to the office or on vacation. Desktop-replacement laptops are supposed to be no-compromise portables, but after dragging the NV7915u around with me for a couple of weeks, I found that it makes a few trade-offs.
The Gateway NV7915u has a massive chassis, and weighs a beefy 6.8 pounds. Still, the classy design offers a few nice touches. In contrast to the smudge-prone glossy finish on the outside, the keyboard and wrist rest have a subtle matte finish to minimize fingerprints. Above the keyboard is a sleek row of status lights (Bluetooth, hard-drive access, and the like), as well as touch-sensitive LEDs that let you instantly activate data backup, Wi-Fi toggle, touchpad disable, mute, and volume control. The NV7915u also comes with a good but not spectacular set of interface and media features: a DVD drive, four USB ports, HDMI- and VGA-out, an SD Card reader, and network and modem ports. Overall, the machine exhibits good craftsmanship, but it's nothing dazzling.
On the other hand, the huge 17.3-inch screen is almost intimidating at first glance. It's large enough for you to multitask effectively and view program windows side by side. The even brightness and good contrast make text very readable, although it's not quite as sharp as on some of the best laptops. The widescreen format is also good for watching movies, but the nonstandard 1600 by 900 native resolution may not look so good when you connect the NV7915u to a monitor or HDTV. Though you can switch the Intel HM55 Express chipset to more-standard resolutions, this laptop's home-theater video performance will depend on the scaling capabilities of your AV receiver and HDTV. Another compromise is the NV7915u's standard-definition DVD drive. Luckily, the excellent CyberLink PowerDVD software comes bundled, and you can tweak it to optimize DVD video playback. Even with a good HDTV and the right software tweaks, however, I still wasn't thrilled by this laptop's performance on movies. In short, the NV7915u has a solid screen, but it's not the best choice for watching flicks on your home theater.
The news on the audio front is better, as the NV7915u's built-in speakers deliver far better sound than what you get from many laptops. I noticed generally low distortion and good presence with the built-in speakers, and though there was still some clipping on low-end bass, it was acceptable. Overall, sound is a bit on the bright side; while music playback was solid, the midrange was overpowering at times. As a bonus, the headphone jack doubles as an S/PDIF digital audio-out, which works perfectly with many AV receivers. Movie and video soundtrack playback was good with the speakers but showed much better balance through the S/PDIF output. If you need to tweak the audio, the Realtek HD Audio Manager software has some basic controls and effects, but audiophiles may want more-precise controls.
If you're not looking for a multimedia powerhouse, but you need a good computer for your daily work and play, the NV7915u has an awesome keyboard that's big enough even for the largest hands. The sweet, light keystroke will keep touch typists very happy, and the machine also sports a full numeric keypad that even the most discriminating spreadsheet master will appreciate. However, there are a few strikes against the NV7915u. For one thing, the keys have no backlighting. And though the touchpad supports multitouch for clicking, the physical mouse button is so thin that you might have trouble finding it with your fingers.
While the NV7915u treats your hands, ears, and eyes well, it suffers from poky benchmark performance. My review rig came with 4GB of RAM, an Intel Core i3-330M CPU running at 2.13GHz, and a 500GB hard drive running Windows 7, a combination that resulted in benchmark scores near the bottom of the heap relative to other desktop-replacement laptops PCWorld has tested. Nevertheless, I noticed no hiccups or slowdowns during my constant usage. As long as you stick with basic Web and office tasks, you probably won't miss the raw computing power. You can roam a bit with this luggable system, too: It managed to last 3 hours, 4 minutes in our battery life tests. Just don't get too far from a power outlet.
As for software, Gateway packs in a nice bundle to get you started, including Roxio Burn, CyberLink Power DVD, Microsoft Works, a trial version of Office, and a few Gateway utilities. You get a printed quick-start guide and an electronic user guide that are detailed but mostly describe basic Windows functions for beginners along with generic sections covering features that may not be on your specific notebook.
Packing the Gateway NV7915u outside of your home or office will make you feel more like a Sherpa than a nimble road warrior. Even though this desktop-replacement laptop has more beef than brains, the good keyboard, audio, and screen might make up the difference to you. If you take a PC on the road only occasionally, and you don't need your computer to operate at the speed of light, the NV7915u could be just the ticket.