Intel has generated plenty of buzz by revising its popular Centrino platform with a new set of specs that promise better performance, better battery life, and better Wi-Fi connectivity. You can identify these new systems by the new Centrino stickers, (Centrino Pro for added IT manageability, Centrino Duo for everyone else). One of the very first laptops based on this new platform--developed under the codename Santa Rosa--to come our way is the Gateway E-475M, a mainstream Centrino Duo 15-inch model aimed at business users that has enough style for home users as well. The E-475M boasts plenty of business-friendly security features, including a fingerprint reader and a smart card slot. Priced upward of $2,000, this is an expensive system, but knocking down components and stripping away extras including 802.11n Wi-Fi and a fancy port replicator can shave almost $700 off the price, making this a flexible system for those who need a laptop that works in both the home and office.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$2,186/$1,399|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||100GB at 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300|
|Chipset||Intel Mobile 965 Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (LWH)||14.2x10.1x1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||6.8/7.9 pounds|
The Gateway E-475M sits firmly in the mainstream category of laptops: big enough to work comfortably on for long stretches but small enough to carry around occasionally without much hassle. It's about a half-pound heavier than similar business-minded 15-inch laptops, such as the Toshiba Tecra A8, but feels slightly unbalanced, with most of the weight at the rear of the system where the battery sits.
If you're looking for something slightly more compact, the E-475M has a sister system, the 14.1-inch E-265m. It comes in a little lighter, around 6 pounds, and packs almost the same components into a smaller package, although at the expense of screen size and resolution.
The Gateway E-475M's basic, matte-black finish is attractive, if not exciting, and the pieces inside of the system--including the keyboard, the tray, the screen bezel, and the touch pad--all match, giving the E-475M a uniform black look. The touch pad has a separate scroll zone, which we always like, and the single quick-launch key brings up the Windows Vista Mobility Center menu by default. Maybe we're spoiled, but a few extra quick-launch keys would be welcome, even on a business-minded system.
One interesting point: Our review unit came equipped with both a trackpoint and a touch pad, but the trackpoint has been removed from the final shipping version of the E-475M. While the trackpoint has dedicated fans, we won't miss it.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,680x1,050 native resolution, which is better than the 1,280x800 resolution more commonly found on a screen this size. After seeing so many systems with media-friendly, glossy screen coatings, it was refreshing to find a good, old-fashioned matte screen that was easy to see even under the glare of our desk lamp.
|Gateway E-475M||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
As the above chart illustrates, the ports and connections are in line with what we'd expect to see on a mainstream business laptop, plus it adds a media card reader, which some business-oriented configurations leave out. We were pleased to see the inclusion of faster Draft N (802.11n) Wi-Fi technology, which we expect to see in many new laptops from this point on. Bear in mind, you'll need a 802.11n router to make use of the faster connection.
Our preproduction unit included a host of upgrade options--a high-end CPU, the 802.11n Wi-Fi chip, 2GB of RAM, a 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 graphics chip, and a port replicator with a DVI output and a slot for recharging an additional battery--to drive the price up almost $700 above the $1,399 base. We won't know exactly what your options for knocking the price down are until Gateway officially launches the system on May 9, but we do know the port replicator is a brand-new model that added $179 to our configuration.
Intel claims that Santa Rosa, with its new 800MHz front-side bus CPUs and Turbo Memory (extra flash memory built into the motherboard to speed up access times), will give systems a boost. Testing three Santa Rosa systems with the new 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo T7500, we saw nearly identical scores on CNET Labs' Multimedia multitasking test from the Gateway E-475M, the Gateway E-265M, and the Lenovo ThinkPad R61. They were faster than a similarly configured non-Santa-Rosa system, the Dell Inspiron E1505, and even edged out one of the few laptops we've seen with a high-end T7600 CPU, the Alienware Area-51 m5790 Special Edition. The differences were minor to be sure, but as we test more new Centrino Pro and Centrino Duo systems, we'll get a better picture of the performance gains to be found with the Santa Rosa platform. For now, we think that while it's not a huge leap forward, the fact that this system is one of our top performers is a good sign. In anecdotal testing, the system certainly felt powerful, even while multitasking, but we'd expect nothing less from any recent laptop.
Despite the impressive application performance, neither the Gateway E-475M nor the other early Santa Rosa systems we've seen are suitable for serious gaming. Instead of integrated Intel 965 graphics in the new Santa Rosa standard, our E-475M review unit featured an ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300 with 256MB of dedicated video RAM. The system was too slow, however, to run our standard gaming benchmark tests at our bare minimum acceptable frame rate of 30 frames per second, but in anecdotal testing, we were able to get a playable, if not always smooth, frame rate on the upcoming Vista-only game Halo 2 by knocking the resolution all the way down to 800x600.
The Gateway E-475M ran for 2 hours, 37 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life during casual Web surfing and office use. One of the major selling points of Santa Rosa is improved battery life, through more efficient CPUs and smart throttling of the CPU and front-side bus. The E-475M had impressive battery life, and beat other 15-inch non-Santa Rosa systems, such as the Toshiba Satellite A135-S4467 and the Systemax Pursuit 4155, by more than 30 minutes. While it's not a game changer, none of the Santa Rosa laptops we've tested to date have lasted less than two hours.