How important is an optical drive to your laptop purchase plans? Do you use one for anything other than DVD playback, software installation, and the occasional CD-to-MP3 rip? If you're like us, you don't use an optical drive much at all. Still, we receive an incredible number of e-mails from readers saying that optical drives are part of the equation when buying a laptop.
Starting with Netbooks and continuing the trend in "thin-and-light" notebooks, optical drives have been increasingly left out of the smaller end of the laptop spectrum. To those of you who miss them or cry foul that laptops aren't engineered tightly enough to fit those drives in, the Gateway EC14D07u stands as your exception.
With a dual-core Pentium processor and otherwise mainstream laptop specs, this 11.6-inch laptop also manages to cram a DVD drive into its relatively thin 1.2-inch-thick frame. How has the magic been done? Well, for one thing, this laptop is really more of a compact full-size notebook than a Netbook, a modern equivalent of the old 12-inch Apple PowerBook we once loved. Second, the chassis doesn't feel quite as robust as other laptops--in fact, it feels downright cheap. Regardless of how the magic was made, the bottom line is that for $629, the Gateway EC14D07u offers nearly the same specs as the Toshiba Satellite T135-S1310, a laptop we reviewed last October, but also adds an optical drive and lowers the price by more than $40.
If you desperately need that optical drive, you might want to consider this Gateway, but keep in mind that 2010 has also seen the introduction of a number of fast and cheap Core i3 laptops that offer better performance, albeit with a shorter average battery life. Larger Core i3 laptops have optical drives, too, but aren't as portable as this computer.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$629|
|Processor||1.3 GHz Pentium SU4100|
|Memory||4GB, 1066 MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.5 inches x 8.3 inches|
|Height||1.1 - 1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.6 / 4.2 pounds|
An unassuming, little laptop clad in black, the Gateway EC14D07u is slightly bigger and heavier than the standard Netbook, but it's close enough to a Netbook in size that most casual glancers will categorize it as such. We might call it a "Netbook-plus" for now, because its internal specs really place it in a category like a thin-and-light, especially considering its dual-core ULV processor.
This Gateway has a very plastic feel to it, extending from its generic matte-black underside to the glossy black lid with its offset chromed Gateway logo. On all edges, the lines are tight and the battery bulge is nearly nonexistent. Due to its optical drive, the bottom part of the EC14D07u feels a bit chunkier, but that also lends the laptop some weight that keeps it centered when opening and closing the lid.
Inside, a large palm rest area is covered in an inverted-dimple pattern set in black plastic, lending a bit of texture and traction. The full-size keyboard is set away from the upper lid by a good inch-plus of space, giving this laptop a deeper feel. The slightly bronzy dark plastic that surrounds the interior surfaces, including the inset glossy screen, is muted, simple, and somewhat attractive; it's slightly a design throwback. A single power button to the upper right and a small array of LED indicator lights on the upper left are the only features of note, besides the keyboard.
Now, about that keyboard. Something had to give, we guess, to fit an optical drive into a chassis this small and wide, and, unfortunately, a flat keyboard seems to be the short stick. A mushy feel, lots of flex (sometimes it seemed like the keyboard would lift off the base), and a key surface that throws back lots of glare in low lighting conditions, which makes it hard to make out letters, all add up to a less-than-ideal experience. It almost feels like an old folding Palm keyboard has been glued onto this laptop. Still, in all fairness, we could write reasonably well on it, and at least the key spacing is roomy. The track pad is larger than on most Netbooks, though the tiny discrete buttons beneath could have been a little larger for our comfort.
The included 11.6-inch glossy LED-backlit screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is the standard resolution for most laptops up to about 14 inches. Overall color and brightness seemed a little above average, although we found that we had to crank up the brightness when reading text. Like on many budget laptops, viewing angles were finicky, but DVDs and Hulu videos were very watchable. The speakers were loud enough for comfortable playback, but with no real audiophile quality to them. Still, we're glad they were loud enough to use--many Netbook speakers aren't.
The DVD/CD-burning drive is tucked into the right side of the Gateway EC14D07u, and is opened via a small button to the top right of the keyboard. The quality of the plastic feels almost like a kit, and lacks elegance. The drive also got pretty noisy in our use. It did work as advertised, however, although the included Cyberlink PowerDVD software might win a prize for the least user-friendly DVD playback interface of this era.
|Gateway EC14D07U||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Three USB ports, HDMI, an SD card slot, VGA, and, yes, that optical drive are all artfully tucked into pretty tight quarters, making the most of the space provided. Bluetooth is optional, but wasn't included on our model.
For $629, this Gateway also includes 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard-drive space, both of which match up with full-size laptop specs. This elevates the EC14D07u above typical Netbooks, and, much like the Toshiba Satellite T135-S1310, it could be a fine portable solution for many people looking for just enough to handle all of their basic everyday needs, including playing video.