Netbooks have settled into a comfortable set of stock components, offering basic PC functionality for prices unheard of even a few years ago. The typical setup of a 10-inch display, Intel Atom N450 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and Windows 7 Starter is easy to find for as little as $299, and more than adequate for many tasks, from e-mail to surfing the Web.
But those low, low prices mean that PC makers are eager to upsell, and a handful of similar systems have turned up, with larger HD displays, more RAM, and even better CPUs and graphics capabilities, such as the Asus Eee PC 1201, which pairs a bigger screen with Nvidia's Ion GPU for what we sometimes call a "premium Netbook" experience.
A recent system to offer this mix of a little more Netbook for a little more money is the Gateway LT3201u. This 11.6-inch laptop skips the typical Intel Atom for an AMD Athlon Neo II K125 processor. Though still a single-core chip, AMD has always positioned the Neo as a better performer than the Atom, and during initial anecdotal hands-on use, that certainly seems to be the case. The LT32 also includes ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics--still not a discrete GPU, but a small step up from the integrated Intel graphics found in most Netbooks.
Almost as important to the end-user experience is the 2GB of RAM (double what's in a typical Netbook) and the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system instead of the more common Windows 7 Starter Edition.
Note, however, that we're also starting to see dual-core versions of AMD premium Netbooks, including the Dell Inspiron M101z, which is even faster, but also more expensive, crossing that important psychological barrier of $500.
|Price as reviewed||$449|
|Processor||1.7GHz AMD Athlon II Neo Processor K125|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.2x8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.9/3.7 pounds|
The design of the LT32 is reminiscent of the Acer Ferrari One, an excellent 11-inch premium Netbook from earlier in 2010. That system was even better, with a dual-core AMD CPU and 4GB of RAM, but it also cost nearly $600, putting it in solid mainstream laptop territory. The Gateway LT32 is more reasonably priced. Gateway is listing it for $449, but hopefully some adventurous retailer will sell it for $399, which would make it a great $100 upgrade from entry-level Netbooks.
The large keyboard is typical of 11-inch Netbooks, and certainly easier to type on, although the wide, flat, closely packed keys felt a little wobbly, especially around the center of the keyboard. The touch pad is undersized and made of the same material as the rest of the wrist rest, demarcated only by a faint raised line. Like most current laptop touch pads, it includes some basic multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, but they were hard to use, failing to register much of the time. At least the left and right mouse buttons are actual separate buttons, skipping the unfortunate recent Gateway trend of using a single, thin rocker bar in place of buttons.
The 11.6-inch screen has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, the current standard for nearly all laptops with 11- to 15-inch displays. It's a useful midlevel resolution that allows one to play 720p HD video files with no loss of fidelity, and doesn't make the small 11-inch screen feel cramped.
|Gateway LT3201u||Average for category [Netbook]|
|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, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
One of the things we like most about this new breed of premium Netbooks is the inclusion of an HDMI output, useful for hooking up to a larger display. It almost makes up for the lack of Bluetooth; otherwise this is a standard set of ports and connections.
In our hands-on use, the LT32 felt like a definite step up from Atom-powered Netbooks. We spent less time staring at the spinning Windows wait icon, and launching and switching between apps resulted in less hang time. Both the Neo processor and extra RAM likely play a part in this.
The Radeon graphics weren't much for 3D games (although some more-basic games are certainly playable; see our list of great games for Netbooks for some examples), but HD video playback was great, including streaming Flash video in HD, something that trips up even Netbooks using Broadcom's Crystal HD video accelerator.
|Raw kWh Number||34.45|
|Annual power consumption cost||$3.91|