Following the lead from Dell and others, Gateway embraces its colorful side with the M-150XL, a reasonably powerful and reasonably priced 15-inch laptop available in a handful of bright colors (ours was a cherry red). For $1,199 (currently on sale for $1,099), it includes an Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a few notable extras such as a slot-loading DVD burner and an HDMI output. This attractive, media-friendly laptop is not configurable, but the default specs are powerful enough that it's not a deal-breaker. Within a few dollars, it's the same price as a similarly configured Dell Inspiron 1520, with the Dell winning on configurability, but lacking some of the cool default touches found on the Gateway. While we like the components Gateway packed on the inside, we're less enthused about the chassis that surrounds them.
|Price as reviewed||$1,199|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||120GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||128MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2400XT|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.0 x 10.0 x 1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.4 / 7.5 pounds|
Available in red, blue, or dark gray, the Gateway M-150XL has a bubbly plastic prefab look, much like Dell's current line of mainstream Inspiron laptops. The back cover is a little fingerprint-prone, as all glossy finishes are. Even though it weighs a few ounces more than other 15-inch laptops, such as the Toshiba Satellite A21, the lid and keyboard doesn't feel as solid, giving slightly under our fingers, but the wrist rest and brushed metal keyboard tray are rock solid. Following the direction of Dell and HP, Gateway's new design aesthetic is clean, modern, and satisfying--a long way from the bland industrial laptops of just a few years ago.
A 1.3-megapixel Webcam sits above the display, and media control buttons are cut right into the brushed metal keyboard tray next to a cool, touch-sensitive volume control strip. We like Gateway's touchpad design, with a large clearly marked scroll zone, but the plastic mouse buttons felt cheap, and the fingerprint reader that sits between them was slightly askew, a very minor manufacturing defect, but still annoying. The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. Text and icons are highly readable at this size, but the screen's glossy coating was a little too reflective. If you hate glossy screens, note that Dell offers an anti-glare screen option on its mainstream 15-inch model.
|Gateway M-150XL||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card slot||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Express card slot||PC Card or Express card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Slot-loading DVD burner||DVD burner|
Despite being a fixed-configuration system, Gateway offers plenty of extras on the M-150XL. You get Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi, both of which are sometimes omitted from laptops that hover around the $1,000 mark, plus an HDMI output, which is an unexpected, if not terribly useful, bonus. Obviously, you're not going to find a next-gen high-def optical drive on a laptop in this price range, but swapping HDMI for the archaic S-Video port we still find on most laptops is hopefully a portent of things to come. This is the first laptop we've seen in a while without a mini-FireWire jack, but honestly, we didn't miss it (although camcorder owners might feel left out).
We saw no surprises from the M-150XL's performance. As we'd expect from a laptop with an Intel T-7000 series CPU, the Gateway was a speedy performer, closely matching similarly configured systems, such as the Lenovo 3000 N200 (which is no-frills, but available with the same CPU and 2GB of RAM for only $948). While our review unit included a T7100 CPU, Gateway is now selling this system with a slightly faster 2.0GHz T7250 CPU. We were able to multitask with ease, running Web browsers, media players, and office documents at the same time with no slowdown or stuttering.
Gateway sells two lower-end models in this series, the $699 M-150S and the $799 M-150X, that use a slower T2310 CPUs and slower 533MHz memory with ditching the Radeon HD 2400XT graphics card, the HDMI port, and the fingerprint reader. The M-150XL provides good value at its $1,099 price, but if you're bound and determined to spend less than $1,000, we like the M-150XL because it serves up a second gig of memory and 40GB more of hard-drive space--the extra RAM is worth the extra $100 alone, especially for a system running Vista Home Premium.
The Gateway M-150XL ran for 2 hours and 15 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included 6-cell battery. That's decent for a 15-inch laptop, and since our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
The system includes an industry-standard one-year warranty with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service. For a reasonable $150, you can upgrade to three years of coverage. Gateway offers a 24-7 toll-free technical-support phone line, and the Web site has the usual driver downloads and FAQs, plus options for e-mailing or online chatting with techs.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)