The flexible M680XL walks the line between weekday and weekend, offering processing power that tears through productivity work, along with graphics performance on a par with that of gaming laptops. To top it all off, its bright, wide screen makes both work and play easier on the eyes. Remarkably, its price is $500 less than the business-focused Dell Latitude D810 and a full $800 less than high-performance entertainment systems such as the Sony VAIO VGN-A690. Though it lacks the security features that corporate buyers demand and the multimedia features, such as TV tuner and digital video recorder, that many home buyers love, the Gateway M680XL successfully balances the needs of power users in both corporate and home settings.
Measuring 1.4 inches thick by 15.6 inches wide by 10.8 inches deep and weighing 7.9 pounds, it's in the middle of the typical range for desktop replacements but still almost a pound heavier than the Latitude D810. With its 1-pound AC adapter, the M680XL has a total weight of just less than 9 pounds, making it more appropriate for short-distance lugging than regular travel. The notebook's 17-inch diagonal display is as big as they get, with dimensions (14.5 inches by 9 inches) that are very close to a DVD's 16:9 wide-screen aspect ratio. The Gateway M680XL is perfect for working with two or three windows open at once, giving a presentation without a projector, or editing full-screen video. The 1,680x1,050 native resolution (WSXGA+) is one of the sharpest we've seen, topped only by the 1,900x1,200 (WUXGA) of the more entertainment-centered Sony VAIO VGN-A690. The M680XL's ATI Mobility Radeon X700 video engine, with 128MB of its own memory, gives it enough power for computer-aided design and some alien battles between tasks. Despite these great video capabilities, however, the system lacks the instant-play features, the TV tuner, and the digital video recorder that grace more entertainment-oriented systems such as the VAIO VGN-A690 or the HP Pavilion zd8000.
This wide-body affords plenty of room for creature comforts, such as comfortable keys, a dedicated 10-key numeric keypad, and excellent speakers. Unfortunately, the Gateway M680XL's security isn't up to corporate standards: it lacks hardware encryption, a fingerprint scanner, and a smart-card reader--measures found on more purebred corporate machines, such as the Dell Latitude D810 or the thin-and-light ThinkPad T43. On the other hand, its thorough assortment of ports includes FireWire, external monitor, audio-in and -out, S-Video, and four USB ports. Also onboard are a Type II PC Card slot and a flash card reader that supports Secure Digital, MultiMedia Card, and Memory Stick modules; we wish it recognized the older SmartMedia or newer xD formats. The M680XL lacks Bluetooth, even as an option, but it does offer Gigabit Ethernet, modem, and an Intel 802.11b/g data radio that, in our anecdotal tests, stayed online within 115 feet of an access point.
The Gateway M680XL runs on the Windows XP Professional operating system. The laptop's decent software bundle includes useful applications, such as BigFix diagnostic software, the trimmed-down Microsoft Works 8.0 productivity suite, Nero Express 6.0 disc-burning software, and CyberLink PowerDVD 5.0.
Our $2,066 (as of July 2005) unit shipped with a current-generation Centrino platform incorporating some of the fastest components available. In addition to the top-speed 2.1GHz Pentium M processor, the laptop has 1GB of fast 533MHz memory and can hold up to 2GB of RAM. Our test system also came with a medium-size 60GB hard drive that spins at a very fast 7,200rpm and an 8X multiformat DVD writer.
In CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, the M680XL turned in a very good performance, scoring just ahead of the Dell Latitude D810, which has a slightly slower, 2GHz processor and 266MHz memory, and neck and neck with the entertainment-oriented Toshiba Qosmio G25, with its 2GHz processor and 1GB of 400MHz memory. Graphic artists and casual gamers alike will be happy to learn that the M680XL, while not a top-of-the-line gaming machine, scored within 10 percent of the Qosmio G25 in our Unreal Tournament 2004 and Half-Life 2 tests.