Editors' note: This review is part of our spring 2010 retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
The Gateway NV7915u is a budget desktop replacement that serves up an impressive mix of features for the money. When we reviewed its predecessor at the end of last year, the Gateway NV7820u, we said it was a "fine example" of the company's "best bang-for-your-buck retail laptops." With a new processor and a lower price, this updated model offers more bang for fewer bucks. At $599, it's one of the cheapest laptops you'll find at retail with Intel's Core i3 processor. The laptop offers clearly superior performance to similarly priced laptops that use older Intel and AMD processors, particularly when multitasking. Plus, its large 17.3-inch display works well for juggling multiple windows or sitting back and watching a movie. Only minor nits like poor battery life (most desktop replacements are anchored near an outlet anyway) and an awkward mouse-button bar temper our enthusiasm for the otherwise stellar Gateway NV7915u.
|Processor||2.13GHz Intel Core i3 M330|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB, 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||16.2 x 11.0 x 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.9 / 7.8 pounds|
The black-and-silver Gateway N7915u is set apart from similarly hued laptops by a subtle honeycomb pattern on the glossy lid. Inside, the keyboard deck is matte black, with a glossy black strip running across the top of the keyboard. Two round hinges hold the display in place, and we'll save you some hunting by telling you that the power button resides on the side of the right hinge. The laptop weighs 6.9 pounds and measures 1.4 inches thick, which makes it one of the lighter and thinner desktop replacements.
The keyboard has a unique look and feel with its wide, flat keys. We found typing to be comfortable; the keys are quiet with perfect travel. A dedicated number pad is integrated seamlessly to the right of the keyboard. Above the keyboard is a row of touch-sensitive keys. It includes standard buttons such as volume controls, turning on and off wireless, and locking the touch pad, and a programmable launch key for opening a file, folder, Web site, or application, and another button that launches software for backing up files. Play, pause, rewind, and fast-forward are mapped to the Function keys.
The touch pad is recessed slightly and offers a pleasing matte finish. It also offers multitouch support, so you can, for example, swipe two fingers to scroll down Web pages, swipe two fingers sideways to jump forward and back in your browser, and zoom in and out by pulling apart or pushing together two fingers. We don't like the thin, indented border that frames the touch pad; it looks like a spot were dust and dirt could collect. We also don't like the mouse buttons--or button, as it were. Instead of two separate mouse buttons, the Gateway VN7915u features a single bar below the touch pad. For starters, it's too thin; we kept hitting the space below it when attempting to click. It's also wider than the touch pad, which looks odd, and you have to be diligent to hit the right or left side of it to make a corresponding mouse click. We found our thumb constantly hitting the middle of the bar, which does nothing but frustrate.
The 17.3-inch display features LED backlighting, a 16:9 aspect ratio, and a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution. The screen is big and bright, bringing movies to life. The display is also useful for productivity, giving you plenty of room to work on documents side by side. Above the display is a low-end Webcam. It features a 0.3-megapixel sensor, which is capable of 640x480-pixel pictures and videos. It will suffice for video conferencing, but little else.
The integrated speakers offer surprisingly big sound. We found ourselves listening to movie dialog and effects at lower than max volume--a rarity in budget laptop testing. We even found ourselves enjoying music on the integrated speakers, another exercise we rarely undertake on a laptop.
|Gateway NV7915u||Average for category [Desktop Replacement]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-F||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Gateway NV7915u offers a useful collection of ports, including four USB 2.0 ports split among the right and left side of the laptop. In addition to a VGA port, there's an HDMI port, which we don't see on many low-end laptops. Absent are an eSATA port and an ExpressCard slot. Networking options include Gigabit Ethernet and Wireless N Wi-Fi.
The laptop features a spacious 500GB hard drive; currently 320GB drives are the norm on budget laptops. And Gateway doesn't clutter the drive with bloatware; the only trials you'll find might be of interest to you: 60 days of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2007.
While other budget laptops try to make ends meet with a previous-generation processor, the Gateway NV7915u features Intel's new Core i3 processor, one of the successors to the chipmaker's hugely popular Core 2 Duo chip. The Core i3 M330 processor is a dual-core CPU clocked at 2.13GHz. It features Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, which turns its two cores into four virtual cores, greatly aiding multitasking performance as well as the speed with any threaded application. On CNET Labs' multitasking benchmark, the Gateway NV7915u was 30 to 32 percent faster than other current budget laptops that feature Intel's Pentium T4400 chip and a comparable AMD Turion II chip. It was 35 percent faster than last year's Core 2 Duo T6600-based Gateway NV7802u laptop on the same test. The numbers decrease when looking at performance on a single application. For instance, the Gateway NV7915u was 9 to 14 percent faster than the budget laptops from Asus, Dell, HP, and Toshiba on our Photoshop benchmark.
In anecdotal testing, we experienced smooth, responsive performance under heavy multitasking scenarios. It played HD video seamlessly, and it loaded the files much faster than the other budget laptops tested in our spring roundup of retail systems. The Core i3 offers tangible performance increases over other budget laptops that use previous-generation parts. Aiding the Gateway NV7915u's performance is 4GB of fast 1,066MHz DDR3 memory.
Unlike higher-end desktop replacements that feature dedicated graphics, the Gateway NV7915u shows its budget roots by using integrated Intel GMA HD graphics. They're capable of smooth playback of HD video, but they don't make the laptop a 3D gaming machine.
|Gateway NV7915u||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.70|
|Sleep (10 percent)||0.90|
|Idle (25 percent)||10.1|
|Load (5 percent)||43.2|
|Annual energy cost||$5.17|