Gateway's affordable NX500X proves that you don't have to spend an exorbitant amount of money to get a respectably configured notebook. Our $950 test configuration featured a nice wide-screen design, a typical array of features, and solid performance. Battery life was just so-so, however; if your work requires lots of time away from the socket, we recommend the comparably priced, though slightly bulkier, HP Compaq Presario V2300.
Though Gateway calls it a thin-and-light, we consider the NX500X more of a midsize laptop; it weighs 6.3 pounds and measures 10.4 inches deep, 14 inches wide, and 1.3 inches thick. Clad in sophisticated hues of gray and black, the NX500X has a pleasing design that feels extremely sturdy and solid. The system's big, firm keyboard provides deep key travel and is quite comfortable to use for long typing stints. Under the keys is a moderately sized touch pad that features a separate area on its right side for scrolling through documents. The mouse buttons are wide but too small for our taste.
The laptop features a 15.4-inch wide-screen display with a standard 1,280x800 native resolution; it lacks the glossy, high-contrast treatment found on other models, and we found it to be a bit dimmer than average.
Featuring a typical array of connections, the Gateway NX500X comes with four USB 2.0 ports, a PC Card slot, and support for Ethernet and modem. There's also a 4-in-1 memory card reader, and a FireWire port for connecting to digital video cameras and other similar devices. Integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi comes standard.
Configured surprisingly well in light of its modest sticker price, our Gateway NX500X test unit came equipped with a midrange 1.73GHz Pentium M CPU; 512MB of slow 333MHz DDR SDRAM; and a meager 40GB hard drive that's too small for those with large amounts of digital data. To keep the price under a grand, the system foregoes a more expensive DVD burner and features a fixed DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive that can play CDs and DVDs but burn only CDs.
The Gateway NX500X's performance was good, landing it a competitive score on CNET Labs' MobileMark benchmark that rivaled the comparably priced Dell Inspiron 6000 and Acer TravelMate 2355LCi. The NX500X will ably handle productivity tasks such as e-mail, Web surfing, and word processing. Its standard 6-cell battery delivered average life--just shy of 3 hours--placing it ahead of the Acer's 2 hours but behind the Dell's 3 hours, 45 minutes and the HP's impressive 6-hour time. You can purchase an 8-cell ($30) or 12-cell battery ($60) on Gateway's Web site (CNET did not test either of these batteries).