When we reviewed the Gateway M680XL desktop replacement earlier this year, we found a lot to like: strong performance, a beautiful 17-inch display, and a slender case. But the M680XL offered middling graphics and lacked the multimedia features, such as a TV tuner, that would make it a winner with home users. The NX850XL, part of Gateway's new consumer line of laptops, has the same great design as the M680XL but adds a high-end graphics card, the Windows XP Media Center operating system, and an external TV tuner. It also adds nearly $600 to the price. For gaming and graphics work, the extra expense will be worth it; though it's not the fastest laptop on the market, the Gateway NX850XL keeps pace with some of the higher-end (and more expensive) gaming laptops we've seen.
Measuring 1.4 inches thick by 15.6 inches wide by 10.8 inches deep and weighing 8.4 pounds, the NX850XL is a bit lighter than most desktop replacements; the Toshiba Qosmio G25 weighs a full pound more, and even the slim Dell XPS M170 is 0.2 pound heavier than the Gateway. With its 1.2-pound AC adapter, though, the NX850XL has a total weight of 9.6 pounds, making it appropriate only for short-distance lugging. Its 17-inch wide-screen display is as big as they get, and its 1,680x1,050 native resolution (WSXGA+) is one of the highest we've seen, topped only by the 1,900x1,200 (WUXGA) of the Dell XPS M170. The wide body affords plenty of room for creature comforts such as a broad keyboard, a dedicated 10-key numeric keypad, and excellent speakers. The touch pad is of decent size and has a handy vertical scroll zone, though we wish it also had a button to turn it off while you type.
The Gateway NX850XL's thorough assortment of ports includes headphone and microphone jacks, connectors for four-pin FireWire, VGA, and S-Video, and four ports for USB 2.0. Also onboard: a Type II PC Card slot, a sweet double-layer DVD burner, and a flash card reader that recognizes Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro modules (we wish it also recognized the older SmartMedia and newer xD formats). Our $2,619 NX850XL's configuration also included a $250 Adaptec external TV tuner. The laptop lacks Bluetooth, even as an option, but it does offer Gigabit Ethernet, a modem, and an Intel 802.11b/g data radio.
You can choose either Windows XP Home Edition or Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 for your operating system. (Our review unit ran on Media Center.) The NX850XL's decent software bundle includes the trimmed-down Microsoft Works 8 productivity suite, Nero Express 6 disc-burning software, and CyberLink PowerDVD 5.
Our $2,619 Gateway NX850XL shipped with a pretty quick 2.1GHz Pentium M processor, 1GB of fast 533MHz memory, and a big 100GB hard drive spinning at a swift 5,400rpm. A high-end Nvidia GeForce Go 6800 chip with 256MB of dedicated video memory drives the laptop's graphics. With those components, the Gateway NX850XL performed quite well in CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, trailing only a few points behind the Toshiba Qosmio G25 on BAPCo's SysMark 2004 and smoking the Qosmio on our Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 gaming tests. The Gateway also held its own against the $3,642 Dell XPS M170 on our Unreal Tournament 2004 test, though it couldn't keep up with Dell's top-shelf graphics engine in Doom 3. In our battery-drain tests, the Gateway NX850XL lasted 3 hours, 34 minutes--pretty good for a desktop replacement.