Editors' note: This review is part of our Back to School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
Gateway's budget-minded, 17-inch gaming laptops have impressed lately, offering high-end graphics and enough CPU power to make for a decent gaming experience. Our only real knocks against the Gateway 6860FX and the 6831FX were for their merely average processors (Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 or T5500) and 1,440x900 resolution, which is good for a high-end 15-inch machine but less ideal for a desktop replacement.
The new P-7811FX manages to fix most of the issues we had with those earlier Gateway budget-gaming laptops. It bumps the processor all the way up to a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 and the Centrino 2 platform, adds Nvidia's new GeForce 9800M GTS graphics card, and ups the screen resolution to an HD-friendly 1,920x1,200. Amazingly, it does all of this for $1,449. Sure, the P-7811FX costs about $100 more than those previous models, but for the PC gamer on a budget, we don't know of a better deal on a laptop right now.
|Price as reviewed||$1,449|
|Processor||2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||200GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||15.7 x 12.2 x 1.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||9.0/10.5 pounds|
Gateway's FX line of laptops, including the P-7811FX, skips the glowing alien heads and flashing lights of 17-inch gaming rigs from Alienware or Dell. Instead, it features a glossy black plastic chassis, with brushed aluminum detailing and copper accents around the keyboard. It makes for a subdued, yet sporty, look (although, it attracts fingerprints like crazy).
The full-size keyboard and separate number pad have roomy, comfortable keys. Above the keyboard is a row of media controls, with buttons cut right into the brushed metal border. These backlit buttons look cool, but are not as easy to use as the touch-sensitive controls found on most new laptops. There is one touch-sensitive control--a volume slider--which is responsive, but adjusts the volume too slowly for our tastes.
One of our chief complaints about the Gateway 6860FX and 6831FX models was concerning the 1,440x900-pixel display resolution, which is fine for an upscale 15-inch laptop, but not great for a 17-inch desktop replacement. Gateway apparently heard our gripes and upgraded the screen to the same 1,920x1,200 resolution one found on high-end gaming and multimedia laptops. It's also great for downloading and viewing HD-video content, and almost makes us wish we could pay a little more for a Blu-ray drive. Sadly, Gateway doesn't offer a Blu-ray-equipped model anywhere in its 17-inch P series. If your idea of entertainment drifts toward HD movies and away from 3D games, the HP Pavilion dv7-1025nr will hold some appeal. HP's $1,499 desktop replacement doesn't offer quite the graphics horsepower of the Gateway P-7811FX, but some models in the line feature a Blu-ray drive, and the laptop boasts a unique "frameless" bezel.
|Gateway P-7811FX||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA-out, S-video, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader, eSATA||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner [high-end: HD DVD or Blu-Ray]|
With only three USB ports, there isn't as much connectivity as a laptop like the Dell Studio 15 offers, but we like the eSATA port for hooking up an external hard drive. Our review unit had a fingerprint reader and Bluetooth, but those two extras have been stripped from the final shipping version of the P-7811FX. We also expected to see a 250GB or 320GB hard drive instead of the 200GB unit here, but at least it spins at a quick 7,200rpm.
The Core 2 Duo T5000-series CPUs in the Gateway 6860FX and 6831FX were fine for playing even high-end games like Crysis on the 14-inches wide by 9-inches tall display, and we were happy to sacrifice some processing power for the GeForce 8800 graphics card that was the main selling point of those aggressively priced systems. The P-7811FX offers an excellent upgrade in that department; it moves up to a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, part of Intel's new Centrino 2 platform. Combined with 4GB of RAM, the 64-bit OS needed to make use all that RAM, and a desktop-speed, 7200rpm hard drive, the Gateway was a strong performer in our round-up of high-end back-to-school laptops. It matched performance with two other P8400 systems, the HP Pavilion dv7-1025nr and the Sony VAIO FW140. (It's worth noting that some software and hardware can have additional compatibility and performance issues with the 64-bit version of Vista, although the specific applications we used for benchmarking worked well.)
The high-end Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card we liked so much in the Gateway FX series has also been upgraded in the P-7811FX--to the GeForce 9800 GTS. We were able to get 117 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 at a modest 1280x800 resolution--far more than the 78 frames per second we got with Toshiba's similarly priced gaming rig, the Qosmio X305-Q701, which has a Nvidia GeForce 9700M. Bumping the resolution up to 1,900x1,200, we still managed to get a very impressive 58 frames per second. The only laptop that comes close is the Alienware Area-51 m17x, which combines the same GeForce 9800 graphics card with a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 CPU, and is, naturally, much more expensive.
Our battery testing, using CNET Labs' video playback battery drain test, gave us 2 hours and 42 minute of battery life, which is fairly impressive for a desktop replacement. Because desktop replacements spend most of their time tethered to a single location, battery life isn't usually a big factor here.
The system includes an industry-standard, one-year warranty, with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service. 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 technicians.