Editors' note: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The 14-inch laptop seems to be a dying breed, as manufacturers move toward slightly more portable 13.3-inch or slightly more spacious 15.4-inch screens. But as the Gateway T-6330U proves, there is still room for an affordable 14-inch laptop. A fixed configuration available at Best Buy, the T-6330U combines an attractive case design and movie-friendly display with lengthy battery life for a thoroughly decent entry-level laptop. Gateway does keep costs down by stocking the T-6330U with a less expensive Intel Pentium Dual-Core processor (rather than the expected Core 2 Duo), which may strain under heavy multitasking workloads. But its performance proved adequate for basic use, and the laptop's appealing design and feature set easily justify its $649 price. That said, if you're looking for an even lower price and can afford to tote around an extra half-pound, we suggest the $499 Acer Aspire 5735-4624.
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T3200|
|Memory||3GB at 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB at 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Intel 965 Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium (32-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||13.0 x 9.8 x 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.5 / 6.2 pounds|
Previous models in Gateway's T series came in multiple colors, but the Gateway T-6330U is entirely silver and black. Its glossy silver lid features a black Gateway logo in the center, and both the keyboard and keyboard deck are silver, while the touch pad and display bezel are black. The overall effect is one of subdued sophistication; the T-6330U certainly looks a bit more upscale than some of the white- or black-plastic budget laptops we've seen.
Aesthetics aside, the T-6330U feels sturdy, and we like that the lid attaches to the base via two extra-wide hinges. By virtue of its 14.1-inch screen, the laptop is also smaller and lighter than similarly priced midsize systems, such as the 15.4-inch Dell Inspiron 1525-139B. In exchange for sacrificing an inch (but no pixels) of screen size with the Gateway T-6330U, you'll save a half-pound of weight.
We really like the displays on Gateway's budget systems, and the T-6330U's 14.1-inch screen is no exception. It features a typical 1,280x800 native resolution, and it displays such rich colors that movies and photos look great. The slightly glossy finish strikes a great balance between making colors pop and keeping reflections to a minimum. (Because this is a fixed configuration for sale in retail stores, there is not a matte-screen finish option.) It all adds up to a better media experience than we'd usually expect from a laptop that costs $649.
We're slightly less enthusiastic about the keyboard on the Gateway T-6330U. It is full-size, and we were able to type without errors, but the key travel was a bit too shallow for our tastes. Typing comfort can be subjective, so we strongly suggest giving the keyboard a try before deciding to buy the T-6330U. The keyboard is framed in brushed aluminum; above the keyboard are a button to launch Windows Media Center, a row of keys to control disc playback that are cut into the brushed aluminum, and a touch-sensitive slider to control volume. Handy but unobtrusive port labels on the keyboard deck let you know where to plug in peripherals.
|Gateway T-6330U||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI, Webcam||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/SPDIF-out and microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, 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 with LabelFlash||DVD burner|
Gateway keeps things simple with the T-6330U, offering all the standard ports and connections we'd expect from a midsize laptop plus a few extras like HDMI-out and S/PDIF capability on its headphone jack. Some users might miss the mini FireWire port we've come to expect on laptops of this size, but there is a multiformat memory-card reader for transferring photos and video. Unsurprising for a laptop at this price level, the T-6330's built-in speakers produce grating, tinny sound.
The retail-only Gateway T-6330U's fixed configuration is built around a super-budget 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core CPU that's adequate for the most basic multitasking: Web surfing, working on office documents, and playing media files. On CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, the Gateway T-6330U was fairly evenly matched with other laptops in this price range, such as the Acer Aspire 5735-4624, and well ahead of the AMD-based Compaq CQ50-215NR.
When it comes to battery life, the Gateway T-6330U took top honors among entry-level laptops in our holiday roundup; its included six-cell battery ran for 2 hours and 42 minutes on our video playback drain test. That's an impressive score for a mainstream system, especially one priced this low. Our video playback test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.