Editor's note: The specific configuration reviewed here will be available from Gateway starting October 5, 2006. (10/3/06)
Gateway's basic black E-100M is a tidy grab-and-go package for workers on the move. This ultraportable's no-nonsense design clearly evokes the black IBM ThinkPads of yore, certainly a good bit of psychological free association from a marketing point of view. The latest revision bumps the CPU up to an Intel Core Duo from a Core Solo (we reviewed the retail version of the Core Solo model, the NX100X earlier this year), making the $1,803 E-100M's specs a more even match to those of ultraportables such as the Dell Latitude D420, although you'll be paying a premium for the Gateway's advantages--namely a slightly bigger hard drive and a newer chipset.
Measuring 11.5 inches wide, 9 inches deep, and a hair less than 1 inch high, the Gateway E-100M is slightly bigger than Dell's ultraportable, but it weighs a bit less at 3.3 pounds with the default three-cell battery (4.1 pounds when you add the AC adapter). The E-100M is about as light a travel companion a business user will find without dipping into the still largely uncharted UMPC waters, where features and usability go down and prices shoot up.
The back of the lid is a magnesium alloy. It has a glossy finish that shows a lot of fingerprints, but the system as a whole feels sturdy. The wrist rests have a rubberized finish, and an attractive black, brushed-metal border surrounds the keyboard. The layout is uncluttered, with no multimedia keys and just a single power button. The touch pad is somewhat small, however, at just 2.25-inches wide.
The E-100M features a 12.1-inch wide-screen display with a 1,280x800 native resolution, giving you enough space to open multiple windows side by side. Images were crisp in our tests, though text could be hard to read for some. (Setting the screen to something other than its native resolution is not recommended; instead, increase the font size in your document or Web page.) The wider screen also gives us plenty of room for full-size keys on the keyboard--although the keys are on the shallow side.
Packing plenty of connections into a small package, the E-100M supplies a VGA output, four-pin FireWire, and two USB 2.0 ports, plus headphone and mic jacks. There's a PC Card reader--but no support for ExpressCards--as well as a 6-in-1 media card slot that supports card formats such as Memory Stick and Secure Digital, but not bulkier ones such as CompactFlash. Networking connections include modem, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi; Bluetooth is available as a $50 option. Gateway keeps the system slim by ditching the optical drive, but you can add an external DVD burner for $199 at checkout.
Gateway is in the process of upgrading the CPU on the E-100M, moving from Intel Core Solo processors to the 1.2GHz low-voltage Core Duo U2500; you'll be able to order this version through Gateway starting October 5. We would have liked to see the newer Core 2 Duo CPUs offered, especially in a system that's almost $2,000, but we admit the performance difference between Core Duo and the current Core 2 Duo laptop CPUs is not substantial. Inside, there's 1GB of RAM, an 80GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and integrated Intel 945G graphics--all of which will suffice for workers running typical office apps. Because the system is targeted at business users, it includes the Trusted Platform Module chip, or TPM, which is an embedded security chip for user authentication and data protection.