Gateway M520X Plus
Editors' note: In early September 2005, Gateway changed the names of many of its laptops. Read our explanation to learn how to make sense of the new names and where to find CNET's reviews of Gateway laptops. (10/6/05) Weighing 7.5 pounds and measuring 1.6 inches thick, 14 inches wide, and 10.4 inches deep, the Gateway M520X Plus is the size of your average desktop replacement. A few art deco-style curves make its chilly black-and-silver color scheme look sleek. The solid, low-flex case should hold up well in harsher environments such as the kitchen or a dorm room, and our 3.06GHz Mobile Pentium 4 test model ran very cool, even when playing movies.
The M520 series comes in a variety of configurations. The lowest-end of them, the M520CS, starts at $699 after rebates (as of November 2004). The high-end M520X Plus, which we tested, starts at $1,299 and features a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor 532, 512MB of 333MHz SDRAM, and a whopping but somewhat slow 100GB, 4,200rpm hard drive. The M520X Plus also features the ATI Radeon 9600 graphics card with 64MB of video memory, as well as a 15.4-inch wide-screen display with a 1,280x768 native resolution. The M520X Plus's full-size keyboard is comfortable to use, and we found the touch pad perfectly tuned. The unit's front-mounted stereo speakers sounded clear, though lacking in bass response--a nearly ubiquitous notebook affliction. All in all, the Gateway M520X Plus provides a very decent set of features for the price.
Though it doesn't include a parallel or serial port, the M520X Plus offers good connectivity, including a VGA output, four USB 2.0 ports, audio-in and audio-out jacks, modem and Ethernet connectors, a mini-FireWire port, an integrated six-in-one memory card reader, and a Type II PC Card slot. You also get an integrated 802.11b/g wireless radio. Just about the only things missing are advanced multimedia features such as S-Video inputs and outputs, which are often found on more expensive desktop-replacement systems. The M520X Plus comes with Microsoft Windows XP Home, but you can upgrade to XP Pro for an additional $79. Also included is CyberLink Power DVD, for watching movies on the built-in multiformat DVD drive. Sadly, you won't catch a break on an upscale office suite--Gateway throws in Microsoft's bare-bones .
With its 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of 333MHz SDRAM, and a 100GB, 4,200rpm hard drive, the Gateway M520X Plus performed well in CNET Labs' tests. It slightly outperformed the more expensive and better-equipped Acer Aspire 1710 and fairly dusted the much pricier . CNET no longer officially tests the battery life of desktop-replacement laptops, but in our informal tests, the M520X Plus's standard 65WHr battery lasted just over an hour with a DVD playing. Stay close to a socket.
Gateway's standard warranty plan varies by model, starting with a lame 90-day version for cheaper models and a more standard one-year deal for the more expensive variations of the M520. Optional plans top out with a four-year, onsite service deal for $289, with accidental damage protection adding another hundred or so bucks to the tab. Gateway offers 24/7, toll-free technical support for the length of the warranty, but you shouldn't need it very often, thanks to the concise, informative, model-specific printed user guide. Also included is a colorful setup sheet for those who like to get hands-on as fast as possible.
Online support for most of Gateway's products is excellent; however, at the time of this writing, M520-specific links hadn't all been set up. A quick search revealed a number of M520-related documents, and our test call to tech support was answered intelligently after a reasonable five-minute wait, which included about two minutes of wading through phone menus and entering the serial number via the keypad.