The landscape of budget laptops often looks like a police lineup of suspects: a muddy confusion of similar-looking faces and bodies. For $600 you can buy a lot of computer lately, though you're not likely to get something that's particularly sexy. The $629 Gateway NV55S05u is one of more than a dozen 15-inch Gateway NV laptops with a galaxy of different processors. In the case of our 15.6-incher, an AMD A8-3500M APU is inside. AMD's A8 processor is a quad-core CPU paired with AMD 6620G graphics, which gives a better-than-Intel integrated-graphics experience playing mainstream 3D games. As for the CPU power, it's comparable to an Intel Core i3, but slightly less fast.
A 640GB hard drive and 6GB of RAM are more than you're likely to get elsewhere for the same price, but otherwise this $629 laptop is the picture of decently made mediocrity. Get it if you're desperate for an all-around laptop with some better-than-average graphics at the lowest price possible. Just be aware that even at its reasonable price, there are other options out there.
|Price as reviewed||$629|
|Processor||1.5GHz AMD Quad-Core A8-3500 APU|
|Memory||6GB, 1,333 MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||640GB HDD, 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6620G|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15x10 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.6 pounds / 6.4 pounds|
Glossy white plastic is the order of the day on the Gateway NV55S05u. The back lid is patterned with subtle beige dots, a theme that's repeated on the silver plastic inner palm rest. Glossy, creamy white surrounds the wide keyboard/number pad and the upper screen bezel, almost giving this Gateway a white MacBook/Sony E-series look. This 1.3-inch-thick laptop is heavy at 5.8 pounds, but it's compact enough to slip into a large backpack or messenger bag.
The NV55S05u's power brick isn't as large as those on some similarly sized laptops; it isn't much bigger than an Altoids tin. The AC adapter plugs into the rear left side of the Gateway, behind heat vents and an Ethernet port.
The wide, island-style recessed keyboard is a plus compared with the last generation of Gateway laptops we reviewed. The keys are a little mushy, but they're large and well-spaced, and a full number pad on the right side is welcome. Media-control, volume, and brightness keys share room with the number keys. Meanwhile, the too-small touch pad underneath shares the same smooth plastic as its palm-rest surroundings, recessed a bit, with a single flush button-bar beneath that felt a little loose on our model. Finger gestures were hard to pull off in such a small space.
The big 15.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel-resolution glossy screen on this Gateway actually looks pretty bright and crisp for a budget laptop, especially when viewed head-on, but at any other angle the image quality deteriorated fast. Text and pictures looked better than movies, although the lack of a higher-resolution screen results in a pixelated look to some content when viewed up close.
A speaker-bar grille above the keyboard only offered weak sound, tinny and unsatisfying for music or movie watching. This laptop cries out for headphones.
Meanwhile, the built-in Webcam captures 1,280x720-pixel movies and 1,280x1,024-pixel pictures, with a picture quality and contrast that's good for most video chatting. On a laptop this inexpensive, the Webcam's better than average.
|Gateway NV55S05u||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
You probably weren't expecting lots of bells and whistles on a $600-range laptop, and you were right. No USB 3.0, no Bluetooth; just three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, and the DVD drive. The best features this Gateway fronts are its better-than-average hard drive and RAM allotments, at 640GB and 6GB apiece.
This is the first laptop we've reviewed featuring AMD's A8 processor. The 1.5GHz quad-core A8-3500 APU is a system-on-a-chip that combines a CPU and graphics, with the aim of offering better graphics punch than Intel integrated graphics. We found Street Fighter IV ran at 29.9 frames per second at 1,366x768-pixel native resolution and 2x anti-aliasing, a very playable result, but far from stellar. We loaded Activision's Blur and played at full-screen native resolution with graphics at medium and 2x antialiasing, and got a playable result with a notably choppy frame rate. This Gateway is capable of running mainstream games, but it's far from the capabilities of a "gamer" laptop. The Asus U31SD-A1, equipped with Nvidia GeForce 520M graphics, ran the same Street Fighter IV test at 44.4fps.
In terms of CPU processing power, the A8 is distinctly less powerful than the Intel Core i5-2410M, and even fared worse than Intel Core i3-2310M-equipped laptops. The Core i3-packing Asus U31SD-A1, Core i5-equipped , and Core i3 Toshiba Satellite L755-S5214 all were faster at both single and multitasking tests. We had no problems with this Gateway when doing everyday computing, and many users might not notice the speed difference; performance was more comparable to a last-generation Core i-series processor, which is certainly more than enough for most users. Some tasks such as software installation felt noticeably more sluggish. The extra graphics boost, even if middling, helps the overall experience a bit.
The AMD A8-3500 APU is meant to be a competitive budget processor, and it is, but Gateway's pricing on other NV models with different processors doesn't reflect the savings, and therein lies our disconnect with this configuration. According to Gateway's Web site, another NV model features a 2.3GHz Core i3 CPU, the same size hard drive, and 2GB less RAM for only $499, and there's a model with a 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M processor, 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM for $529. At these prices, the A8 processor doesn't feel like a bargain, even with its relatively better graphics--but, we did see this identical model on sale on Web sites for as low as $549.