When you're shopping for a laptop, it's easy to get caught up in the latest and highest-end features available. But for many users, those feature-packed, high-priced machines are overkill. If you're looking for a laptop to just knock out documents, surf the Web, and manage your digital photos, the Gateway NX270S, which costs $699 ($549 with an "instant discount" on Gateway's site), gives you what you need without pricey extras. Of course, a price this low isn't without sacrifices: Its budget-minded Celeron processor and conservative allotment of RAM won't be up to more performance-intensive tasks, such as extreme multitasking. That kind of performance lag is tough to overlook when you can get a similar laptop with a Core 2 Duo processor and a few more features, such as the Lenovo 3000 N100, for a few hundred dollars more. But if you're watching every penny and just want a laptop for basic computing tasks, the Gateway NX270S will meet your needs and look great doing it.
With its textured, black plastic lid and gunmetal-gray interior, the Gateway NX270S certainly looks a lot classier than most budget laptops. Its case, which measures 13 inches wide, 9.4 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick, is about average for a laptop with a 14.1-inch display; the Toshiba Tecra A6 is about the same size, and the Lenovo 3000 N100 is a little bigger. At 5.2 pounds, the Gateway NX270S weighs less than both the Toshiba and the Lenovo, and its compact AC adapter adds just 0.9 pound to its travel weight. The Gateway's overall case construction feels sturdy and well built, which is rare for a laptop in this price range.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen display has a native resolution of 1,280x800, which is typical for a screen of its size. Gateway outfits it with its Ultrabright technology for a brighter, more vibrant image. The NX270S' screen was impressively bright, though a bit too reflective for our tastes; there is no option for ordering a matte-finish screen. The NX270S' speakers, located along the front edge, produce remarkably balanced, if faint, sound.
Generally, laptops with 14.1-inch displays have enough room in the case for a near-full-size keyboard, and the Gateway NX270S is no exception. Typing for long stretches felt comfortable, although the keys made a noticeable clackety-clack that sounded like cheap plastic (and yet was strangely satisfying). The laptop's amply sized touch pad is made of a rough material that isn't all that responsive; we never quite got used to dragging our fingers across it. We did appreciate the vertical scroll zone along the pad's right side as well as the large, shiny plastic mouse buttons. The keyboard deck lacks the buttons, media controls, or fingerprint scanners you might find on pricier laptops, but the minimalist, brushed-metal finish above the keyboard and on the wrist rest contributes to the Gateway NX270S' expensive look.
When it comes to ports and connections, Gateway limits the NX270S to the basics: one VGA-out and three USB 2.0 ports; headphone and microphone jacks; a PC Card slot, a four-in-one media card reader (MemoryStick, MemoryStick Pro, MultiMedia Card, and Secure Digital formats). Networking connections include modem, Ethernet, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi. We appreciate the handy port labels on the keyboard deck that help you locate the connections; we don't appreciate that all three USB ports are bunched together on the left side, making it difficult to plug in multiple accessories simultaneously. A basic DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive rounds out the NX270S' feature set; you can upgrade to a DVD burner for $49.
In keeping with its low, low price, the Gateway NX270S is configured with a grab bag of budget components, including a 1.73GHz Celeron processor (upgrading to a budget dual-core processor costs a reasonable $99), 512MB of middling 533MHz RAM, a modest 60GB hard drive spinning at a pokey 4,200rpm, and a 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon Xpress X200 graphics card. Most laptops with 14.1-inch screens, such as the Toshiba Tecra A6, are built on dual-core processors, though that also makes them more expensive (the Tecra, for example, costs $1,240). So when it came to CNET Labs' performance benchmark tests, the Gateway found itself in the company of smaller Core Solo-based systems, such as the Sony VAIO UX390 and the Fujitsu LifeBook P7230. The Gateway's performance was competitive with these two systems, except on the Multimedia multitasking and Office productivity tests, a discrepancy that can be attributed to the Gateway having half as much RAM as the others. Doubling the Gateway's RAM costs $99 and would be well worth the added cost, especially if you want to watch movies on your laptop; during our use, the Gateway occasionally choked on video, especially when another process, such as a low-battery warning, was competing for resources. Without the extra RAM, the Gateway NX270S' performance seems best suited for budget buyers who want a laptop for surfing the Web, typing up documents, and making minor photo fixes with Vista's built-in editing tool.
On our DVD battery drain tests, the Gateway NX270S stayed alive for 2 hours, 23 minutes, which is rather impressive for a six-cell battery powering a 14.1-inch screen. By comparison, the Toshiba Tecra A6, which has a slightly smaller battery, died just short of two hours. Though the Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 and the Sony VAIO UX390 outlasted the Gateway, those laptops feature smaller screens that draw less power.
The Gateway NX270S' budget price tag includes an industry standard one-year warranty with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service. For a reasonable $150, you can upgrade to three years of coverage. Gateway offers 24-7 toll-free technical support during the warranty period, and the company's support Web site includes the expected driver downloads and FAQs, as well as the opportunity to send e-mail or chat live with a technician.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)