When Gateway calls the NX860XL a desktop replacement, it's not kidding. This massive multimedia laptop has a desk-hogging footprint, but the benefits of its grand scale are a giant, 17-inch wide-screen display and specs to rival those of a decent desktop gaming rig. All of this semiportable goodness doesn't come cheap, however; our tricked-out version of the NX860XL cost $2,084 (the base price is $1,799). It's a solid Media Center system for the den or the dorm room, but true home theater addicts might want to spend a bit more on a top-of-the-line HD-DVD laptop, such as the Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV660.
The silver case with black accents is bulky, but smart design cues, such as the screen's thin black bezel, help maximize the system's aesthetic qualities. The NX860XL measures 1.4 inches thick by 15.6 inches wide by 10.8 inches deep, including the extended battery, and weighs 8.5 pounds--a whopping 10.1 pounds with the A/C adapter. That's not the heaviest desktop replacement we've seen--the current record holder is the 17.3-pound Acer Aspire 9800 (which makes sense, as it sports a 20-inch LCD). In the 17-inch camp, the Dell XPS M1710 is a bit heaver, at 8.8 pounds.
The wide body affords plenty of room for a full-size keyboard, a dedicated 10-key numeric keypad, and stereo speakers. The touch pad is of decent size and has a handy vertical scroll zone, although it looks positively lonely set against the massive, featureless wrist rest area.
The Gateway NX860XL's collection of ports includes headphone and microphone jacks, connectors for four-pin FireWire, VGA, and S-Video, and four USB 2.0 ports, as well as a PC Card slot, a DVD burner, and a media card reader. The Gateway's Internet connectivity comes via Gigabit Ethernet and modem jacks and the integrated Intel 802.11a/b/g wireless networking card. That selection should be adequate for most home users, and it matches the ports and connections found on the far less expensive Toshiba Satellite P105-S6024. But media fanatics might be better served by the more expensive Qosmio G35-AV660, which offers such high-end niceties as S/PDIF output, an ExpressCard reader, an HD-DVD drive, and an integrated TV tuner.
The NX860XL's 2GB of RAM and 100GB hard drive, running at the preferred desktop speed of 7,200rpm, are impressive, and each can be upgraded or downgraded via the configurator on Gateway's Web site. Moving up to 4GB of RAM, with two superexpensive 2GB modules, will run you an extra $1,350--probably not the wisest of investments, unless you are using professional-grade graphics apps daily. Alternatively, you can knock the hard drive to an 80GB model and save $60.
The hefty, 17-inch wide-screen display is a joy to behold, and the native resolution of 1,680x1,050 is the same as you'd find on a 21-inch desktop LCD monitor. DVD playback was clear and bright, and we could easily see this system finding a home as a semiportable home theater rig (the default operating system is Windows XP Media Center Edition). Although, it would be easier to watch movies if we had some media transport control buttons--or at least a physical volume control.
The system's 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 CPU is right in the middle of the current line of Merom laptop processors. As such, the Gateway NX860XL fell right in the middle on CNET Labs' multitasking, Photoshop CS2, and iTunes encoding tests, trailing two systems with the even faster Core 2 Duo T7600 CPU--the Alienware Area-51 m5550 and the Dell XPS M1710--but outperforming two systems with the slightly slower Core 2 Duo T7200--the Velocity Micro NoteMagix L80x Ultra and the Toshiba Qosmio G35 AV-660. All the systems listed here had the same amount of RAM and the same speed hard drives, so the results aren't exactly surprising. In practical terms, any of these systems has plenty of power and will give you high-end-desktop-like performance for multimedia and productivity tasks. But it is worth noting that the Gateway is one of the most affordable of the bunch, costing from $500 to $1,000 less than every system except the Velocity Micro.
Gamers will also find a lot to like in the NX860XL. Sure, it doesn't have the absolute very latest in mobile graphics, the brand-new, but the included GeForce Go 7900 GS is pretty hot stuff, churning out 93.9 frames per second in our Quake 4 test at 1,024x768 resolution--almost matching the results from the gamer-friendly Dell XPS M1710.
Battery life was surprisingly good for a desktop replacement system. At 3 hours, 6 minutes, it's more than enough time for a movie (maybe two if they're short) or a decent gaming session. Gateway sent us the larger 12-cell battery, which extends from the rear of the system. Your other battery option is a smaller 8-cell battery, which costs $44 less; given the laptop's already-massive size, we think you might as well go for the bigger battery.
Gateway backs the NX860XL with a standard one-year mail-in warranty. Upgrading to three years of coverage costs a reasonable $159, or $259 if you want onsite service. 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)