Gateway's current laptop line offers something for gamers with widely varying budgets, without sacrificing too much in terms of components or features. We were previously very impressed with the high-end $3,000 P-171XL-FX and the low-end $1,249 P-6831FX. Both include Nvidia's GeForce 8800 graphics card, making the P-6831FX the best gaming laptop bargain we've seen.
Between those two extremes, Gateway offers the new $1,999 P-172X FX. It keeps the high-end graphics and 1,900x1,200 resolution of the $3,000 system, while dropping the CPU down to a still-impressive Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 and ditching the now-worthless HD DVD drive. Both Dell and Alienware offer 17-inch gaming rigs that can cost more and offer a few more bells and whistles (especially if you're fond of strobe lights), but Gateway's FX gaming laptop lineup does a great job of covering the low, middle, and high end of the market.
|Price as reviewed||$1,999|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme T8300|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTS|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||15.75x12.2x1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||9.3/10.1 pounds|
Physically identical to the Gateway P-171XL FX and P-6831FX models we recently tested, the P-172 has the same subdued black finish that won't look out of place in your den or living room--no illuminated alien heads here. The back of the lid has the system's most obvious branding, with a big FX logo splayed across it, similar to the one across the front of the desktop FX models.
The keyboard and separate number pad have roomy, comfortable keys--but the dark red used on the number keys, combined with the glossy finish of the keys themselves, made them hard to read (the other keys have standard white lettering). Another nitpick: the left control and function keys have somehow swapped places from where we usually find them on keyboards. In this case, the control key is no longer the leftmost key on the bottom row, making it hard to hit without looking at the keyboard. This is a shame because many games--to say nothing of applications such as Photoshop and Word--make ample use of the control key.
Above the keyboard are a row of media controls, with buttons cut right into the brushed metal border. These backlit buttons look cool, but it's sometimes hard to tell if you've pressed them hard enough. A touch-sensitive volume slider sits to the right, and was responsive and easy to use.
The 17.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,920x1,280, which is great for high-end gaming. The screen was clear and bright, and we liked the finish, which was somewhere between the high-gloss finish found on most consumer notebooks (too much glare) and the matte finish found on business systems (too muted). We'd love to see more laptop makers pick up on this.
|Gateway P-172X FX||Average for category (desktop replacement)|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video, DVI or HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Three USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader, eSATA||Four USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard||PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||HD DVD or Blu-Ray|
All the current 17-inch Gateway FX laptops include not only an HDMI output (quickly becoming standard equipment in high-end systems) but also an eSATA port, good for hooking up external SATA hard drives. And unlike the otherwise-excellent P-171XL FX, this model is not saddled with a now-obsolete HD DVD drive.
With a 2.4GHz Penryn Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 CPU, the P-172X FX was a speedy performer, and much faster than Gateway's cheaper version, the P-6831 FX, which has an older 2.0 GHz T5750 processor. (That particular model is a Best Buy retail exclusive, but Gateway offers the substantially similar P-172S FX for around the same price--$600 less than the P-172X FX we tested).
But if gaming is your main concern, trading down to one of those cheaper options may not be a bad idea, thanks to the 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphics card all the Gateway FX laptops share. The P-172X FX got only five more frames per second in Unreal Tournament III, and both systems easily topped 60fps, even at the 1,440x900 resolution. In additional anecdotal gaming tests, we were able to crank the resolution all the way up to 1,920x1,280 in both UT3 and Quake Wars, and still got very playable frame rates.
Our battery testing, using CNET Labs' DVD battery drain test, gave us 1 hour and 55 minutes of battery life, which is pretty impressive for a desktop replacement, as many 17-inch laptops give up well short of the 90-minute mark. Still, desktop replacements spend most of their time tethered to a single location, so battery life isn't usually a big factor.