Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The goal of the MD-series of laptops, according to Gateway, is to offer consumers capable multimedia notebooks at a reasonable price. It succeeds, to that end, by giving the MD7818u (and the MD7801u, which is the same system in black) a large, 500GB hard drive, a 16:9 15-inch display, touch-sensitive media controls, and 4GB of RAM, all wrapped in an upscale design. Compared with similarly priced retail laptops, Gateway's budget-minded MD-series is one of the more impressive examples, and looks and feels like a more expensive system.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$699|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||128MB Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1|
|Dimensions||15.3 inches wide by 10.4 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.8/7.6 pounds|
The design of the MD7818u is fairly low key, without looking boring. The lid is a shiny burgundy (or shiny jet black if you opt for the MD7801u; the two models are otherwise identical) with the exception of a vertical, brushed-metal strip topped by a tastefully small "Gateway" logo. Its dimensions are not ideal for even infrequent trips away from the home or office (we like to stay below 14 inches for that) and neither is its nearly 8-pound travel weight.
Raising the no-latch lid is a two-handed affair; the MD7818u has a stiff hinge that likely just needs some breaking in. Underneath is a 15.6-inch LCD with a 1,366x768 resolution that was bright, with good color and contrast. Atop the screen is a run-of-the-mill 1.3-megapixel Webcam.
The notebook has a comfortable, matte black keyboard with white markings, which makes them visible in low light (but not as much as backlit keys would be). However, we wish the Function keys were marked in another color, especially since there is no hard switch for the Wi-Fi radio. Typing is pleasant enough, though, with agreeable key travel and enjoyable clacking feedback.
The right side of the glossy keyboard tray has a set of touch-sensitive media controls (play/pause, stop, forward, rewind, volume, and mute). Their orange glow looks great against the black background and they work fine, but the whole setup is so glossy that it doesn't take much use before it looks like a mess of fingerprints (same goes for the notebook's lid, too). On the upside, all the lights can be shut off so they're not a distraction or if you simply don't like them.
Ports and connections
|Gateway MD7818u||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone (2) and microphone jacks, built-in mic||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, multiformat media-card reader,||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The front-firing stereo speakers are probably the weakest part of the "multimedia" package; it's not even that they sound bad, just that they're not all that powerful. The inclusion of 802.11n Wi-Fi, an HDMI port, and an ExpressCard slot are welcome in this price range, but the lack of Bluetooth is a surprising omission.
Internal components are, on the whole, in line with what other vendors are offering at the MD7818u/MD7801u's sub-$700 price, with the exception of one thing: the hard drive. While others are dropping in a 320GB or less hard drive, the Gateway is fitted with a 500GB drive, so you'll have abundant space for music, movies, and pictures.
The MD7818u's performance was right where it should be for its price and component set. The 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 is a good processor for everyday multitasking duties, and when backed with 4GB of memory, it performs even better. The integrated Intel graphics processor doesn't support much beyond casual gaming and movie playback, but that's really all that's needed in a budget, mainstream multimedia laptop.
The notebook ran for 4 hours and 12 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included eight-cell battery. It's not quite the longest we've seen in our recent tests of Core 2 Duo T6400-based laptops, but it's pretty close. Our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Gateway includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system, though charges may apply to phone support. The company's Web site includes the expected driver downloads and FAQs, as well as the opportunity to send e-mail to a technician. Every MD series laptop also comes preloaded with Gateway's BigFix diagnostic software.