Forget convertible tablets and UMPCs. The one real trend we've seen recently is a move toward the 14.1-inch laptop. While the 15.4-inch screen is what most of us think of as a middle-of-the-road mainstream system, the 14-inch models are gaining ground, and vendors tell us that it's just a matter of time before it becomes the new mainstream standard.
Intel has generated plenty of buzz by revising its popular Centrino platform with a new set of specs that promise better performance, better battery life, and better Wi-Fi connectivity. You can identify these new systems by their new Centrino stickers, (Centrino Pro for added IT manageability, Centrino Duo for everyone else). The Gateway E-265M, like the larger 15-inch E-475M, is aimed at business users, but has enough style to work for home users as well. The E-265M is packed with business-friendly security features, such as a fingerprint reader and a smart card slot. Priced upward of $2,000, this is an expensive system, but knocking down components and stripping away extras including 802.11n Wi-Fi and a fancy port replicator can shave almost $700 off the price, making this a flexible system for those who need a laptop that works in both the home and office. The 14- and 15-inch models cost around the same and have nearly identical components, so the only real deciding factor is the screen size and weight.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$2,102/$1,399|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||100GB at 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300|
|Chipset||Intel Mobile 965 Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (LWH)||13.5x10x1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||6.1/7.3 pounds|
Compared to the 15-inch Gateway E-475M, the 14-inch E-265M is nearly identical. It's about an inch narrower, a hair thinner and around half a pound lighter. It's still a bit too heavy for a daily commute. The keyboard and touch pad are the exact same as the ones on the larger model, leaving less wrist-rest room, but it doesn't feel cramped.
The basic, matte-black finish is attractive, if not exciting, and the inside of the system, including the keyboard, tray, screen bezel and touch pad all match, giving the E-265M a uniform black look. The touch pad has a separate scroll zone, which we always like, and the single quick-launch key brings up the Windows Vista Mobility Center menu by default. Maybe we're spoiled, but a few extra quick-launch keys are always welcome.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is common for both 14.1- and 15.4-inch displays. However, the 15-inch Gateway E-475M has a higher 1,680x1,050 resolution, which is good for multimedia use, large office documents, and Photoshop. While our E-475M had a matte screen, the E-265M had a glossy screen coating. Both systems are available with either choice, but for business use, we prefer the glare-free matte finish.
|Gateway E-265M||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
As the above chart illustrates, the ports and connections are in line with what we'd expect to see on a mainstream business laptop, plus it adds a media card reader, which some business-oriented configurations leave out. We were pleased to see the inclusion of faster 802.11n Wi-Fi technology, which we expect to see in many new laptops from this point on. Bear in mind, you'll need a 802.11n router to make use of the faster connection.
Our preproduction unit included a host of upgrade options--a high-end CPU, the 802.11n Wi-Fi chip, 2GB of RAM, a 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 graphics chip, and a port replicator with a DVI output and a slot for recharging an additional battery--to drive the price up almost $700 above the $1,399 base. We won't know exactly what your options for knocking the price down are until Gateway officially launches the system on May 9, but we do know the port replicator is a brand-new model and added $179 to our configuration.
Intel claims that Santa Rosa, with its new 800MHz front-side bus CPUs and Turbo Memory (extra flash memory built into the motherboard to speed up access times), will give systems a boost. Testing three Santa Rosa systems with the new 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo T7500, we saw nearly identical scores on CNET Labs' Multimedia multitasking test from the Gateway E-475M, the Gateway E-265M, and the Lenovo ThinkPad R61. They were faster than a similarly configured non-Santa Rosa system, the Dell Inspiron E1505, and even edged out one of the few laptops we've seen with a high-end T7600 CPU, the Alienware Area-51 m5790 Special Edition. The differences were minor to be sure, but as we test more new Centrino Pro and Centrino Duo systems, we'll get a better picture of the performance gains to be found in the Santa Rosa platform. For now, we think that while it's not a huge leap forward, the fact that this system is one of our top performers is a good sign. In anecdotal testing, the system certainly felt powerful, even while multitasking--but we'd expect nothing less from any recent laptop.
Despite the impressive benchmark numbers, neither the Gateway E-265M nor the other early Santa Rosa systems we've seen are suitable for serious gaming. Instead of integrated Intel 965 graphics, the Gateway at least has the new ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300, with 256MB of dedicated RAM. The system was too slow, however, to run our standard gaming benchmarks at our bare minimum acceptable frame rate of 30fps, but in anecdotal testing on both the E-265M and E-475M, we were able to get a playable, if not always smooth, frame rate on the upcoming Vista-only game Halo 2 by knocking the resolution all the way down to 800x600.
The Gateway E-265M ran for an impressive 2 hours, 32 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. One of the major selling points of Santa Rosa is improved battery life, through more efficient CPUs and smart throttling of the CPU and front-side bus. The E-265M matched, within minutes, the larger E-475M, so you're not getting any real battery benefit from the smaller screen.
Gateway backs the system with a three-year mail-in warranty. A variety of upgrades are available, including next-business-day on-site service, which will add only $30. Upgrading to a three-year plan with accidental damage protection, however, costs $199 more than the default warranty. Gateway offers 24-7 toll-free technical support, and the company's support Web site includes the expected driver downloads and FAQs, as well as the capability to send e-mail or chat live with a technician.