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Gateway EC14D07u review: Gateway EC14D07u

Gateway EC14D07u

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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How important is an optical drive to your laptop purchase plans? Do you use one for anything other than DVD playback, software installation, and the occasional CD-to-MP3 rip? If you're like us, you don't use an optical drive much at all. Still, we receive an incredible number of e-mails from readers saying that optical drives are part of the equation when buying a laptop.

OVR
7.2

Gateway EC14D07u

The Good

Compact laptop manages to still have an optical drive as well as decent dual-core performance and battery life.

The Bad

Keyboard feels flimsy; for the price, you could always get a larger, faster Core i3 laptop.

The Bottom Line

By adding a DVD burner to its Netbook-like form factor and dual-core processor, the Gateway EC14D07u fills a need for those who can't say goodbye to physical discs, although it comes at a price that befits a full-size laptop.

Starting with Netbooks and continuing the trend in "thin-and-light" notebooks, optical drives have been increasingly left out of the smaller end of the laptop spectrum. To those of you who miss them or cry foul that laptops aren't engineered tightly enough to fit those drives in, the Gateway EC14D07u stands as your exception.

With a dual-core Pentium processor and otherwise mainstream laptop specs, this 11.6-inch laptop also manages to cram a DVD drive into its relatively thin 1.2-inch-thick frame. How has the magic been done? Well, for one thing, this laptop is really more of a compact full-size notebook than a Netbook, a modern equivalent of the old 12-inch Apple PowerBook we once loved. Second, the chassis doesn't feel quite as robust as other laptops--in fact, it feels downright cheap. Regardless of how the magic was made, the bottom line is that for $629, the Gateway EC14D07u offers nearly the same specs as the Toshiba Satellite T135-S1310, a laptop we reviewed last October, but also adds an optical drive and lowers the price by more than $40.

If you desperately need that optical drive, you might want to consider this Gateway, but keep in mind that 2010 has also seen the introduction of a number of fast and cheap Core i3 laptops that offer better performance, albeit with a shorter average battery life. Larger Core i3 laptops have optical drives, too, but aren't as portable as this computer.

Price as reviewed/starting price $629
Processor 1.3 GHz Pentium SU4100
Memory 4GB, 1066 MHz DDR3
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel GM45 Express
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 11.5 inches x 8.3 inches
Height 1.1 - 1.2 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.6 / 4.2 pounds
Category Thin-and-light

An unassuming, little laptop clad in black, the Gateway EC14D07u is slightly bigger and heavier than the standard Netbook, but it's close enough to a Netbook in size that most casual glancers will categorize it as such. We might call it a "Netbook-plus" for now, because its internal specs really place it in a category like a thin-and-light, especially considering its dual-core ULV processor.

This Gateway has a very plastic feel to it, extending from its generic matte-black underside to the glossy black lid with its offset chromed Gateway logo. On all edges, the lines are tight and the battery bulge is nearly nonexistent. Due to its optical drive, the bottom part of the EC14D07u feels a bit chunkier, but that also lends the laptop some weight that keeps it centered when opening and closing the lid.

Inside, a large palm rest area is covered in an inverted-dimple pattern set in black plastic, lending a bit of texture and traction. The full-size keyboard is set away from the upper lid by a good inch-plus of space, giving this laptop a deeper feel. The slightly bronzy dark plastic that surrounds the interior surfaces, including the inset glossy screen, is muted, simple, and somewhat attractive; it's slightly a design throwback. A single power button to the upper right and a small array of LED indicator lights on the upper left are the only features of note, besides the keyboard.

Now, about that keyboard. Something had to give, we guess, to fit an optical drive into a chassis this small and wide, and, unfortunately, a flat keyboard seems to be the short stick. A mushy feel, lots of flex (sometimes it seemed like the keyboard would lift off the base), and a key surface that throws back lots of glare in low lighting conditions, which makes it hard to make out letters, all add up to a less-than-ideal experience. It almost feels like an old folding Palm keyboard has been glued onto this laptop. Still, in all fairness, we could write reasonably well on it, and at least the key spacing is roomy. The track pad is larger than on most Netbooks, though the tiny discrete buttons beneath could have been a little larger for our comfort.

The included 11.6-inch glossy LED-backlit screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is the standard resolution for most laptops up to about 14 inches. Overall color and brightness seemed a little above average, although we found that we had to crank up the brightness when reading text. Like on many budget laptops, viewing angles were finicky, but DVDs and Hulu videos were very watchable. The speakers were loud enough for comfortable playback, but with no real audiophile quality to them. Still, we're glad they were loud enough to use--many Netbook speakers aren't.

The DVD/CD-burning drive is tucked into the right side of the Gateway EC14D07u, and is opened via a small button to the top right of the keyboard. The quality of the plastic feels almost like a kit, and lacks elegance. The drive also got pretty noisy in our use. It did work as advertised, however, although the included Cyberlink PowerDVD software might win a prize for the least user-friendly DVD playback interface of this era.

  Gateway EC14D07U Average for category [thin-and-light]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

Three USB ports, HDMI, an SD card slot, VGA, and, yes, that optical drive are all artfully tucked into pretty tight quarters, making the most of the space provided. Bluetooth is optional, but wasn't included on our model.

For $629, this Gateway also includes 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard-drive space, both of which match up with full-size laptop specs. This elevates the EC14D07u above typical Netbooks, and, much like the Toshiba Satellite T135-S1310, it could be a fine portable solution for many people looking for just enough to handle all of their basic everyday needs, including playing video.

This Gateway runs off an Intel Pentium SU4100 processor, a dual-core ultra-low-voltage CPU that we've seen before in last year's aforementioned Toshiba T135-S1310. We really liked it back then for its affordability and its capability to multitask somewhat, a quality any single-core Atom or ULV processor struggles with. In our benchmark tests, the EC14D07u didn't come close to running in line with faster Core i3 or i5 processors, but it's much better than any other Netbook. Anecdotally, we played a DVD, streamed Hulu, and wrote this review all at the same time, without any difficulty whatsoever. With a more robust 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium OS and its beefed-up RAM, this laptop can take on basic office functions and even some multimedia functions without much of a sweat.

One drawback to most Netbooks is Flash video playback, which tends to stutter unacceptably in HD and full-screen mode. Netflix looked great in full-screen on the Gateway, and Hulu looked equally good in low-res full-screen mode, but was only watchable in 480p full-screen, thanks to a good dose of mini-stuttering that didn't affect audio. ABC's HD video suffered the same problem, but did play. We'd call this Gateway video capable, within reason, thus earning that HDMI port on its side.

Though video playback is good news for potential consumers, we have to step back and take a look at what else $629 can buy. We've seen 17-inch Core i3 laptops for the same price, offering much more performance power. The Gateway NV7915u is a perfect example. On the other hand, Core i3 laptops in that range have so far shown lesser battery life, and, of course, there's the portability factor to consider. In an 11-inch laptop, we still haven't seen anything much faster than a Core 2 ULV such as the SU7300, and even that processor is only marginally better--our comparison with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge shows relatively similar overall performance.

Even when subjected to multitasking, the Gateway didn't get excessively hot, but expect some amount of warm air to get vented off to the left side.

Juice box
Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)  
Off (60%) 0.58
Sleep (10%) 0.71
Idle (25%) 4.89
Load (05%) 22.47
Raw kWh Number 24.22
Annual Energy Cost $2.75

Annual energy consumption cost
Gateway EC14D07u
$2.75 

The six-cell battery on the Gateway EC14D07u ran for 5 hours and 15 minutes using our video playback battery drain test. That's either really good or mildly disappointing, depending on whether you're comparing this to a full-fledged laptop or a long-life Netbook, but it's close to what the Toshiba Satellite T135 series had. The battery will likely last longer under normal office-use conditions. For us, more than 5 hours is acceptable. For those considering this laptop over a standard-voltage Core i3 notebook, the extra battery life in the EC14D07u just might be a determining factor.

Gateway backs the EC14D07u with an industry-standard, one-year warranty, with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service. Gateway offers a 24-7, toll-free, technical-support phone line, and the Web site has the usual driver downloads and FAQs, plus options for e-mailing or chatting online with technicians.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway EC14D07u
1781 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway EC14D07u
239 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway EC14D07u
301 

Video playback battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Gateway EC14D07u
315 

System configurations
Gateway EC14D07u
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Pentium SU4100; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Hitachi 5400rpm

Dell Adamo XPS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Dedicated)/1759MB (Total) Intel GS45; 128GB Samsung Solid State Drive

Toshiba Satellite T135-S1310
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Pentium SU4100; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Lenovo Thinkpad Edge
Windows 7 Professional; 1.3Hz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 ULV; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Seagate 5400rpm

OVR
7.2

Gateway EC14D07u

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 8Battery 7Support 8