Gateway MC7801u review: Gateway MC7801u

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The Good Low price; attractive, minimalist design; 16:9 screen perfect for HD movies; backlit keyboard; handy light-touch media controls; recessed touch pad.

The Bad Key travel is shallow; lacks Blu-ray drive; lagged behind similarly configured systems on Photoshop benchmark.

The Bottom Line With an HD-friendly 16-inch screen and beautiful design, the affordably priced Gateway MC7801u makes an excellent portable media center, provided your HD content is not on a Blu-ray disc.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 6
  • Support 6

One look at the Gateway MC7801u, and you'd think it belonged in the high-end group of retail laptops we're reviewing for our holiday roundup. A slick maroon lid opens to reveal an HD-friendly, 16-inch display with edge-to-edge glass; beneath it sits a backlit keyboard and sleek, glowing light-touch controls. Yet the Gateway MC7801u's $949 price tag places it firmly in the mainstream group, to the benefit of buyers who want a stylish media machine for not much money.

To get to that price, the company did make some small economies: first, despite the HD-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio and HDMI-out port, the MC7801u does not include a Blu-ray disc drive. Second, Gateway has bypassed Intel's latest Centrino 2 platform, instead equipping the MC7801u with a previous-generation Core 2 Duo CPU that fell to the middle of the mainstream pack on our performance benchmarks. Still, the Gateway MC7801u's smart looks, 16:9 display, and low price make it a good choice for movie fans who do not rely on Blu-ray discs.

Price $949
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800
Memory 4GB of 800MHz
Hard drive 320GB at 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel GM45 Express
Graphics Intel GMA 4700MHD (integrated)
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WDH) 15.3 x 10.4 x 1.3-1.7 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 16 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 7.5 / 8.3 pounds
Category Mainstream

As laptop makers (spurred by the companies that make displays for both laptops and HDTVs) move to new 16:9 models, we'll see a lot more 16- and 18-inch laptops. Fortunately, the handful of models we've seen have only marginally larger footprints than most 15- and 17-inch laptops, and that continues to be the case with the Gateway MC7801u. However, while many 16-inch models, such as Sony's VAIO FW series, are only minimally heavier than their 15-inch counterparts, the Gateway MC7801u is significantly heavier than the company's 15.4-inch M series laptops. The trade-off for the extra weight: a case that feels far sturdier than your typical budget laptop.

New chassis aside, the design of the Gateway MC7801u represents a complete departure for Gateway. The lid is a glossy maroon color, with a black pleather stripe cutting down the middle of the case. Gateway's logo is unobtrusively embedded in a chrome tab near the top of the pleather stripe. The overall effect is rather preppy; an argyle sweater would go rather nicely with this particular computer.

Inside, you'll find a black brushed-metal wrist rest and black keyboard embedded in a glossy black frame. Booting the Gateway M7801u reveals orange backlighting behind the keys as well as glowing orange light-touch controls on both sides of the keyboard. On the left, you'll find quick-launch buttons for the most commonly used applications (e-mail, Web, music, and the like) while on the right are disc playback and volume controls. Beneath the keyboard, the laptop's large touch pad is embedded rather deeply into the wrist rest; the recessed placement makes it less likely that you'll accidentally graze the pad while typing. Overall, although the key travel was a bit shallow for our tastes, we found the entire setup comfortable for a day filled with work and play.

The Gateway MC7801u's 16-inch wide-screen display features the company's "Cinematic" design, which basically means the screen has edge-to-edge glass for a more streamlined look. The screen has a 1,366x768 native resolution, which gives you the 16:9 aspect ratio desirable for playing HD content. Movies did look great and feel expansive on the wider screen, but our enjoyment was limited somewhat by the glossy screen finish, which produced reflections in all but the darkest rooms.

  Gateway MC7801u Average for mainstream category
Video VGA, HDMI, Webcam VGA-out, S-Video
Audio Stereo speakers, dual headphone jacks, microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 4 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/54 ExpressCard/54
Networking modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner with Labelflash DVD burner

Given the MC7801u's media-friendly screen and HDMI port, we're surprised the laptop doesn't also include a Blu-ray drive. Nevertheless, not all high-definition content comes from a disc, and omitting the Blu-ray drive keeps the laptop's price low. Otherwise the laptop offers a fairly standard assortment of ports and connections, including an ExpressCard slot that lets you add a TV tuner. We love that the MC7801u incorporates two headphone jacks, so you can share movies and music with a friend.

One of the reasons the Gateway MC7801u is priced so affordably can be found inside the case. Rather than offer one of Intel's latest Centrino 2 processors, the laptop runs on a previous-generation Core 2 Duo T5800 CPU that we've seen in several lower-cost retail systems. Still, the MC7801u comes stacked with 4GB of RAM and 64-bit Windows Vista to take advantage of it, which was enough to place it in the middle of the pack on CNET Labs' performance benchmarks. Among the mainstream laptops in our holiday retail roundup, the Gateway kept pace with the similarly configured Dell Studio 1535-143B and Asus X83VB-X1 on our multitasking test, though it gave some ground to these systems on our Photoshop module. However, on both the multitasking and Photoshop tests, the MC7801u finished ahead of the HP Pavilion dv4-1155se and the Toshiba Satellite U405D-S2874, both of which feature AMD processors.

We weren't too surprised to see the Gateway MC7801u fall to the bottom of our battery life charts, considering that all the competitive systems have smaller displays that require less juice. That's not to say the MC7801u doesn't have a decent battery life; it lasted 2 hours, 32 minutes on our video playback drain test, which is just above average for a laptop in this category, and more than we'd expect from one with such a large screen.

Gateway backs the MC7801u with an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty, 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.