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Gateway MC7803u review: Gateway MC7803u

Gateway MC7803u

Michelle Thatcher
Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops

Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.

6 min read

With the exception of lid color, the Gateway MC7803u looks identical to the MC7801u we reviewed earlier this month. Both 16-inch laptops feature Gateway's attractive new case design, complete with glowing light-touch media controls. And both incorporate an edge-to-edge glass display that's great for enjoying HD video content. But once you look inside the case, the two laptops differ in a few key ways. First, the MC7803u includes a discrete graphics card with 512MB of memory, which should up its appeal to casual gamers. And second, the MC7803u incorporates an eight-cell battery that helps offset the power-hungry graphics and provides nearly 30 minutes more computing time than the MC7801u. (It's worth noting that, while the larger battery does add some weight to the system, it does not give the laptop a larger footprint.)


Gateway MC7803u

The Good

Low price; discrete graphics; 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, beautiful design, and dedicated graphics, the affordably priced Gateway MC7803u makes an excellent portable entertainment center, provided your HD content is not on a Blu-ray Disc.

The best part? These enhancements come at the premium of just $50, bringing the Gateway MC7803u's price to $999. That's quite a deal compared with other media-oriented laptops on the market, such as the $1,299 Sony Vaio FW270J/W. To get to the lower price, the company did make some small economic concessions: first, despite the HD-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio and HDMI-out port, the MC7803u does not include a Blu-ray Disc drive. (The Vaio FW270J/W, on the other hand, does.) Second, Gateway has bypassed Intel's latest Centrino 2 processors, instead equipping the MC7803u with a previous-generation Core 2 Duo CPU that fell a bit behind on some of 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 $999
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800
Memory 4GB of 667MHz
Hard drive 320GB at 5,400rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM45 Express
Graphics 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD3650
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 7.7 / 8.7 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 MC7803u. However, while some 16-inch models, such as Sony's Vaio FW series, are only minimally heavier than their 15-inch counterparts, the Gateway MC7803u 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 form factor aside, the design of the Gateway MC7803u represents a complete departure for Gateway. The lid is a glossy black 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.

Inside, you'll find a black brushed-metal wrist rest and black keyboard embedded in a glossy black frame. Booting the Gateway MC7803u 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, though the key travel was a bit shallow for our tastes, we found the entire setup comfortable for a day's work and play.

The Gateway MC7803u'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, which produced reflections in all but the darkest rooms.

  Gateway MC7803u 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/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 MC7803u'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 MC7803u incorporates two headphone jacks, so you can share movies and music with a friend.

One of the reasons the Gateway MC7803u is priced so affordably can be found inside the case. Rather than offering 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 MC7803u comes stacked with 4GB of RAM and 64-bit Windows Vista to take advantage of it, plus a mainstream 512MB ATI Mobilty Radeon HD3650 graphics card. All that added up to decent scores on CNET Labs' performance benchmarks. On our Multitasking test, the Gateway kept up with both the similarly configured Asus X83VB-X1 and the 16.4-inch Sony Vaio FW270J/W, which is built on a current-generation Core 2 Duo P8400 processor. The Photoshop test was a slightly different story, as the Gateway MC7803u fell behind these two systems (as well as the MC7801u). In practical terms, the distinction is not likely to be obvious; we certainly never experienced any slowdowns or stutters during our use.

One of the key differentiators for the Gateway MC7803u is its dedicated graphics card, which is designed with an emphasis on displaying HD video. However, the system also displayed 36.8 frames per second on Unreal Tournament 3 at 1,280x800 resolution--hardly indicative of a gaming powerhouse, but a playable rate for casual gamers.

On our video playback battery drain test, the Gateway MC7803u held out for 2 hours, 59 minutes--just 5 minutes shorter than the Sony Vaio FW270J/W, which includes not only a current-generation Intel processor but also less power-hungry integrated graphics. This may be because Gateway manages to squeeze an eight-cell battery into the MC7803u's case, while the Vaio FW270J/W incorporates a six-cell battery. (This distinction may also partially account for the difference in weights between the two systems.)

Gateway backs the MC7803u 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. Every MC series laptop also comes preloaded with Gateway's BigFix diagnostic software.

Multimedia multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance.)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1280x800, 0X AA, 0X AF  

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

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Gateway MC7803u
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon HD3650; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus X83VB-X1
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio VGN-FW270J/W
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; Mobile Intel 4500MHD; 320GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion dv4-1155se
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.19GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-82; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon HD3200; 320GB Toshiba 5,400rpm


Gateway MC7803u

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7Battery 8Support 6
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