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Gateway NV51B05u - Fusion E350 1.6GHz - 15.6-inch TFT review: Gateway NV51B05u - Fusion E350 1.6GHz - 15.6-inch TFT

Gateway NV51B05u - Fusion E350 1.6GHz - 15.6-inch TFT

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

6 min read

We don't like cheap laptops, but we love inexpensive ones. The difference is one of degree; a cheap laptop looks and feels shoddy, and woefully underperforms. An inexpensive laptop uses its budget wisely, offering a reasonable mix of components at a reasonable price, and doesn't try to unfairly raise consumer expectations. AMD's Fusion platform, which packs a CPU and discrete GPU together, has been a hit on inexpensive 11-inch ultraportables, but translating it to a larger 15-inch laptop is another story. At that size, user expectations are quite different, and the handful of attempts we've seen at using an Intel Atom or other low-power chip in a midsize laptop have all been failures.

Gateway NV51B05u
6.8

Gateway NV51B05u - Fusion E350 1.6GHz - 15.6-inch TFT

The Good

The <b>Gateway NV51B05u</b> is a functional midsize laptop for less than $500 that also offers basic graphics capabilities.

The Bad

This is the very definition of a plastic laptop, it looks and feels like the budget system that it is, and battery life in other new AMD Fusion laptops can be much better.

The Bottom Line

Taking a CPU intended for an 11-inch ultraportable and sticking it in a midsize system can potentially be a recipe for disaster. Gateway's 15-inch AMD Fusion-based NV51B05u avoids any major problems, but it could be better.

The Toshiba Satellite C655D, for example, was an AMD Fusion 15-inch laptop that did not offer satisfactory performance. However, that system used the very low-end E-240 version of AMD's CPU. In contrast, the Gateway NV51B05u uses the same E-350 AMD CPU found in the HP dm1 and Lenovo ThinkPad X120e. Those examples are excellent 11-inch laptops for around $400, but that CPU can also feel sluggish, especially while multitasking, when packed into a 15-inch shell.

But for $469, the Gateway NV51B05u is a solid choice for a midsize laptop under $500 (where the options can be thin). For most Web surfing and casual use, it works well, and the graphics capabilities, though basic, are good enough for casual gaming and online video viewing.

Price as reviewed $469
Processor 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual Core
Memory 3GB, 667MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 5,400rpm
Chipset ID1510 + SB800
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6310
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 15x9.9 inches
Height 1.2 - 1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight/Weight with AC adapter 5.1 pounds/6.0 pounds
Category Midsize

The Gateway NV51B05u looks like a standard inexpensive laptop from a few feet away. It's not until you get up close that you see the plastic body has been stamped with an unusual wood-grain pattern that covers the wrist rest and back of the lid. It's at least different from the usual, but it also emphasizes the plastic nature of the materials. In the end, we'd chalk it up as an aesthetic choice, and let you decide if it's a deal breaker.

On the positive side, the system looks and feels slim, especially for a budget 15-incher, and the power brick, though heavy, is compact enough to fit in most laptop bags.

The keyboard will be familiar to anyone who has used a laptop from the past few generations of Gateway systems. Closely spaced flat-topped keys go from nearly one end of the body to the other, although the keys are actually large flat tops sitting on top of narrower spokes, so the edges of each key can wobble a bit. The wider 16:9 aspect ratio allows for a full number pad on the right side.

The touch pad, however, is another story. It's centered under the QWERTY keyboard, but because of the right-side number pad, that means the touch pad sits more toward the left side of the chassis, which can feel awkward at times. A bigger problem is that the pad is too small for a 15-inch laptop. It gets lost in the same-color wrist rest, and there's clearly plenty of room for a bigger touch pad. Also bugging us is that there's a single rocker bar instead of separate left and right mouse buttons--a longtime pet peeve.

The 15.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is common for most 11-inch to 15-inch laptops (more-expensive midsize models may trade up to a 1,440x900-pixel display). The screen gets more than bright enough, but an overly glossy coating picks up glare from any nearby light source. Off-axis viewing, however, was excellent.

Gateway NV51B05u Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA plus HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Mono speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 ports, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0 ports, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

You miss out on obvious extras such as Bluetooth or USB 3.0 here, but a more glaring drawback is the single monaural speaker--however, budget laptops are known for their tinny sound, so you may not be missing much. Still, it's a rare bit of cost-cutting we usually only see in the cheapest Netbooks.

You do at least get a big 500GB hard drive to go with the AMD E-350 CPU. In our benchmark tests, it performed about as well as other E-350 laptops, all of which have been 11-inch systems so far. It was particularly slow at our multitasking test, especially compared with Intel's new generation of mainstream Core i-series CPUs, which have really set a new performance bar, but we have yet to see one of those chips in a system in this price range. Note that the Gateway seriously outperformed the Toshiba Satellite C655D, which tried to get away with a slower E-250 AMD CPU in a 15-inch body.

The AMD Radeon HD 6310 GPU, which is the graphics part of the Fusion platform, is a definite step up from the integrated graphics found in last year's sub-$500 laptops. It won't play the latest high-end games at high resolutions, but for casual gaming it should suffice, and we were able to easily stream full-screen HD video. In Street Fighter IV, we got 21.4 frames per second at 1,366x768-pixel resolution, and 23.5fps in Unreal Tournament 3 at the same resolution.

Juice box
Gateway NV51B05u Average watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.26
Sleep (10%) 0.47
Idle (25%) 6.94
Load (05%) 24.37
Raw kWh number 27.65
Annual energy cost $3.13

Annual power consumption cost
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
$3.20 

The Gateway NV51B05u ran for 3 hours and 51 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's decent for a budget laptop, but AMD's power-efficient Fusion platform has also raised our expectations, and this is the shortest-lived Fusion laptop to date. HP's dm1 and Lenovo's ThinkPad X120e both ran for about 90 minutes longer.

Gateway includes an industry-standard, one-year warranty. Support is accessible via chat or e-mail as well as by toll-free 24-7 phone line, although the support phone number can be hard to find on the company's Web site (it's 800-846-2301). An online knowledge base and driver downloads are relatively easy to find.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
269 
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
364 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
2,314 
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
2,520 

Jalbum photo conversion test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
97 
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
100 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
463 
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
472 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
319 
Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
263 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Gateway NV51B05u
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 3,072MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio VPC-YB1S1E/S
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 644MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion dm1-3005
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 3,072MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite C655D-S5130
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.5GHz AMD Fusion E-240; 3,072MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad X120e
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Gateway NV51B05u
6.8

Gateway NV51B05u - Fusion E350 1.6GHz - 15.6-inch TFT

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Battery 6Support 7
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