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Gateway P-172X FX review: Gateway P-172X FX

Gateway P-172X FX

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
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
5 min read

Gateway's current laptop line offers something for gamers with widely varying budgets, without sacrificing too much in terms of components or features. We were previously very impressed with the high-end $3,000 P-171XL-FX and the low-end $1,249 P-6831FX. Both include Nvidia's GeForce 8800 graphics card, making the P-6831FX the best gaming laptop bargain we've seen.


Gateway P-172X FX

The Good

Excellent performance; includes HDMI and eSATA ports.

The Bad

Not configurable, misplaced control key.

The Bottom Line

Gateway's new P-172X FX offers high-end perks in a midpriced laptop, making it a reasonable choice for gamers who fall just short of hardcore.

Between those two extremes, Gateway offers the new $1,999 P-172X FX. It keeps the high-end graphics and 1,900x1,200 resolution of the $3,000 system, while dropping the CPU down to a still-impressive Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 and ditching the now-worthless HD DVD drive. Both Dell and Alienware offer 17-inch gaming rigs that can cost more and offer a few more bells and whistles (especially if you're fond of strobe lights), but Gateway's FX gaming laptop lineup does a great job of covering the low, middle, and high end of the market.

Price as reviewed $1,999
Processor 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme T8300
Memory 4GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 160GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel GM965
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTS
Operating system Windows Vista Premium
Dimensions (WDH) 15.75x12.2x1.5 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 17.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 9.3/10.1 pounds
Category Desktop Replacement

Physically identical to the Gateway P-171XL FX and P-6831FX models we recently tested, the P-172 has the same subdued black finish that won't look out of place in your den or living room--no illuminated alien heads here. The back of the lid has the system's most obvious branding, with a big FX logo splayed across it, similar to the one across the front of the desktop FX models.

The keyboard and separate number pad have roomy, comfortable keys--but the dark red used on the number keys, combined with the glossy finish of the keys themselves, made them hard to read (the other keys have standard white lettering). Another nitpick: the left control and function keys have somehow swapped places from where we usually find them on keyboards. In this case, the control key is no longer the leftmost key on the bottom row, making it hard to hit without looking at the keyboard. This is a shame because many games--to say nothing of applications such as Photoshop and Word--make ample use of the control key.

Above the keyboard are a row of media controls, with buttons cut right into the brushed metal border. These backlit buttons look cool, but it's sometimes hard to tell if you've pressed them hard enough. A touch-sensitive volume slider sits to the right, and was responsive and easy to use.

The 17.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,920x1,280, which is great for high-end gaming. The screen was clear and bright, and we liked the finish, which was somewhere between the high-gloss finish found on most consumer notebooks (too much glare) and the matte finish found on business systems (too muted). We'd love to see more laptop makers pick up on this.

  Gateway P-172X FX Average for category (desktop replacement)
Video VGA, HDMI VGA-out, S-Video, DVI or HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data Three USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader, eSATA Four USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader
Expansion ExpressCard PC Card or ExpressCard
Networking Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner HD DVD or Blu-Ray

All the current 17-inch Gateway FX laptops include not only an HDMI output (quickly becoming standard equipment in high-end systems) but also an eSATA port, good for hooking up external SATA hard drives. And unlike the otherwise-excellent P-171XL FX, this model is not saddled with a now-obsolete HD DVD drive.

With a 2.4GHz Penryn Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 CPU, the P-172X FX was a speedy performer, and much faster than Gateway's cheaper version, the P-6831 FX, which has an older 2.0 GHz T5750 processor. (That particular model is a Best Buy retail exclusive, but Gateway offers the substantially similar P-172S FX for around the same price--$600 less than the P-172X FX we tested).

But if gaming is your main concern, trading down to one of those cheaper options may not be a bad idea, thanks to the 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphics card all the Gateway FX laptops share. The P-172X FX got only five more frames per second in Unreal Tournament III, and both systems easily topped 60fps, even at the 1,440x900 resolution. In additional anecdotal gaming tests, we were able to crank the resolution all the way up to 1,920x1,280 in both UT3 and Quake Wars, and still got very playable frame rates.

Our battery testing, using CNET Labs' DVD battery drain test, gave us 1 hour and 55 minutes of battery life, which is pretty impressive for a desktop replacement, as many 17-inch laptops give up well short of the 90-minute mark. Still, desktop replacements spend most of their time tethered to a single location, so battery life isn't usually a big factor.

The system includes an industry-standard one-year warranty with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service. For a reasonable $150, you can upgrade to three years of coverage. 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 online chatting with techs.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway P-172X FX

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway P-172X FX

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway P-172X FX

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1280x800, 4X AA, 8X AF  
1440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF  
Gateway P-172X FX
Gateway P-6831FX
Enpower 780

DVD battery-drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Gateway P-172X FX

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Gateway P-172X FX
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTS; 160GB Seagate 7,200rpm (x2)

Enpower 780
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Gateway P-6831FX
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5450; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTS; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm SATA/150

Toshiba Satellite X205-SLi4
Windows Vista Home Ultimate Edition; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB (x2) w/ SLi Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT; 160GB (x2) Hitachi 7,200rpm


Gateway P-172X FX

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Battery 6Support 6