A high-end gaming laptop is easy to come by if you're willing and able to shell out $3,000 or more However, gamers on a budget usually are forced to settle for mediocre frame rates from mainstream laptops. Gateway's new P-171XL FX recently impressed us, packing in everything from an Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU to 3GB of RAM and an Nvidia 8800 graphics card for a very reasonable $2,999.
Although it costs hundreds less than a similarly configured Dell XPS M1730, it's still a hefty investment. For those with tighter budgets, Gateway has found a way to balance price and performance in its Best-Buy-only retail version, the P-6831FX, which knocks down the CPU while keeping the 3GB of RAM and GeForce 8800 card of the high-end configuration intact--and doing so for an MSRP of $1,350.
Or so we originally thought. While writing our review, we saw that Best Buy had changed the price on its Web site from $1,350 to $1,699. While Gateway offers a series of similar laptops online, the P-6831FX is available only though Best Buy. Confused, we did a little research and found the P-6831FX still listed on Gateway's Web site with a suggested MSRP of $1,350. (You can follow our exploration of this price change in our recent blog post, When is a bargain laptop not a bargain?.)
While it's not nearly as appealing with an extra $350 added to the price, the P-6831 is still one of the cheapest ways to get Nividia's latest GPU, and in our gaming tests, the laptop performed almost as well as its more expensive cousin at lower resolutions. If you've made it this far in the P-6831 FX's pricing saga, do note that Best Buys says the price will fall to $1,199 on February 17.
|Price as reviewed||$1,699 (MSRP $1,350)|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5450|
|Memory||3GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|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||9.3/10.9 pounds|
Gateway's new FX line of laptops, including the P-6831FX, lacks the glowing alien heads, flashing lights, and other "hey, look at me!" flare of 17-inch gaming rigs from Alienware or Dell, opting instead for a more subdued black finish that won't look out of place in your den or living room, with only a midsize FX logo splayed across the back of the lid. While it's a bit smaller and lighter than something like the Dell XPS M1730, this is still a massive 17-inch desktop replacement, weighing almost 10 pounds, so don't expect to lug it around too often.
The interior is cast in black and gray, with the exception of a metallic copper border around the keyboard itself. The keyboard and separate number pad are generous with large, flat keys, but they're made of an especially glossy plastic, which picks up plenty of glare. Non-touch-typists may have a hard time seeing what key they're hitting. A standard touchpad sits below the keyboard, while above is Gateway's now-standard media control bar, with buttons cut right into the brushed metal border. These backlit media control and quick-launch buttons look cool, but it's sometimes hard to tell if you've pressed them hard enough. A touch-sensitive volume control bar is located to the left of these buttons--it looks cool but didn't provide quick-enough response for our tastes.
The 17.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,440x900, which is less than the 1,920x1,200 found on many high-end 17-inch gaming laptops, but seems a reasonable compromise for the price, especially since adding a hi-definition Blu-ray or HD DVD drive isn't an option. The modest CPU will also appreciate not being forced to run games at resolutions higher than 1,440x900. 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 screen finish.
|Gateway P-6831FX||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||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader, eSATA||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat 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|
While most 17-inch laptops offer one more USB port than the P-6831FX, you instead get 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. These are the same exact features found on the more expensive Gateway P-171XL FX, so it's nice to see them filter down to the cheaper system.
At its initial price of $1,350, the P-6831FX was a great budget laptop, but the combination of a T5450 CPU and the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS GPU is an unusual one, and we were not able to build an identical configuration from any of Gateway's competitors. For the same $1,350, we were able to configure an HP dv9700t with the same CPU, RAM, hard drive, and screen resolution, but an older Nvidia GeForce 8600 graphics card.
For Best Buy's current price of $1,699, you'd do better to go with Gateway's closest direct-sale model, the Gateway P-171S FX. It's, for the most part, identical, but it upgrades the CPU to a faster Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 for only $1,599, which is $100 less than the P-6831FX.
The P-6831FX clearly suffered from its slower 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 CPU when compared with the 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900 in the P-171 or the 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 in the Toshiba Qosmio G45-AV680. But the 3GB of RAM helped cover up some of the deficiencies, and we ran into only occasional minor slowdown when playing media files, Web surfing, and working office documents at the same time.
The CPU/GPU combination is certainly an odd one, but it's an experiment that largely works if you primarily want to use the Gateway P-6831FX as a gaming rig. Thanks to the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card, we were able to get frame rates close to the $3,000 P-171XL FX in Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. at 1,024x768 (our higher-resolution versions of those tests run at more than the P-6831's 1,440x900 native resolution). In a more recent game, Unreal Tournament III, we were able to get more than 80 frames per second at 1,440x900 by turning antialiasing off.