Note: This review is part of our Back to School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
Most budget-friendly midsize laptops feature 15.4-inch screens that, while good for watching movies, can be a burden to schlep around campus. For the truly mobile student, a system with a 14.1-inch screen will be slightly more portable but is still big enough to use as a primary computer. The 14.1-inch Gateway T-6836, available in a fixed configuration at Best Buy, is one of our favorite budget-friendly midsize systems for the back-to-school season. Its sleek, colorful case design looks more expensive than its $799 price tag, and it comes stocked with components that helped it outperform similarly priced systems on CNET Labs' tests. Our complaints about the T-6836 are minor: its key travel feels a bit shallow, and its speakers produce tinny sound. Those quibbles aside, the Gateway T-6836 represents an excellent value proposition for students headed to campus this fall.
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5750|
|Memory||4GB at 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||13.0x9.8x1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.5 / 6.2 pounds|
The laptops in Gateway's T series come in multiple colors, depending on where they're sold. Our Gateway T-6836, currently available at Best Buy, features a gray-blue lid and wrist rest (Gateway calls it "Pacific Blue") with a black display bezel and silver keyboard. The color is subdued, but it also provides a distinctive look that will stand out among a sea of black systems. Our only criticism is that the glossy case finish is particularly prone to fingerprints; after handling the laptop a few times the lovely lid was marred with plenty of smudges.
Aesthetics aside, the T-6836 feels sturdy, and we like that the lid attaches to the base via two extra-wide hinges. Its case is also a hair smaller than similar systems, such as the Dell Inspiron 1420-123B and the HP Pavilion dv2915nr. The Gateway T-6836's 14.1-inch screen also gives you a weight advantage over such 15.4-inch mainstream models as the Dell Inspiron 1525-122b and HP Pavilion dv6915nr. In exchange for sacrificing an inch (but no pixels) of screen size with the Gateway T-6836, you'll save a half-pound of weight.
We really like the displays on Gateway's budget systems, and the T-6836's 14.1-inch screen is no exception. It features a typical 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, and it displays such rich colors that movies and photos look great. The slightly glossy finish strikes a great balance between making colors pop and keeping reflections to a minimum. (Because this is a fixed configuration for sale in retail stores, there is not a matte-screen finish option.) It all adds up to a better media experience than we'd usually expect from a laptop that costs $799.
We're slightly less enthusiastic about the keyboard on the Gateway T-6836. It is full-size, and we were able to type without errors, but the key travel was a bit too shallow for our tastes. Typing comfort can be subjective, so we strongly suggest giving the keyboard a try before deciding to buy the T-6836. The keyboard is framed in brushed aluminum; above the keyboard are a button to launch Windows Media Center, a row of keys to control disc playback that are cut into the brushed aluminum, and a touch-sensitive slider to control volume. Handy but unobtrusive port labels on the keyboard deck let you know where to plug in peripherals.
|Gateway T-6836||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, Webcam||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner with Labelflash||DVD burner|
Gateway keeps things simple with the T-6836, offering just the basics when it comes to ports and connections. Some users might miss the mini FireWire port we've come to expect on laptops of this size, but there is a multiformat memory-card reader for transferring photos and video. Unsurprising for a laptop at this price level, the T-6836's built-in speakers produce grating, tinny sound.
The retail-only Gateway T-6836's fixed configuration is built around a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 CPU, which is typical for a mainstream budget system (and also found in the Dell Inspiron 1420-123B). What's not typical for a mainstream budget system is the Gateway's 4GB of 667MHz RAM, plus the 64-bit version of Vista to take advantage of the full RAM allotment. Those features were enough to carry the Gateway T-6836 to the head of the class on all of CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, making it the highest performer among back-to-school laptops in the $730 to $800 price range.
The Gateway T-6836's included six-cell battery ran for 2 hours and 58 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. That's an impressive score for a mainstream system, especially one priced this low. Among similar back-to-school laptops you'll find at Best Buy this season, only the Dell Inspiron 1420-123B outlasted the Gateway, while the rest of the systems failed to make it past the 2.5-hour mark. Our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Gateway backs the T-6836 with an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty, with 24-7 phone support during the warranty period. 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 T series laptop also comes preloaded with Gateway's BigFix diagnostic software.