The latest incarnation of Gateway’s desktop replacement brings with it a few minor changes within, and one very major upgrade to, its overall feature set. This being the case, those looking to keep the number-crunching power of a performance laptop while taking advantage of all the time-saving features of a Tablet PC will want to read closely for the next few pages…
Features and Design
The Gateway C-140/E-295C is one of only a few options for those looking at high-speed Tablet PCs. As a general rule, tablets with a 12” screen house slower, power-saving processors, as do any slate form-factor options (PCS with no keyboard section, only a large tablet screen). The C-140/E-295C recognizes that there are people out there that want a powerful Tablet PC, capable of launching PowerPoint presentations in seconds, or crunching a large Excel spreadsheet before the next ice age, however. Bearing this in mind, with a 14” screen and plenty of processor options to choose from, Gateway’s latest nicely fills a niche within what is in itself already something of a niche market.
The first thing we noticed when unboxing the computer was the sheer size and weight of the system. This is NOT a lightweight unit, with the device weighing in at just under 8lbs without an installed battery. (The standard battery weighs approximately 1lb and the extended battery tips the scales to 1½lbs.) All attach to the back of the unit, and if you need even MORE juice, you can even swap the optical drive out for a ½lb secondary battery. (Unfortunately, Gateway offers no chiropractic service option.) Weight will probably be the most significant gripe users will have with the machine, but if that doesn’t turn you off, thankfully, there is little else to worry about. As with any laptop purchase, users will obviously need to consider the tradeoff between power and portability, but when making this decision, be sure to especially consider the E-295C’s weight factor in relation to how it will be used. For instance, one-hand operation becomes uncomfortable pretty quickly.
The Gateway C-140/E295C
Our second observation is that this system offers no compromises when it comes to power, ports, or configurability. Everything you expect is included in the package: Think three USB 2.0 ports, VGA out, one Type II PC Card slot, one IEEE 1394 (4-pin), a 7-in-1 digital card reader (CF users are out of luck), a microphone and headphone jack, a modem, an Ethernet port, and finally a port replicator connector. The hot swappable drive bay can be filled with a CD-ROM, DVD/CDRW combo, or DVDRW DL drive, or a 6-cell battery, as mentioned earlier. Connectivity options further include Bluetooth 2.0, gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11a/b/g.
As for configuration options, you can enjoy Intel Core 2 Duos from 1.5GHz to a blazing 2.4GHz on an 800MHz bus. Memory can be configured up to 4GB clocked at 667MHz, though, as always, a 32-bit version of Windows will only see 3GB. Among the newly-introduced options here is the inclusion of a fingerprint reader to take the place of typing a password at login. The most significant upgrade from Gateway’s previous 14” tablet model though, is the switch to superior Wacom technology for stylus input from FinePoint.
To put it bluntly, FinePoint is ridiculously poor when compared to Wacom. We’ve used both, and are regrettably stuck with FinePoint due to a poorly timed purchase. Consider our loss your gain. That being said, the Wacom implementation used in this PC does not include the eraser option on the stylus (some models allow you to flip the pen over, as if it had an eraser, to activate the eraser tool). Also, unlike the lightweight E-155C, the screen is not touch-sensitive – you must always use the stylus.
The biggest choice facing potential buyers is whether to go with the integrated graphics option and the Intel 965GM chipset (GMA x3100), or the Intel 965PM with a Radeon Mobility X2300 HD. The Radeon option is not DirectX 10-capable and will outperform the GMA X3100 handily, but if you don’t intend to game much, the added power consumption, though modest, may not be worth the unused performance boost.
As for battery life, it’s excellent and scales predictably with the amount of stress you put the system through. With power options set to Battery Optimized, we were able to squeeze approximately 7 hours out of the extended battery with WiFi connectivity disabled, even running Windows Vista with the Aero effect on. (Not bad at all.) What’s more, the lightweight battery fared surprisingly well for such a powerful machine, but at only 2.5 hours lifetime with regular usage, we recommend sticking with the standard or extended battery instead. (Remember that over time the charge will be reduced, meaning that we wouldn’t be surprised to see the lightweight battery only pulling 1.5 hours after around 6 months.)
As mentioned earlier, the C-140/E-295C does not skimp on under-the-hood muscle either. If you need desktop-class performance without the ridiculous graphics power of gamer-centric laptops, the C-140/E-295C does not disappoint. In PCMark05, there was some confusion over the graphics card identity being given the correct name, but not accurately compared across the FutureMark database due to the official status being “Generic VGA” (their online form does not list the Radeon Mobility X2300 HD). Regardless, the score was 4227, in line with expectations for a high-end laptop. 3DMark06 reports a whopping 895 though, so don’t expect to be playing Half-Life 2 at full resolution and with all eye-candy active. And iSoftware’s Sandra returned a Dhrystone of 20178 MIPs and a Whetstone of 14121 MFLOPs, with a 121429 Integer and 65971 Float it/s performance. In short, most games will work, though you should stick to a desktop system for any major performance needs.
In addition, on the performance side, after using the C-140/E-295C for a couple weeks, we have to say that this is the first time we felt that a laptop was on par with a desktop in terms of general productivity. Usually this initial speediness crumbles under the weight of added processes, antivirus software, and multiple programs running at once. Not so this time. The Core 2 Duo performed admirably in everyday tasks, light gaming (with the Radeon Mobility X2300 HD installed), and even complex analysis software (MatLab) running. Those looking to keep performance at the forefront of any purchase decision are further highly encouraged to go with a 7200rpm drive, though it may mean some compromise in capacity. Better yet, wait a couple weeks and the newer 250GB and 320GB should start making their way into the supply line.
Then again, there are a few general considerations to be aware of. First, because the screen houses buttons around the edges, the size of the actual system is closer to that of a 15.4” model. (Keep this in mind when shopping for cases.) Also, the built in microphone is nice, and will pick up most nearby conversations, so for lecture hall settings, consider getting a small unidirectional microphone. The screen buttons can and should be disabled at certain times by flipping the lock switch next to the power button, a must in case of accidental bumps, as well. Beyond this, the accessibility buttons offer very limited programmability to boot, and we found them about half as useful as they could have been. What’s more, during regular and even intense operation, the system remained pretty quiet, but there is a fan that will kick on when things get too steamy, and under the worst situations, such as locked in a carrying bag while running analysis programs, the system will roar. Last, but not least, you’ll also want opt for Windows Vista as your operating system of choice unless another option is completely necessary – suffice it to say that the improvements in handwriting recognition and the overall tablet interface are leaps and bounds ahead of XP Tablet Edition.
Gateway has given their most popular Tablet PC a much-needed boost in terms of general specs and features. If they had done nothing but ditch FinePoint in favor of Wacom, it would have been enough. However, the addition of a newer chipset, fingerprint reader and a slight update to the system’s overall paint job combine to make new models more of a must-see than ever. If you don’t mind lugging around 9lbs of computing power, we’re delighted to report that the C-140/E-295C offers the best of both the traditional laptop and tablet computing worlds.
• Significantly improved stylus input
• Powerful processor options
• Good battery life
• Lack of buttons when in tablet mode
• No touch screen