When luxury notebooks come to mind, few consumers are likely to rattle off “Gateway” among the list of companies that offer a high-end product. If anything, the company’s cow-spotted boxes and mid-Western origins are more likely to call to mind practical computers suited to Ma and Pa back on the farm. Acer’s purchase of Gateway over a year ago has begun to shift that image, though, and the 16-inch MC7803u multimedia notebook is among the new breed of PCs to reflect that push toward a classier Gateway. Although priced at $1,000, Gateway has swaddled the MC7803u in leather, stretched the screen to 16 inches, and given it some respectable guts. If you’re willing to overlook the slightly cheap look and feel of its luxury posturing, there’s a decent machine inside for the price. But a major nag with screen flexibility killed any desire we had to own one of these notebooks.
Features and Design
Though Gateway calls the MC7803u’s glossed up styling “automotive-inspired,” we weren’t sure whether Gateway went to Ferrari or Hyundai for inspiration. The thin line of faux leather running down its lid and leather palm rest doesn’t exactly scream quality, and Gateway’s glowing orange keyboard with quirky characters looks like a direct transplant out of a sci-fi-inspired gaming notebook. Like a lot of new notebooks these days, we also took issue with the copious use of gloss plastic absolutely everywhere, from the bezel to the lid and even around the keyboard. It’s gorgeous after you take the plastic protective strips off out of the box, but after some serious use, it’s more like a work of abstract smudge and fingerprint art, and feels downright cheap, too.
Beneath all the surface accouterments, the MC7803u gets a capable set of silicon gears below. That starts with Intel’s T5800 Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz processor and 4GB of DDR2 RAM at its heart, and continues on the graphics side with ATI ‘s Mobility Radeon HD 3650 GPU. There’s also a 320GB hard drive, 8X DVD-RW drive, 5-in-1 card reader, and 1.3-megapixel webcam.
True to its entertainment premise, the MC7803u gets two headphone jacks on the front for sharing movies with friends without cranking up the speakers, plus an HDMI v1.3 output for pumping video to high-def sets on the side. Gateway hasn’t ignored legacy connectors, though, and the machine also gets a VGA output and a set of four USB 2.0 ports – two on each side – for connecting every accessory under the sun. Other connectors include both phone and Ethernet jacks, and a common Expresscard slot for expansion cards.
Weight and Size
The relatively new 16-inch size class feels like a somewhat awkward size compromise to us. At 7.1 pounds, the MC7803u isn’t anywhere near as light and portable as most quality 15.4-inch notebooks, but the extra 0.6 inches in diagonal span doesn’t do all that much to improve screen real estate, either. The end result feels a bit shy of a desktop replacement and miles away from a workable portable machine.
Measuring 15.28 inches wide, 10.43 inches deep, and 1.7 inches thick at its widest portion, the machine really just doesn’t like to travel. It just barely fits into a standard Jansport backpack for transport, and we weren’t able to use the bag’s relatively generous notebook sleeve portion of the bag for it, either. The weight got to be a major inconvenience after carrying it along on a motorcycle for a few days, and we definitely can’t imagine walking far with it as cargo plus books and a few other items thrown in.
Image Courtesy of Gateway
Use and Testing
Pressing the glowing orange power button on the MC7803u will bring you to Vista in a bit over a minute, an average boot time for what proved to largely be an above-average performance machine.
As a general PC workhorse, the MC7803u pulled through most of what we threw at it with ease. The 16:9 aspect ratio, besides fitting widescreen movies nicely without forcing black bars, also made it easier to fit two documents side by side on the desktop – a boon for multitaskers. And with 4GB of RAM aboard, popping up a dozen windows didn’t seem to bother the beast, either.
Battery life actually surprised us for a machine of this size. We managed to ride it for a notch under three hours at full brightness with Wi-Fi going. Compared to other notebooks driving similar-sized displays, that’s actually an impressive number, and you could extend it even further by dropping down to bare bones settings.
When it came time to fire up some games, the MC7803u didn’t quite cut it for many modern titles, but we also suspect that driving the full 1080p display on our pre-production model strained it a bit unrealistically, too. BioShock, a title that gaming rigs like Asus’ similarly priced V50t tore through without wincing, bogged our machine down significantly, and forced us to peel settings back to medium to even get playable framerates. Similarly, Need for Speed: Pro Street wasn’t nearly smooth enough to play with upper-level settings, and we had to play check-and-uncheck with different graphics options before we found the right mixture of looks and performance. Bottom line: this multimedia machine won’t moonlight too well as a gaming rig.
Sound quality, though not absymal, wasn’t quite what we hoped for from a machine that advertises its multimedia capabilities so flagrantly. It produces respectable volume, and hits maximum without distortion, but bass is predictably lacking, and the bottom-firing speakers get muffled if you set the notebook down on a hard surface instead of your lap.
An array of media buttons, including quick-launch keys for media applications on the left and media controls on the right, came in handy for easily controlling media functions when coupled with Windows Media Center. However, it’s also easy to produce accidental launches when moving the notebook around because of their subtlety, and as mentioned earlier, they’ll turn into smudge strips with only a day’s worth of use, ruining the initial sleekness.
Though our pre-production model from Gateway came with a full 1080p LCD, the commercial models receive more modest displays at 1366 x 768 resolution. That won’t fix our main complaint about the machine’s display, though, which would be its complete lack of flexibility. Unlike some gymnast-like mini notebooks we’ve used with screens that will crane back a full 180 degrees to lie flat with the keyboard, the MC7803u, a linebacker of a notebook, can barely stretch past 90 degrees. You won’t notice it when seated at a table, but putting it in your lap or attempting to use it in any lowered position will make it impossible to open its screen to the proper viewing angle. In the end, you can either deal with the perspective, or contort yourself to find a better one. We found the prospect of doing either completely unacceptable for a notebook, and would actually say that the abysmal flexibility of the screen is a complete deal breaker for anyone who plans to use the notebook anywhere but on a desk.
The one-piece glossy overlay that runs from edge to edge of the notebooks definitely helps imbue the screen with lively contrast and vibrant color, but it catches reflections as well. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as we’ve caught from other glossy notebooks, and it’s a worthwhile exchange on a notebook meant for movies and media.
The MC7803 may be a little too heavy, a little too big, and a little too cheap-looking to really fall in love with, but for $1,000, it offers respectable hardware and a decent feature set. If it weren’t for the screen’s atrocious lack of flexibility, we would recommend it as an affordable movie machine, but when you can’t even tilt the screen to face you directly in about fifty percentage of usage, it loses major practicality points over a very simple design issue. Buyers looking for a media-savvy desktop replacement might find it workable, but travelers should stay way until Gateway figures out how to make a decent set of hinges.
• 16:9 Aspect Ratio
• Respectable performance
• Decent battery life
• Screen barely tilts back
• Gaming performance mediocre
• Cheap-feeling materials
• Large and heavy