Gateway has revamped its FX line of gaming desktop and laptop systems in hopes to take a bite of market share away from HP and Dell. We got our hands on the top-of-the-line P-171 XL FX notebook and came away extremely impressed. This is a flagship notebook with every next-gen component available, including NVIDIA’s new 8800 mobile GPU and a 2.8GHz dual-core Core 2 Extreme processor. Though Gateway has given it the usual “OEM” treatment in the form of lame trialware complete with “Try AOL” links on the desktop, the company has packed this notebook with so much performance and sassiness that we almost don’t mind.
Features and Design
Gateway has had FX-series desktops for some time now, and they are the company’s line of gaming products. The FX notebook is new however, and is the company’s first attempt to compete in the gaming notebook market.
The chassis is made of plastic and features a burnt orange and black motif with hints of faux carbon fiber sprinkled around for effect. The faux carbon is on both the lid and the palm rest, with a burnt orange colored ring encircling the middle of the chassis.
The CPU (processor)
Mobile processors are now starting to become clocked up to speeds similar to those found on the desktop, and that’s definitely the case with the P-171, which has a Core 2 Extreme processor running at 2.8GHz. For those at home, this is the fastest mobile processor available and runs on an 800MHz FSB with 4MB of L2 cache. And since it’s an “Extreme” processor, it can even be overclocked since its multiplier is unlocked!
The GPU (video card)
The P-171 sports NVIDIA’s newest mobile processor, which is the first GPU for notebooks to support DirectX 10. It’s called the 8800M GTS and has 512MB of GDDR3 memory. Before you get your hopes up too high though, keep it in mind it only has 64 stream processors, but then again this is a mobile part so some performance neutering is required due to thermal considerations.
Since this is a “Santa Rose” chipset system, the P-171 has the latest in wireless tech, including Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth support and of course, Draft-N Wireless. Though the N spec isn’t totally set in stone yet, we’ve already seen it deliver amazing improvements in file transfer speeds both wired and wirelessly.
Like the Alienware M9750 we recently reviewed, the P-171 sports two hard drives striped together into a 400GB RAID 0 array. The drives are the 7,200rpm variety too, which are the fastest notebook hard drives available. RAID 0 theoretically improves data transfer rates since both drives work in tandem, which cuts each drive’s workload in half. The bad news is each driver has exactly half the data so if one drive fails, all the data is lost.
The P-171 features a gorgeous 17” display that runs at a sky-high 1920×1200 native resolution. It has a widescreen 16:10 aspect ration and a matte finish (non-glossy) to reduce glare.
Image Courtesy of Gateway
There is a row of quick-access media buttons that glow orange below the keyboard. They handle media functions such as stop, start, fast-forward and so forth. You can also mute and un-mute the volume, and adjust the volume using touch-sensitive buttons.
Touch-sensitive Media controls
Ports and Connectors
The P-171 has a slew of connectors, including our old favorites and some new ones.
Here we see a 5-in-1 media reader, headphone, mic, FireWire, USB, Ethernet, HDMI, eSATA and VGA-out.
The left-side includes an HD DVD combo drive, two more USB, and a Kensington lock.
The rear of the unit simply holds the extra-large 9-cell battery, AC adapter and 56k modem.
The P-171 comes with Vista Home Premium for the operating system. As for pre-installed software, you get the standard Gateway fare of BigFix, Napster, Google Desktop, MS Works and CyberLink software for burning CDs and making CD labels. You also get a bunch of trialware including AOL, Norton, Office 2007, and Netzero.
Use and Testing
When we first pulled the P-171 out of the box we were immediately impressed with how sleek and shiny it is. The faux carbon fiber look is pretty neat too, though we’re not too hot about the burnt-orange highlights. However, the whole package looks elegant and we like it.
We plugged in the large power brick and fired it up for the first time. It booted to Windows and we took a look around. First we looked at the Windows Vista Experience Index, and were surprised to see it listed as 5.0. This is the highest score we’ve ever seen for a notebook, and almost rivals our very own desktop!
Then we got a little annoyed, because the Norton Internet Security window kept popping up and asking us to install the program, which we would not (we’ve stated before we don’t like this program). We were also bothered by the flashing BigFix icon in the system tray. We’ve reviewed numerous programs before and hate how this program is always trying to install “fixlets.” We also didn’t like the desktop links to AOL and eBay, as those types of links have no place on a gaming machine.
Navigating around Windows the system was incredibly fast and responsive. Given the speed of its processor and the fact that it has 3GB of DDR2 RAM, this was not surprising. It’s a true desktop replacement in terms of speed and feel.
Crysis Game Testing
Since this is a gaming laptop, we then immediately installed Crysis. Since this game barely ran on our burly home rig, we were curious to see how it would fare on a notebook. To our surprise, it actually ran quite well, albeit at 1024×768 resolution. Still, we were able to turn everything up to “High,” and it looked decent despite some aliasing. We let the game run for hours and never had any issues with overheating either. The fans were definitely audible though, but not as loud as those on the Alienware M9750 we recently reviewed. To be fair to Alienware though, its m9750 had two GPUs whereas the Gateway has just a single GPU.
From there we checked out the rest of the notebook. It includes a 1.3MP webcam that is built into the LCD. It takes decent resolution movies, but it’s nothing to write home about. The camera’s software launches via a taskbar that “auto-hides” on the left-side of the screen.
The included biometric fingerprint scanner worked flawlessly too, allowing us to register our fingers then use them to log-into Windows. It’d be nice if we could use our fingerprint to log into our favorite websites too, but as it stands it provides a good level of security in case of theft.
As we’ve stated before, these hardcore gaming notebooks usually have terrible battery life due to their power consumption, but we are actually impressed with the P-171’s. With its dual-core CPU under full load it ran for 59 minutes, which is decent. We then tested it just watching a movie, and the battery lasted an impressive 1:41, which is just enough time to catch a movie on a flight.
HD DVD Output
As we noted before, the P-171’s inclusion of an HDMI port is interesting, as it allows you to use the HD DVD drive in the unit to play HD movies on your TV. Though we didn’t specifically test this due to the lack of an HDMI cable, it is certainly a cool feature and one we’d expect to see on a truly next-gen notebook such as this. And speaking of outputs, it’s odd that Gateway chose to put a VGA port on it rather than DVI.
Since these types of notebooks have hot-running hardware, and very little space to cool them, it’s typical to see nuclear temperatures on these big boys. The P-171 got hot alright, but didn’t overheat and the fans were only noticeable when gaming. The GPU got up to 83C under load and the CPU reached 67C. Both temps are high but nothing to worry about.
Any processor made by Intel that carries the Extreme moniker has an unlocked multiplier, so overclocking is much easier since you can just up the multiplier without having to fuss with front side bus speeds. On the P-171, you can overclock the processor from 2.8GHz to 3.0GHz in the BIOS by toggling the CPU speed value. We tested the P-171 at its 3.0GHz speed and never had any issues or problems. While some might scoff at the paltry 200MHz overclock, we agree it’s not much of a boost but it’s free and so easy to do that it’s a nice little bonus.
Gateway lets you overclock the processor from 2.8GHz to 3GHz by changing this BIOS value.
We were impressed with the Alienware M9750, but we’re even more impressed that the P-171 has all-around better hardware, and costs $1,500 less. It’s truly a remarkable achievement to offer this much power at a reasonable price point. Even better, Gateway is also offering two other FX notebook models with slightly lower specs for $2K and $1600, which is crazy affordable for a gaming notebook. Though we don’t like the lame trialware Gateway includes with the notebook it’s nothing 30 minutes of cleanup won’t fix. And we’d also like to see a DVI-out port instead of the legacy VGA port, though the inclusion of an HDMI connector is a nice touch.
• Very responsive and fast
• Great for gaming
• Decent battery life
• Pre-installed trialware is useless
• No DVI-out