Usually the words “gaming” and “budget-oriented” combine in the PC world about as well as oil and water, but that’s not the case with Gateway’s remarkable P-6860FX notebook, which is a truly great gaming notebook with an amazingly low price tag. This GeForce 8800-powered behemoth costs just $1,349 but is far from a stripped-down, bare-bones notebook. It’s loaded with features and expansion ports and has lots of storage as well as 4GB of RAM. The only real compromise is its 1.83GHz processor, but that’s not too egregious of a violation given its otherwise compelling specs.
Features and Design
The Gateway P-6860FX is available only at Best Buy, and unlike other Gateway models you cannot change its configuration. Though some may see this as a negative, it certainly helps keep the price tag down, and at just $1,349 we’re certainly not complaining, especially since most gaming notebooks costs about twice as much
Like most decent gaming notebooks, the P-6860FX combines a powerful one-two punch consisting of an Intel “Merom” Core 2 Duo processor running at 1.83GHz and an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS mobile graphics card with 512MB of memory. Though the GTS isn’t as powerful as the top-shelf GTX, it’s still an excellent card for mobile gaming. Everything plugs into an Intel 965 “Santa Rosa” chipset. It also includes a hefty 4GB of DDR2 memory.
Make no mistake about it — the P-6860FX is a desktop replacement notebook, and as such includes a giant 17” widescreen display that runs at a native resolution of 1440×900. It includes a glossy coating and is paired with both HDMI and VGA-out ports if you want to pipe DVD movies to an external display. There is no Blu-ray capability, however, but that’s probably obvious from the unit’s price tag. The LCD also has a built-in 1.3MP webcam.
Ports and connectors
Like most desktop replacement notebooks, the P-6860FX has a litany of connectors and expansion ports to ensure maximum productivity at all times. The right side of the notebook includes a 5-in-1 card reader, an eSATA port, Ethernet, FireWire, headphone and mic jacks, an ExpressCard 54 slot and the aforementioned HDMI and VGA-out ports. The left side features two more USB ports as well as a Kensington lock slot. There’s even a 56K modem plug on the back next to the extra-big 9-cell battery – a requirement on a notebook as powerful as this one.
The P-6860FX is loaded with connectivity ports, including HDMI and eSATA
Widescreen notebooks such as these are good for more than games of course, and Gateway has added a number of features to the P-6860FX to enhance the multimedia experience. The most obvious is a row of soft-touch keys located above the keyboard. They let you open Windows Media Center, play, pause and fast forward tracks as well as adjust the volume via soft-touch buttons. All the media buttons have orange illumination too, which goes well with the copper accents surrounding the keyboard and the chassis.
The P-6860FX is relatively future-proof when it comes to wired and wireless connectivity. It features a Gigabit Ethernet port as well as onboard Intel A/G/N wireless that supports the latest Draft-N 80211 standard, which is expected to be officially ratified at the end of the year. It also supports Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity as well, and features a prominent wireless on/off switch on the front of the chassis to allow for easy switching if you need to disable it in a public area.
OS and software
Naturally, the P-6860FX comes with Windows Vista Home Premium, but this notebook uses the 64-bit version which allows it to use all of its included 4GB of RAM. Gateway also throws in a Microsoft Works and Cyberlink Power2Go for burning media.
Use and testing
Pulling the P-6860FX out of its box we were reminded that it is indeed a big-boned notebook, but it doesn’t feel quite as big as Dell’s monstrous XPS M1730. According to the spec sheet the P-6860FX weighs 9.2 pounds, which is hefty but not back-breaking.
Its look and feel was very familiar to us, as its design is exactly the same as its big brother, the P-171XL FX Edition. It has a full-size keyboard with a number pad and feels very well-made and not cheap at all. It’s very rigid, and we like the faux carbon fiber accents around the touchpad as well.
You’ll either love or hate the black and copper paint scheme with its faux carbon fiber accents
We pressed the power button and waited patiently for the P-6860FX to boot. It arrived at the desktop in 1 minute and 10 seconds, which is par for the course on Vista machines. We’ve only seen a handful of machines boot faster than this, so this kind of performance is to be expected from Vista it seems.
We looked around the desktop and were pleased that the only icon on the desktop was for eBay and a Microsoft Office 2007 Trial. Gateway included some more trialware such as Napster and NetZero but thankfully it didn’t muck up the desktop with links to these services. Gateway’s little BigFix icon kept winking at us from the system tray but we’ve seen this application – which downloads updates and software patches for you – on every Gateway machine we’ve ever reviewed.
General Use and Comfort
The full-sized keyboard is very spacious and easy to use, and we also liked the big and bright display. We typically review more ultra-portable notebooks than desktop replacements, so it was a nice change of pace to see some serious screen real estate for once. The onboard speakers are typical notebook fare in that they lack serious bottom end, but they certainly get sufficiently loud for gaming or music. Speaking of which, volume is controlled by soft-touch buttons above the keyboard, and though we hated them on the P171XL we have to say they didn’t bother us as much this time around. We found that if we tried tapping the buttons they were useless, but if we held our finger down the volume would slowly increase or decrease, but an on-screen volume indicator would help out immensely here because many times when we pressed the buttons we weren’t sure if they were doing anything.
In terms of general system performance, we ran PCMark Vantage on the P-6860FX to see how it stacked up against other gaming notebooks we’ve reviewed, and its score of 2,789 was impressive but not as high as the Alienware m15x or the Dell XPS M1730. To be fair to the Gateway though, both of those machines costs twice as much as the P-6860FX and also have better hardware.
With its Core 2 Duo processor, NVIDIA 8800 GTS graphics card and 4GB of system RAM, we expected the P-6860 to be plenty adequate for today’s and tomorrow’s games, and we were correct in that assumption. To test its gaming prowess we installed everyone’s favorite system-killer, Crysis, and though it was only able to run the game at medium detail at 1024×768, we were impressed by how well it ran at these settings. We also installed Call of Duty 4, which is less graphically demanding than Crysis but still looks great. On this title we were able to run the game at the panel’s native resolution of 1440×900 and it looked excellent. Finally, we ran 3DMark06 on it, and it scored 7,398 3Dmarks, which is better than average but not record-breaking.
Also, we must point out how pleasantly surprised we were by the P-6860FX’s cooling fans, which are probably the quietest fans we’ve heard on a gaming notebook. You can hear them, but just barely, and they are mostly inaudible if you turn up the volume a bit.
Gaming notebooks typically have abysmal battery life given how much power they consume. We’re used to seeing most of them achieve an hour or maybe a bit more, but not much more. That is why we were surprised to see the P-6860FX run for 1 hour and 58 minutes, which is very good battery life for a notebook of this size. As always, the battery life can be stretched even further by dimming the display and such, but this was the time we netted during our DVD run-down test.
The P-6860FX comes with a large 9-cell battery that sticks out the back of the unit about an inch, but delivers good battery life
Gateway has made an amazingly affordable gaming notebook with the P-6860FX. Like we said before, most gaming notebooks cost and arm and a leg, but at just $1,349 the P-6860FX is a remarkable bargain that delivers excellent performance. The only complaints we have are very minor, which include its relatively slow processor and its counter-intuitive volume buttons, but that’s about it. Just remember it’s only available at Best Buy, so if you want more information about it you have to visit the retail portion of Gateway’s website.
• Fantastic value
• Great for gaming
• Tons of storage and outputs/ports
• Good battery life
• Soft-touch volume controls are counter-intuitive
• Semi-sluggish CPU