Known in its pre-production phase as Godzilla, the Gateway P-7801u notebook lives up to its moniker by making “big” a design ethic. From its 17-inch screen with full 1080p resolution, to a class-leading GeForce card humming away within, the P-Series FX doesn’t skimp on much. While it predictably falls quite low on the portability spectrum, we found the machine to burn through everyday desktop-replacement chores, and even most games, without complaint, and for a very reasonable price.
Features & Design
Though the P-Series FX can be equipped in a handful of different ways, the P-7801u variant we tested comes in only one configuration, which retails for $1,600. At its core, it gets an Intel Core 2 Duo processor clocked at 2.26GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS with a full 1GB of video RAM. That’s a stat sheet we would call impressive, even for a desktop. Other accoutrements include a 320GB SATA hard drive, 1.3-megapixel webcam, and 17-inch display with 1080p resolution.
Unlike Gateway’s relatively conservative P-Series notebooks, those that carry the additional FX label get dressed up with some special styling before they leave the factory. The entire shell gets a quasi-carbon-fiber print below its glossy finish, and large portions of the notebook have been trimmed in metallic orange – a love-it-or-leave-it color that reminds us of a shade Pontiac was awfully fond of for a few years. Naturally, all of its LEDs, from the power button to the light-up strip of media controls above the keyboard, have also been switched to the same shade. We wouldn’t call it subtle, but we do think Gateway has dodged (barely) the gaudy color overkill that sometimes crops up on gaming machines.
Though Gateway hasn’t completely cheaped out on the construction of the P-7801u, certain aspects of the notebook stood out to us as feeling rather chintzy. The keyboard, for instance, has a glossy sheen that almost makes it look like it’s been typed on by one too many greasy fingers, and the media control keys embedded in the strip above it have a crude, overly rounded look, as if they’ve been sloppily cut out by hand. Like larger notebooks, it also flexes significantly toward the center, to the point where pressing firmly on the media controls feels a bit like pressing on a springboard.
Size and Weight
Let there be little doubt that the P-7801u falls in the desktop replacement category, bound firmly to Earth by the gravitational force all 9.2 pounds of it exert. It’s luggable, of course, but too heavy to really bust out in many travel scenarios, and of course, bulky as well. It falls in the middle of its size category: lighter than the likes of Dell’s 10.6-pound XPS 1730, but still chunky compared to HP’s 7.6-pound dv7t series.
Connections and Controls
Like many machines in its size class, the edges of the P-7801u have been striped front to back with a thick array of connectors. That outfit includes the usual suspects, such as a VGA output and three USB 2.0 ports, audio input and outputs, as well as some more exotic specimens: an HDMI output for connecting to high-def displays, eSATA port for fast connections to external hard drives, and 1394 FireWire port for video equipment and other high-speed accessories. Of course, there’s also the obligatory Ethernet jack, and even a legacy phone port for its modem.
While a DVD-RW drive obviously helps keep cost lower on this machine, we wish Gateway would offer a Blu-ray drive as an option, since the 1080p screen would likely make for quite an HD viewing experience.
As mentioned, the media controls were a bit of a disappointment in terms of aesthetics, but they worked acceptably for controlling media on the fly. The volume buttons, while more responsive than others that we’ve seen, adjusted the sound in increments that were too small, making it too cumbersome to make major adjustments quickly.
We liked the matte texture and accuracy of the built-in touch pad, but couldn’t understand why Gateway didn’t enlarge it, given all the available real estate. With such a massive screen to navigate, getting across the screen on a standard-size touchpad can feel like quite a chore.
And though we we may gripe about the gloss on the keyboard, we also found it very usable. The key presses felt crisp, none of the keys beyond the F-row had been shrunken, and Gateway even managed to fit a full number pad, which can be a godsend for gaming.
Image Courtesy of Gateway
One of the main attractions for any desktop replacement comes in the form of screen real estate, which usually gets sacrificed to portability on smaller notebooks. The P-7801u boasts a whopping 17-inch display with the same 1080p resolution that usually gets stretched across 50-inch HDTVs. As a result, the dot pitch (a measure of how closely the pixels are packed together) is extremely high, reducing the look of pixilation and making images look exceptionally sharp and crisp. All that resolution also makes it possible to fit two pages comfortably alongside one another for multitasking.
Although the viewing angle on the display felt quite narrow and required us to look at it dead on to avoid distortion, the flexibility of the display hinges made this much less of an issue during normal use. Unlike the last Gateway notebook we looked at, which had the flexibility of a ninety-year-old man, the P-7801u can actually tilt past 180 degrees, making it supremely easy to adjust. Those hinges don’t slip or wobble, either, which is a major plus.
Both plugged in and on battery power, the display managed to throw off a brilliant amount of light, and it was usable under a variety of lighting conditions. The gloss on the display, though, also catches reflections quite easily, which can be distracting under overhead lights, especially when the image on the monitor is dim. Overall, though, we found the notebook’s display to be one of its main attractions, and a definite plus for multi-taskers.
In the wireless surfing test we use to simulate the type of battery life most people could expect to milk out of a notebook under common conditions, the P-Series FX delivered an impressive 3 hours and 20 minutes of surf time before petering out. Considering the sheer size of the display, and the potential power consumption of its discrete graphics card, that’s actually a respectable number, and a usable window of time to get work done in the field.
Once in Windows, the P-7801u juggled multiple applications diligently, and handled the sort of media-intensive applications a smaller notebook might choke on, with ease. We did encounter the usual Vista woes, though, as some applications, like Adobe Audition CS3, refused to even open. Utilities like Pidgin, Skype and Firefox opened quickly, responded without delay, and generally showed off the system’s capable hardware.
Though a boon for desktop applications, the notebook’s enormous 1920 x 1200 display can be more of a liability in games, where driving it at full resolution strains the system to the very max. A run through Crysis at native resolution and most settings to high slowed the system to a chug, and we had to back off checkboxes to medium to really produce produce playable framerates. Dropping resolution to a lower level seemed to be the best way to maintain the game’s high-end effects without sacrificing game play, but it won’t look as clean as it would as a machine with a lower native resolution.
Fortunately, Crysis remains an exception to the norm in terms of system demands, and other games played at full resolution without issue. BioShock, for instance, delivered flawless, silky smooth frame rates, even with resolution at 1920 x 1200, and every setting cranked to high.
And though it will cause some games to stutter, the display also makes games look positively cinematic. One colleague actually mistook the beginning of Crysis for a scene from Snakes on a Plane, a credit to both the game and the notebook’s full 1080p glory – when it can manage it.
Much like the MacBook Pro, the Gateway P-7801u throws its size around to offer impressive, room-filling volume, although it still suffers from the typical lack off bass associated with tiny notebook speakers. Music is listenable through the full volume range, though, and we would definitely call the sound better than average for a notebook.
As it aids the speakers, the notebook’s sheer size seems to benefit its Wi-Fi reception by way of a longer internal antenna. Not only did it pull down unshakably strong signal from the close by networks we’re used to, it also turned up faraway fringe networks that other laptops haven’t even put on radar.
Some irks concerning a somewhat cheap-looking exterior aside, Gatway’s P-7801u makes a utilitarian machine for working, gaming, and handling all the same tasks a desktop would, on the go. For anyone considering a machine in this size range, it would be difficult to find a comparable notebook for the price.
• Affordable price
• Good battery Life
• Hardware specs
• 1080p display
• Wi-Fi reception
• Size and weight
• Cheapish chassis
• Small touch pad