After running the original Gateway P-7801u FX Edition through its paces back in November and finding it to be a desktop replacement as practical as it was powerful, we were eager to step up the next-generation P-7808u. Though it looks identical on the outside, Gateway has dropped a hot new Intel Core 2 Quad Q900 processor inside and beefed up other specs as well, making this machine an all-around improvement – or so it would seem at first glance. The screen has actually stepped down in resolution, and the price has grown to a spendy $1,800 thanks to the studly new processor. Do an extra two cores justify these trade-offs? We fired up a few games to find out.
Features & Design
Like its predecessor, the P-7808u carries Gateway’s FX designation, endowing it with both hot hardware and a hot design. Inside, that means it gets Intel’s Core 2 Quad processor running at 2.0GHz with 6MB of L2 cache, and Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS graphics card with 1GB of GDDR3 memory, 4GB of DDR3 memory on the motherboard, and a 500GB hard drive. Of those specs, only the CPU and hard drive differ any from the old P-7801u – the CPU is now quad core (though each core runs slightly slower), and the HDD carries 500GB rather than 320GB.
Not everyone will fall in love with “hot” design aspect, but we think Gateway pulled it off without treading the embarrassingly loud territory some gaming rigs fall into. 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.
Since Gateway hasn’t seemingly touched the manufacturing process for the chassis, certain aspects of the notebook still 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
Despite the faster processor, the P-7808u actually sheds a little weight over its predecessor – not that you would ever be able to tell. It weighs 9.05 pounds rather than 9.2 pounds. Both machines are positively beastly – well beyond the point of being easily portable – but not quite in the same realm as Lenovo’s back-breaking W700ds. In the desktop replacement category, it slots in roughly in the middle: 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-7808u 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.
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 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.
We loved the gorgeous 1920 by 1200 pixel 17-inch screen on the original P-7801, which is why we can’t quite comprehend why Gateway has nixed it on this newer model. You still get a spacious 17 inches, but resolution has been knocked down to a meager 1440 by 900 pixels. That’s plenty of resolution for a little 14-inch screen, but on one this size the resolution made a huge difference.
The low resolution shows in Windows, where everything is slightly bigger, text is not quite as smooth, and graphics have a slightly blurrier look to them. It’s not ugly, by any means, but it lacks the luxurious look of the older model. As a side benefit, the smaller resolution is less taxing for games, allowing you to get smoother frame rates at the screen’s native resolution, which eliminates the strange scaling effects caused by running a high-res monitor at lower resolutions than intended.
As possible consolation for the decreased resolution, the LCD in the new FX series does seem brighter than the old model. In fact, at maximum brightness, it’s on the brink of washing out. After playing a few dim, atmospheric games on both machines, we definitely appreciated the extra pop that made crawling in shadows and moving under cover of note exponentially easier to see in a fluorescent-lit room.
Redemption for the low-res display comes when it’s time to get down and game. After running it through MotoGP, Crysis, and a 3DMark06, we can soundly say the P-7808u best justifies its $200 premium tag when guns are blazing.
With only 1440 x 900 pixels to drive, and some serious gaming hardware to do it, the notebook managed to make child’s play of MotoGP with every setting on, and even Crysis with every setting on high was playable. Dropping the resolution on the older FX to a comparable setting and playing the same games produced a noticeable gap in how they played. Where we managed an easy 30fps on the P-7808u, the P-7801u sputtered along at 20fps with the same settings. It’s obvious the quad-core setup takes a heavy load off the system, and allows the same games to run much more smoothly.
In 3DMark06, the new model posted 9,794 3DMarks, while the old P-7801u posted 8,675 3DMarks. Those 1,100 points translate quite apparently into real-world performance in games.
On the desktop, it’s a different story. Both machines cut through everything Vista has to offer without so much as a hiccup, and in everyday use, you would be quite hard-pressed to tell which had the better hardware, short of the obvious gap in screen resolution.
Much like the MacBook Pro, the Gateway P-7808u 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.
A faster processor didn’t seem to affect the overall battery life of the P-7808u, which delivered a solid 3.5 hours before passing out on us. That’s with Wi-Fi connected and the screen at full brightness, too. Given the typically dismal battery life of units in this size class, we find those numbers pretty impressive. (Credit goes to the gigantic nine-cell battery, which juts out behind the laptop but doesn’t really make it anymore unwieldy than it already is.) You might not want to toss this thing in a backpack and travel with it, given the weight, but if you tough it out, you’ll at least be rewarded with enough juice to get something done when you finally whip it out.
For serious gamers seeking a mobile rig to set up and frag wherever they go, the P-7808u stands a marked improvement from the already-capable earlier version, thanks to both a faster quad-core processor and a screen that’s more modest and practical for gaming. However, those seeking to use it for surfing, multimedia and other less demanding work within Windows probably won’t notice the boost in horsepower, and would be better served by the ultra-high-res model with the lower price tag.
- Outstanding gaming performance
- Solid battery life
- Wi-Fi reception
- Decent sound
- Plenty of ports
- Size and weight
- Cheapish chassis
- Small touch pad
- Lower-resolution screen