Gateway M320XL Review

Fundamentally the M320XL is a very strong offering from Gateway.
Fundamentally the M320XL is a very strong offering from Gateway.
Fundamentally the M320XL is a very strong offering from Gateway.

Highs

  • Reliable and overall solid construction. Comes with plenty of features

Lows

  • Poor mouse buttons and touch scroll-pad

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

Gateway’s M320XL laptop is a good laptop but it falls short in a few areas. First of all, this is a poor laptop for gaming. The system’s 32MB of integrated video memory and XGA LCD display are simply not very impressive. During our 3dMark 2001 benchmarking, the M320XL’s display could not display all of the colors some of the tests tried to use. We also did not like the recessed mouse buttons and the touch scroll wheel which was hard to use and very sporadic.

However, if gaming is not your forte, then the M320XL has a lot to offer. We think the systems design and looks are well above average. The keyboard has a nice feel to it and reliability was above average. There is plenty of power and technological features that should keep this system up-to-date for longer than the average laptop. One of the upsides to buying a Gateway system is that you will be able to stop by your local Best Buy to try it out before you purchase it, and that is what we recommend you do with the M320XL. If this system had a better scroll wheel and mouse buttons, we would give this system an 8 or a 9. Fundamentally the M320XL is a very strong offering from Gateway.

Introduction

Gateway has always had very strong offerings in the notebook market. They have consistently scored higher than other laptops because of innovation, value and design. But because competition has driven down the price of notebook computers due to manufacturing overseas and other factors, margins are slimmer than ever; and if you want to survive in this industry you have little room for error. Gateway has had to rethink their strategy for survival and if this means selling lower budget systems, then that is what they will have to do. The Gateway M320XL is part of Gateway’s new product line which can be ordered directly from Gateway’s website or at retailers like Best Buy.

The Gateway M320XL promises the consumer the same level of quality they can expect from the Gateway brand, but at a more affordable price. And from what we can tell, Gateway has accomplished this quite well. There are three systems in the M320 product line including the M320CS which starts at $999, the M320X which starts at $1199 and the M320XL which offers the most features and a price starting at $1799.

Gateway M320XL

Image courtesy of Gateway

Performance

The reason why there are no Mobile Mark scores on our performance page is because we could not get the test suite to finish successfully. We experienced numerous errors throughout the testing process. This happened on several Sony notebooks we are reviewing as well. According to Bapco, the manufacturer of the Mobile Mark software, it could be incompatibilities with Windows Service Pack 2. We are working with them to find a fix.

Gateway M320XL 3dMark Scores
Gateway M320XL SiSoftware Sandra Test Scores
Gateway M320XL SiSoftware Sandra Test Scores

System Configurations:

Gateway M320XL
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR; Integrated Intel graphics with 32MB UMA memory technology ; 80GB 4200rpm Ultra ATA hard drive

Sony VAIO VGN-A160
Windows XP Home; 1.5GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 64MB;  80GB Hard Drive

Gateway 200XL
Windows XP Professional; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB Hard Drive

Features and Design

The biggest difference between the three systems in the M320 product line is the processor each one of them uses as well as the amount of memory the system comes with. The base M320CS comes with an Intel Celeron processor, a 14″ screen and 256MB of memory. Stepping up to the M320X will give you an Intel Pentium M 1.5GHz CPU, 256MB of memory and a larger 15″ screen. Lastly the M320XL will give you a faster Pentium M processor running at 1.7GHz, 512MB of memory, a DVD+/- writer and an 80GB hard drive.

When we first heard that Gateway was going to be making their products available through Best Buy and other large retailers, we really worried that the quality of their products would go down in an effort to increase margins. We are happy to report that this is not the case. We were pleasantly surprised when we got our hands on the M320XL. The system looks like a cross between IBM’s ThinkPad X40 series and the Sony VAIO S series notebooks. The outside of the case features a silver painted top half and a black painted bottom half. All of the ports are located on the sides of the system with exception to the VGA output located on the back. Three USB ports, one FireWire port, a PCMCIA port and a SD/Sony Memory stick port are located on the left hand side of the system while the DVD writer, one USB and the audio controls and inputs can be found on the right hand side. A blue LED on the outside of the system flashes when the computer is plugged into its AC Adapter or in standby mode. The outside of the system has a close resemblance to a Sony VAIO notebook computer.

The inside, however, carries the look and feel of the IBM X series ThinkPad. The keyboard, touch pad and the mouse buttons are all recessed and flush with the systems case. It gives the M320XL a very streamlined look. Gateway also put blue LED’s on the inside of the system which adds to the systems overall appeal. It’s worth noting that Gateway has ditched the traditional scroll wheel in favor of a new scroll touchpad; a trend we see other manufacturers doing as well. The area where you rest your hands features a different type of rubber coating then what we have seen before. It feels like leather although it really is a textured rubber or plastic molding; it gives the system a fancier feel.

The M320XL only comes with a few preinstalled programs which include Microsoft Office XP Professional trial version, Microsoft Works 7.0 and Norton Antivirus trial edition. The Gateway system is a stark contrast to the latest Sony VAIO systems which come with way too many preinstalled trial applications. It’s nice to see only a few necessary programs come preinstalled. Gateway warranties the M320XL for 1-year from the date of purchase. This includes parts and labor.

Setup and Use

Getting the M320XL setup and running is very easy. Gateway provides a detailed and easy to use manual which will walk you through the process. When you fire up the system for the first time you are greeted by Microsoft Windows, which will ask you a few questions such as the names of the users of the system, your network workgroup name and the type of Internet connection you have. Once those are answered you are done with the whole process. As we mentioned in the features section of this review, the M320XL comes with very little preinstalled software, and this is a very good thing. Microsoft Works 7.0 is an adequate office suite for the home user, but should you decide you want to upgrade to the larger Microsoft Office XP software suite, you can do that as well since the trial version comes preinstalled. Microsoft Media Player should be able to handle most of your multimedia needs while Norton Antivirus protects your system.

Using the system certainly has its highs and lows. We found the screen to be very bright and good for most types of applications but we noticed that the screen struggled when playing any sort of high resolution 3D games. There were noticeable artifacts present, which is either a result of the integrated 32MB video adapter or the LCD screens capabilities.

The keyboard is easy to use and feels very responsive although it is a little bit mushy feeling in the center, but it did not hinder its use; this is typical of a lot of notebooks and is not isolated to the M320XL. The touch pad works very well, but the touch scroll-pad is simply terrible, we would rather have a scroll wheel. Since the touch scroll-pad works by touching it and dragging your finger up and down, it took a while for us to get used to it. It just does not work as well as a scroll wheel. A lot of notebook manufacturers are integrating this technology into their systems much to our disliking. The mouse buttons on the M320XL are recessed to give the system an appealing look, but they are difficult to use at first. Their surface area is probably smaller than it should be for a system of this size and they also feel mushy, lacking the reliable clicking feeling we like.

We appreciate the fact that Gateway includes a memory card slot that supports both SD and Sony Memory cards. And adding 4 USB ports and a FireWire port makes this a very versatile system which digital photographers and other with a lot of peripherals can appreciate.

Our M320XL test system was very quiet while in use and did not get very hot, which is nice. Sony notebook computers, for example, can get very hot when they are used for long periods of time. The M320XL stayed nice and cool while being used, even after burning several DVD’s.

We want to make this very clear; the M320 series laptops are not designed for hardcore gaming. You may be able to get away with Ages of Empires or any other 2D game, but this product line cannot play any sort of 3D game. If gaming is a priority, then you will want to step up to Gateway’s 520 series notebook. In our 3dMark gaming tests, the M320XL performed on par with the other Centrino based notebooks that use the integrated Intel graphics chip; which isn’t bad, just not very exciting. For running applications, the M320XL performed very well thanks to its 512MB of internal memory. Battery life was above average and we were able to get just a little over 4 hours of use before the system would go dead. For complete performance results please click on the performance tab and link located above and below this review.

We need to mention that the reason why there are no Mobile Mark scores on our performance page is because we could not get the test suite to finish successfully. We experienced numerous errors throughout the testing process. This happened on several Sony notebooks we are reviewing as well. According to Bapco, the manufacturer of the Mobile Mark software, it could be incompatibilities with Windows Service Pack 2. We are working with them to find a fix.

Conclusion

Gateway’s M320XL laptop is a good laptop but it falls short in a few areas. First of all, this is a poor laptop for gaming. The system’s 32MB of integrated video memory and XGA LCD display are simply not very impressive. During our 3dMark 2001 benchmarking, the M320XL’s display could not display all of the colors some of the tests tried to use. We also did not like the recessed mouse buttons and the touch scroll wheel which was hard to use and very sporadic.

However, if gaming is not your forte, then the M320XL has a lot to offer. We think the systems design and looks are well above average. The keyboard has a nice feel to it and reliability was above average. There is plenty of power and technological features that should keep this system up-to-date for longer than the average laptop. One of the upsides to buying a Gateway system is that you will be able to stop by your local Best Buy to try it out before you purchase it, and that is what we recommend you do with the M320XL. If this system had a better scroll wheel and mouse buttons, we would give this system an 8 or a 9. Fundamentally the M320XL is a very strong offering from Gateway.

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