Gateway M500S Review

Gateway M500S

“Those that are into audio and video editing will find the M500 to be the perfect companion for your computing needs.”
  • Great sound system
  • beautiful wide-screen display
  • little heat
  • Cannot play music CD's with the cover closed
  • AV control unit is buggy

Summary

The Gateway M500 is a system that sets a new standard when it comes to multimedia laptops. With its integrated 20-bit stereo speakers complete with subwoofer, a 15.2″ widescreen display, an SD memory card reader, and an integrated network card provided by Orinoco the M500 provides a stable and fun computing environment. Those that are into audio and video editing will find the M500 to be the perfect companion for your computing needs.  The M500 is a bargain for $1599 and if you have been contemplating a laptop purchase the M500 deserves a second look, especially before they are sold out.

*Edited on 7/9/2003 — For an explanation of edits please see the bottom of the full review

Introduction

There is a new niche in the laptop market which has just recently started receiving some attention from the heavy hitters in the laptop industry; the multimedia laptop. Now it could be argued that Apple started the multimedia laptop idea with the introduction of their widescreen PowerBook series, but in theory a widescreen display should not justify total bragging rights, there has to be more to the system. Reviewed earlier in the year by Designtechnica, the 200A5 laptop computer by little known VPR Matrix took the laptop market by storm. The 200A5 features a 15.2″ widescreen display (rumored to be manufactured by the same company that develops the LCD display for the Apple PowerBook line), a slot loading DVD/CD-RW combo drive and integrated WiFi, the 200A5 was the first of its kind on the Windows XP platform. Gateway has entered into this unique market along with the likes of Toshiba and HP, but what the Gateway M500 offers is a multimedia experience above and beyond what is currently available. Unfortunately the Gateway M500 is in limited production with Gateway only releasing 1000 per month until the supply is exhausted. The M500 is priced competitively at $1599 and can be customized with limited options.

Features and Design

The Gateway M500 is truly a unique laptop in the sense that it redefines what we have thought a multimedia laptop was all about. First of all the aesthetic design of the M500 both on the inside and outside of the casing is one of quality. Covered in a polished steel alloy, the M500 is a sleek looking laptop yet weighing in at a hefty 6.9 pounds. The 8X DVD/8X CD-RW drive is of the slot loading design and located in the middle front of the M500. On the left hand side of the M500 is where you can find a single PCMCIA slot as well as an integrated Secure Digital (SD) memory card reader. Located on the right hand side of the M500 are (2) USB 2.0 ports and the exhaust vent for the laptop’s cooling system. On the backside of the M500 is where you will find (2) FireWire ports (one large and one small), the printer port, external VGA connector, S-Video output, 10/100 Ethernet port, 56K V.90 modem port, another single USB 2.0 port and the audio inputs/outputs. There is neither volume controls for the system or serial ports. There are 3 LED’s located on the top lid of the M500 towards the back which indicate whether the laptop is powered on, in sleep mode or connected to a WiFi network.

The PCMCIA slot and SD card reader are located on the left hand side

The back of the M500 is where all of the input/ouputs are located. There is no cover to protect them however.

Performance

In our performance benchmarking, the M500 held its own in 3D Mark 2001 literally nipping on the heals of the Gateway 450 XL and VPR Matrix 200A5 systems in the 32-bit tests, and edging out both system for the lead in the 16-bit tests. When it came to the Mobile Mark 2002 testing, the M500 easily beat out both the VPR Matrix 200A5 and Gateway 450 XL systems. This is most likely due to a faster Intel processor and a better overall cooling system. The M500 also edged out both systems in the SiSoftware Sandra benchmarks.

System Configurations:

Gateway M500S

Windows XP Home; 2.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 512MB DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32MB;  40GB 4,200rpm hard drive

VPR Matrix 200A5

Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm

Gateway DS 450 XL
Windows XP Home; 1.5GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm

Continued…

Powering the M500 is an Intel mobile 2.2 GHz processor, 512 MB of DDR SDRAM, a 40 GB 4200 RPM hard drive, Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32 Mb video adapter and a 15.2″ WXGA TFT active matrix display. For complete specifications please click on the specs tab located above and below this review.

The software bundle included with the Gateway M500 is not overwhelming and includes just about everything you need to get going. Microsoft’s Windows XP Home Edition comes preinstalled on the system as does Microsoft Works, Encarta, Atlas, and Money 2002. Other preinstalled system software includes: Music Match, Norton Antivirus 2003, Easy CD Creator 5 and Gateway’s own utilities.

Opening the M500 reveals more of the same metal alloy casing, but it is what’s located to the sides of the keyboard which really helps the M500 shine. On the right hand side of the keyboard is 6 well laid out hot buttons. The power button is located towards the top and is larger than the 5 other hot keys. There is a hot key for connecting to a WiFi network, checking your e-mail, summoning your favorite browser as well as two programmable hot keys which you can program to activate your favorite software.

On the left hand side of the keyboard there is an integrated AV control unit, complete with its own LCD display. It is with this control unit that you can play music CD’s with whether the computer is powered on or off. The advantage to playing music CD’s with the laptop powered off is that it saves your precious battery life. And if you are wondering why you would care to use the M500 to play music CD’s, there is a reason for this. The M500 comes with two 20-bit integrated stereo speakers, complete with a subwoofer. The microphone is cleverly located and hidden at the top of the LCD display, but should you decide you want to use your own microphone, there is an input also located at the back of the M500

Setup and Use

When we first heard that the M500 has an integrated subwoofer, we were pretty skeptical at its abilities and thought perhaps this was a marketing gimmick of some sort. Boy, were we wrong. While the integrated subwoofer, is not as loud or booming as what you would initially think, there is a noticeable bass difference compared to other laptops in this category. An on/off switch for the subwoofer is located at the front of the system next to the slot loading combo drive and can be turned on or off while the system is powered up. Of course true audiophiles will want to use the M500 with a set of their favorite headphones, but for those that like to casually listen to music, the integrated speakers do a fine job.

We found the integrated AV control unit to work well without any major hitches. One disappointing catch is that you cannot play music CD’s with the cover of the M500 closed. Once closed, the cover actually touches the controls of the AV unit thus turning them off. There are also no external audio or volume controls located on the outside of the M500. But we figure playing music with the laptop powered off is a bonus anyways, so we can’t be too picky.

*Edit — We recieved several e-mails from readers that had problems with their AV control panel not skipping ahead or behind correctly, but instead moving to the next track entirely. After further testing, we were in fact able to replicate this problem. The score has been adjusted accordingly.

While the M500 is running off battery power, the system will automatically dim the brightness level of the LCD display to help conserve battery longevity. Speaking of battery performance, we were a bit discouraged by the battery life of the M500 as we were only able to get about 2 hours of overall battery life from the system. This is typical for a system with the M500 specifications as it is not using the Intel Centrino chipset. The upside is that you can have a more robust system on the overall performance side of things, albeit at the price of battery life. For some odd reason the M500 comes with a smaller battery than the VPR Matrix system, with only 4000 mAh of battery juice, 400 mAh less than the VPR Matrix 200A5 system.

The 15.2″ widescreen display is set at a 15:10 aspect ratio. And although it is not a true 16:9 widescreen ratio it still feels as if it is. The brightness level on the LCD display is perfect and there are no spots on the screen which are brighter than others. We found the display on the M500 to be better than most laptops, although not as good as the displays found on the VPR Matrix 200A5 or Apple PowerBook systems. Our M500 test system did not have any bad pixels. Overall the display on the M500 is above average.

Setup and Use Continued…

The M500 uses an integrated WiFi card manufactured by Orinoco. We were able to get excellent reception with the M500 skirting around the 300FT range, even through walls. We noticed that the M500’s WiFi networking was not turned on by default, but could be activated by pressing the hot key. This is a great idea, especially if you plan on traveling with your system. This way not only are you saving battery life with the WiFi turned off, but you are creating a more secure computing experience by preventing would-be hackers from entering your system.

Keyboard layout is excellent and mimics the VPR Matrix 200A5 almost exactly, down to the same key design. Key travel is just right and not too shallow providing a nice typing experience. The touchpad looks nice and is very functional with two large mouse buttons and a very responsive touchpad. We have noticed that on some laptops the cursor would skip around the screen occasionally while typing, this was not the case with the M500.

In our performance benchmarking, the M500 held its own in 3D Mark 2001 literally nipping on the heals of the Gateway 450 XL and VPR Matrix 200A5 systems in the 32-bit tests, and edging out both system for the lead in the 16-bit tests. When it came to the Mobile Mark 2002 testing, the M500 easily beat out both the VPR Matrix 200A5 and Gateway 450 XL systems. This is most likely due to a faster Intel processor and a better overall cooling system. The M500 also edged out both systems in the SiSoftware Sandra benchmarks. For complete results, please click on the performance tab located above and below this review.

One of the nicest features that the M500 carries with it is a cooling system that is very effective. We did not feel noticeable heat from the system even after prolong testing and use. Overall this helped to create a very stable system which did not experience any crashing or system errors despite going through our rigorous tests.

Improvements which we would like to see on the next version of this system should Gateway decide to continue its production, would include a larger battery, a larger hard drive and the ability to play music CD’s with the cover closed.

Conclusion

The Gateway M500 is a system that sets a new standard when it comes to multimedia laptops. With its integrated 20-bit stereo speakers complete with subwoofer, a 15.2″ widescreen display, an SD memory card reader, and an integrated network card provided by Orinoco the M500 provides a stable and fun computing environment. Those that are into audio and video editing will find the M500 to be the perfect companion for your computing needs.  The M500 is a bargain for $1599 and if you have been contemplating a laptop purchase the M500 deserves a second look, especially before they are sold out.

*Edited on 7/9/2003 — We recieved several e-mails from readers that had problems with their AV control panel not skipping ahead or behind correctly, but instead moving to the next track entirely. After further testing, we were in fact able to replicate this problem. The score has been adjusted accordingly.

Editors' Recommendations