Given that budget mainstream notebooks are now competing with low-cost netbooks for your hard-earned dollar, it’s no surprise that Gateway’s NV5807u rings in at just $599. What is surprising is the level of style and performance that you get for that price. This configuration (there are eight others to choose from in the NV line) has more aesthetic appeal than other budget notebooks we’ve tested recently, and, thanks to an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM, holds its own in everyday tasks.
Ever since Gateway rebranded itself as a more fashionable notebook manufacturer, the company has been on a roll in churning out good-looking budget notebooks, and the NV series is no exception. The Midnight Blue lid (a shade of teal, to our eyes), with its subtle waffle pattern, might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly more interesting than basic black (the NV is also available in Coffee Brown, Cherry Red, and Nightsky Black). Bonus: the fine pattern helps disguise fingerprints.
Other design flourishes include a metal hinge with the power button built into the side (like Sony VAIOs), glossy upper panel, and LED lights and touch-sensitive controls that glow red. At 5.6 pounds, this notebook 0.2 pounds lighter than the 5.8-pound Dell Inspiron 15, although the dimensions are almost the same. (The NV is 0.1 inch wider, but its wedge shape is between 1 and 1.5 inches thick, whereas the Inspiron 15 is 1.5 inches thick.)
The touch-senstive controls responded to even the lightest tap. While there are volume controls and a mute button, there are no buttons for controlling multimedia playback. However, there are buttons for PowerSave Solution (Gateway’s own power management software), MyBackup (more on that later), disabling the trackpad, and enabling or disabling Wi-Fi.
When you tap PowerSave, you automatically enter PowerSave mode (energy-saving modes are usually at odds with maximum performance, but allow for longer battery life); double tapping the icon makes the on-screen dialog box disappear, and the computer revert to its default power mode.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The NV’s keys are flat, but close together; it’s a cross between an island keyboard, with separated keys, and a classic one with closely grouped, cushy ones. Even with a full number pad on the right hand side, the keys were still large enough for us to type comfortably, making very few typos (the keys’ textured finish made it easy to get a grip, too). On our first try, we scored 88 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor Test (www.tenthumbstypingtutor.com), which is also our high score with our desktop machine.
At 1.8 inches, the touchpad could be taller, but at least its 3.4-inch width feels roomy. As far as touchpads go, the NV’s feels smooth and doesn’t offer too much friction. On the other hand, although its mirrored design is appealing, we found the touch bar uncomfortable; it’s a single button, and the strip is too narrow. It took us a while to get used to pressing the far edges of the bar to get better tactile feedback.
Display and Sound
In a side-by-side comparison, the NV’s 15.6-inch display looked brighter than the Inspiron 15’s, although the latter had deeper contrast (for example, blacker blacks). In a similar vein, when we watched an episode of Heroes on DVD, some of the colors looked a bit off, especially skin tones, which appeared oversaturated.
When we played the same Saturday Night Live Hulu clip on both computers, however, the viewing angles were comparable, which is to say that the glossy finish on both displays made it difficult—but not impossible—to make out the picture from the sides and with the lid pushed forward.
The NV’s speakers delivered predictably tinny sound quality when we listened to Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Coldplay’s “Clocks.” The volume, cranked to its maximum settings, was more than loud enough for movie watching, and we ended up scaling it back to around the medium setting.
The NV has a strong selection of ports: in addition to four USB ports, VGA output, an Ethernet jack, and headphone and mic ports, the NV has HDMI output, a feature other budget notebooks lack. In addition, this machine has a 5-in-1 memory card reader.
The VGA webcam provides good brightness, color, and detail, but the accompanying software is skimpy: once you record photos or videos, it saves them to your My Documents folder. Most other webcam consoles have a strip of thumbnails that allow you to easily review recent captures you’ve taken.
Armed with a 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64-bit Vista Home Premium, the NV delivers performance that’s good not just for a budget machine, but for any mainstream notebook. Its PCMark Vantage score of 3,262 is about 100 points above average, and 471 points higher than the $549 Toshiba Satellite L505-S5966.
The NV’s 5,400 rpm, 320GB hard drive transferred a 4.97GB mixed media folder at a rate of 18.3 MBps—precisely that of the category average. Its boot time of 40 seconds is fast for a Vista notebook, which we usually expect to take 60 seconds, and even beats the Inspiron 15’s, which started up in 47 seconds.
Moreover, for a $599 notebook, the NV holds its own when it comes to multi-tasking. To see how a notebook fares when confronted with intensive tasks, we transcode a 5:05 MPEG-4 file to AVI. The NV took 7:20; That’s above the category average of 4:44, but not bad when compared to the Inspiron 15’s 9:08.
Anecdotally, we didn’t experience any lag as we switched between tabs in Internet Explorer (one of which was Gmail, sending attachments). We were also easily able to move to open windows on the desktop, including Windows Explorer and the Control Panel.
The Achilles’ heel of budget notebooks seems to be graphics performance. True to form, the NV managed a 3DMark06 score of just 942. It falls far short of the category average of 3,285, suggesting that while the big, bright screen is perfect for watching movies, it’s not ideal for gaming.
Moreover, its Far Cry 2 frame rates of 5 frames per second (1024 x 768 resolution) and 3 fps (1366 x 768) aren’t playable; the category average is 37 fps at 1024 x 768 resolution, and 20 fps at the notebook’s maximum resolution.
The NV handled basic graphical tasks just fine, however. In Google Earth, for example, we flew everywhere from Japan to New York City to the Galapagos Islands, and the ride was smooth each time. We always had to wait a few seconds for the 3D buildings and topography to load, but overall we noticed fewer hiccups than we have with other budget systems.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The NV’s six-cell battery lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is on a par with the 3:27 category average. Meanwhile, its Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11a/g/draft-n wireless radio delivered throughput of 21.0 Mbps and 20.0 Mbps at 15 and 15 feet, respectively, which beats the category averages (19.0 Mbps and 15.6 Mbps).
The NV comes with Gateway’s MyBackup software, which you can access simply by pressing the launch button on the touch-sensitive control panel. Although the NV doesn’t come with complimentary online storage, users can back up to any USB-powered storage device.
Gateway’s software, in particular, has an intuitive interface: the screen is divided into four color-coded panels, each of which corresponding to a different kind of file (multimedia, e-mail, and Microsoft Office files), and browser favorites (IE and Firefox only). Within these panels are check boxes for indicating what kind of files you want to back up. Then you can add a job, and even automate it so that the computer regularly saves these items.
In addition to our configuration, the NV5807u, the NV comes in nine other configurations, and range in price from $499 to $599. All of the models that cost $579 and up have Intel Core 2 Duo processors; those that cost $499 and up offer dual-core AMD CPUs as well. Depending on the model, the NV comes with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM (this does not necessarily correspond with how expensive the configuration is). Hard drive sizes range from 250GB to 500GB. All models have either 802.11b/g/draft-n or 802.11a/g/draft-n Wi-Fi. Configurations are available with either integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics or integrated ATI Radeon graphics.
Software and Warranty
The NV comes with a predictable spate of bundled and trial software: CyberLink Power2Go, CyberLink PowerDVD, Google Toolbar, Microsoft Money Essentials (note that Microsoft recently announced it was killing the app), a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (including a compatibility pack and PowerPoint viewer), Windows Live Essentials, and Yahoo Toolbar. The NV has a one-year warranty, including 24/7, toll-free phone support.
Gateway’s $599 NV5807u is the best budget mainstream notebook money can buy, thanks to its strong performance, slick design, bright display, and built-in backup software. The NV’s single, stiff touch button might be a turnoff for some people, and there are cheaper 15.6-inch notebooks, such as the $499 Dell Inspiron 15. But overall, the NV presents the fewest compromises in a system this inexpensive.