Not only are computer manufacturers expanding the definition of netbooks by offering highly-portable, low-cost systems with increasingly larger screens, but now they’re experimenting with different processors, too. Like many netbooks, the Gateway LT3103u has an 11.6-inch screen, but it has abandoned the traditional Intel Atom processor in favor of a single-core AMD chip, which promises stronger performance. As such, this $399 rig is compelling in that it’s one of the first to occupy a middle ground between netbooks and low-voltage notebooks. But it’s uneasy territory; in order to get marginally better performance numbers, you sacrifice significant battery life.
The Gateway LT3103u borrows its design from the company’s larger NV Series; the lid is a glossy black, highlighted by a silver tab embossed with the Gateway logo. Likewise, the bezel surrounding the screen is glossy black. It’s a slick look, but the lid picks up fingerprints easily. Inside, the chassis and keyboard is matte black, and the palm rests are dimpled like a golf ball, which is comfortable, and offers a new and interesting sensory experience.
At 11.3 x 8.6 inches, the LT3013u takes up the same amount of desk space as the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and Acer Aspire One 751h, and, like those two systems, its six-cell battery protrudes from the back. The LT3103u maintains a consistent thickness of 1 inch from front to back, much like the 751h. Weighing 3.2 pounds, the LT3103u is 3.2 ounces heavier than the ASUS Eee PC 1101HA, but still fit easily and inconspicuously in a messenger bag.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Similar to the Acer Aspire 751h, the LT3103u has a not-quite-island-style layout; we can’t help but wonder if the two merged companies have been trading market research data. The flat keys have a slightly gritty surface, and offer a good amount of feedback. We had little trouble using the LT3103u to type this review.
While the touchpad is a smallish 2.5 x 1.5 inches (especially compared to the Toshiba mini NB205), it has little friction, and is gesture-enabled, which allowed us to flick, pinch, and zoom to change Web pages and images. The recessed pad and single mouse button below it are framed by a chrome accent, which is a classy touch.
Display and Audio
The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 glossy LED-backlit display on the LT3103u is no better or worse than those on competing 11-inch systems. Videos streamed from Hulu and played off of the hard drive were bright and crisp; horizontal viewing angles were large enough so that two people could sit on either side of the system and see the screen comfortably.
The stereo speakers on the LT3103u provide adequately loud sound for a netbook. While bass was lacking and higher tones are somewhat tinny, the midrange vocals on Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” came through well. Since the speakers are mounted on the underside of the system’s front lip, we found that audio became muffled and distorted when we had the netbook on our lap; placing the system on a hard surface resulted in an improved listening experience.
Ports and Webcam
Typical for a system of this size, the LT3103u has three USB ports, VGA, Ethernet, headphone and mic, and a 5-in-1 memory card slot.
A 0.3-megapixel resolution might seem a bit low for a webcam, but it’s more than sufficient on the LT3103u. A caller on Skype said that video of us was clear, and colors were represented well. While there was a bit of motion blur, it was nothing out of the ordinary. The microphone on the netbook picked up our voice cleanly, too.
Powered by a 1.2-GHz AMD Athlon 64 L110 Single-Core Processorand 2GB of RAM, the LT3103u’s performance falls between Intel’s Atom and ULV systems. Its score of 902 in Geekbench is about 200 points above that of the ASUS Eee Pc 1101HA, and its score of 1,143 in PCMark Vantage is a bit below that of notebooks featuring Intel ULV processors, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U350 (1,504) and the MSI X340 (1,658).
Unlike other 11-inch systems we’ve tested that run Windows XP, the LT3103u is outfitted with Vista Home Basic; as such, its boot time of 1:23 is almost 30 seconds longer than the netbook average. The Seagate Momentus 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive is more spacious than most netbooks, and was able to duplicate a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files at a rate of 16.7 MBps, slightly above the category average of 15.3 MBps.
The ATI Radeon X1270 graphics chip powered the LT3013u to a 3DMark06 score of 256, well above the netbook average of 96. However, it didn’t fare much better than others in this category when transcoding a 114MB MPEG-4 to AVI using Handbrake. The LT3103u took 28 minutes and 53 seconds, which is just about even with the category average. The system could not handle high-def video; a 720p WMV movie (Super Speedway) played at full screen using Windows Media Player was like watching a slideshow with music. A 720p MPEG-4 (the X Games 3D: The Movie trailer) also stuttered along at full screen.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The LT3103u’s 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card achieved slightly above average throughput of 20.7 Mbps and 18.5 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet from our access point, respectively. Surfing the Web was smooth, as was streaming music from Pandora. However, shows streamed from Hulu were less than stellar; a The Daily Show with Jon Stewart video was a little out of sync with the audio, and a Family Guy episode was slightly choppy.
The six-cell battery on the LT3103u lasted 4 hours and 38 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). That’s nearly two hours less than the netbook average for six-cell batteries (6:19), and low for 11-inch netbooks as well. The Acer Aspire One 751h (7:08), ASUS Eee PC 1101HA (8:44), and Lenovo IdeaPad S12 (5:41) all achieved much longer endurance.
In addition to our review configuration, Gateway also offers the LT3114u, which has the same specs, but has a Cherry Red finish. Two 10.1-inch models, the LT2001u and the LT2021u, sell for $299, and have a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive; the 2001u comes in Nightsky Black, and the 2021u is available in Cherry Red.
Software and Warranty
There’s little in the way of extraneous trialware on the LT3103u. The system comes with Microsoft Works, Microsoft Money Essentials, and 60-day trials of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 and Norton Internet Security 2009.
The notebook is covered by a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, and Gateway offers 24/7 toll-free tech support. To see how Gateway fared in our annual tech support showdown, click here.
The Gateway LT Series represents netbooks’ first awkward steps into adolescence. With an 11.6-inch display, it’s almost as big as a traditional notebook, but while its AMD CPU is more powerful than Intel Atom chips, it still has a way to go before it can compete with ULV processors. But for now, the increase in power is not enough to overcome its lack of endurance when compared to the Acer Aspire One 751h, which is $50 less expensive, or the ASUS Eee PC 1101HA, which costs $30 more. Still, the LT3013u’s design and $399 price tag makes it attractive for those looking for a larger netbook with more grown-up specs.