Editor's Notes: Parts of this review were taken from an earlier review. Also, though our review unit was black, the product pictured in this review is red. Images of the black Gateway MC-7803u are forthcoming, but for the sake of visual reference, the images included in this review suffice.
Gateway hasn’t exactly been known for its laptop designs in the past, but the MC Series makes a statement. With an eye-catching lid, 16-inch widescreen (with 16:9 aspect ratio) glass display and backlit keyboard, the Gateway MC7803u looks the part of a modern notebook and backs up those looks with Centrino 2 performance and decent graphics muscle. As long as you don’t mind carrying around a little extra weight and using a slightly cramped keyboard, this $999 notebook will satisfy.
Head-Turning (But Hefty) Design
With the MC7803u, Gateway dresses up the stock multimedia notebook in a new, attractive costume. Appearing less flashy than other systems like the HP HDX 16, Gateway went with a classic, automotive-inspired design. The black cover has just the right level of gloss, offset with a synthetic black leather strip that runs vertically down the center of the lid. A brushed silver trim on the lid and around the edges of the chassis adds a black-tie look to the entire system.
At 7.8 pounds and 15.3 x 10.4 x 1.7 inches, the MC7803u is a bit too large and heavy for anything but occasional travel, and it can be considered more of a desktop replacement than a mainstream notebook. In fact, it’s more than a pound heavier than the Sony VAIO FW series, which also features a 16-inch, 16:9 display. The Samsung R610-64G, another 16-incher, weighs just 6 pounds. The MC7803u is portable enough to tote around the house, but you won’t want to do it often.
The sleek design extends under the lid to the keyboard and touchpad. The brushed-metal palm rest is comfortable and sleek. Surrounding the touchpad itself is a glossy frame that angles in toward the pad, which adds to the MC7803u’s distinctive look without sacrificing much in the way of ergonomic comfort. Below are two large touch buttons that were quiet and easy to press. The touchpad on our unit provided just the right amount of friction, and the scroll bar on it was responsive and useful for scrolling through long Web sites.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the MC7803u was quiet and comfortable, but Gateway sacrificed the size of some keys to make the layout a perfect rectangle. The right Shift key, for example, is noticeably smaller than on a typical mainstream notebook. The entire layout is backlit with a fluorescent orange coloring that doesn’t quite match the outer lid. While useful, we would have preferred a different color or simply a white backlight.
Backlit Touch Buttons Galore
Two panels of touch-sensitive buttons flank the MC7803u’s keyboard. They’re not quite in your face, but they subtly reminded us of landing-strip lights. Starting below the Power button on the right are Video, Music, and Photo shortcut buttons for Windows Media Center. Below that is a shortcut button for the browser, and two more buttons for Windows Mail and your instant messaging program of choice. On the right side you’ll find the more typical Play/Pause, Stop, Fast-Forward, and Rewind buttons from top to bottom. And below those is a volume-control strip with a one-touch mute button beneath it.
These buttons, which control media playback on the right and shortcuts on the left, pulsate when pressed to show they’ve been activated. The buttons were a little finicky; they responded only when pressed with the pad of our finger.
The MC7803u’s 16-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel resolution display is fairly bright and crisp, and it features a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is good for watching movies but shorter than a 16:10 aspect screen. As with an increasing number of multimedia notebooks, this system lacks a raised bezel; the glass stretches from edge to edge, achieving a streamlined look.
When we watched a downloaded high-definition clip of dolphins swimming, we enjoyed vibrant blue colors and sharp details of the fins. To our dismay, the glossy screen has a relatively small range of viewing angles; we couldn’t tilt the screen farther back than a 95-degree angle. Horizontal angles were decent but when watching a movie sitting next to another person, we struggled to position the laptop just right to avoid glare.
The front-facing speakers, which stretch across the front ledge, produced loud, rich sound. When playing MIA’s “Paper Planes,” we could hear it from another room; the sound effects came through clear and detailed, but a subwoofer would have provided more oomph.
Ports and Webcam
The Gateway MC7803u has four USB ports, HDMI and VGA outputs, Ethernet and modem jacks, a Kensington lock slot, and a microphone and dual headphone ports. Also, an ExpressCard/54 slot and a 5-in-1 memory card reader sit on the right side. Considering they’re available on the Acer 6930G, we would have preferred an eSATA port and a Blu-ray drive as an option.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam delivered subpar video; our face appeared grayed out during a Skype call and in still shots. Gateway includes its own software for tweaking the resolution of the camera and adding effects (which doesn’t include cool avatars like Logitech’s or HP’s software), but that slaps only some basic features on top of murky video.
The MC7803u packs the Centrino 2 platform with a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800 processor and 4GB of RAM. Its score of 2,977 on PCMark Vantage (which tests Vista application performance) is about 400 points below the desktop replacement average and 1,166 points lower than the HP HDX 16’s score. (On the other hand, the configuration of the HDX 16 we tested costs nearly twice as much.) However, the similarly sized and priced Acer 6930G scored nearly 300 points higher.
Nevertheless, the MC7803u’s everyday performance lived up to our standards. It took 64 seconds to start up, which is right on target for a Vista notebook. When we tried playing a DVD and running a Norton Internet Security 2008 scan, we didn’t notice a hiccup in playback.
For digital movies, photos, or music storage, the 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive is spacious. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), the MC7803u posted a transfer time of 4 minutes and 16 seconds, or a rate of 19.9 MBps—that’s about 4 MBps slower than the desktop replacement average.
Gateway outfits the MC7803u with ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics card and 512MB of video memory. It scored 7,340 on 3DMark03 and 3,453 on 3DMark06 (the former tests DirectX 9 performance; the latter, DirectX 9 3D graphics, CPU, and 3D features). Considering the desktop replacement category includes much beefier gaming and multimedia machines, we’re not suprised that the MC7803u’s scores came in well below the averages of 14,486 (3DMark03) and 5,442 (3DMark06). Acer’s 6930G, which uses an Nvidia GeForce 9600M card with 512MB of memory, notched 11,835 in 3DMark03 and 4,275 in 3DMark06.
However, our real-world tests indicate that the MC7803u is good enough for casual gamers. The notebook managed 45 frames per second on F.E.A.R. on autodetect (with the resolution at 1024 x 768) and 36 fps with the resolution set to 1366 x 768 and effects set to maximum.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the MC7803u’s standard eight-cell battery lasted 3 hours and 50 minutes, which is almost an hour and a half better than the desktop replacement average, and about 20 minutes longer than the Acer 6930G managed.
The MC7803u delivered solid wireless results, with 20.7 Mbps of throughput at 15 feet from our access point and 19.6 Mbps at 50 feet. Its 802.11a/g/draft-n connection provided good Web-surfing speeds; NYTimes.com loaded in a standard 6 seconds, and Laptopmag.com in 8 seconds.
Software and Warranty
In addition to the Vista Home Premium operating system, Gateway includes Microsoft Works 9.0 and a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007. The MC7803u had very little bloatware, but the Start Menu included shortcuts to eBay, Napster, and an installation of NetZero. Gateway backs this laptop with a one-year limited warranty and one year of toll-free phone support.
The Gateway MC7803u is a good choice for those seeking a stylish laptop for home use with decent battery life and good graphics performance. The touch-sensitive controls aren’t for everyone, and it’s a tad bulky, but we like the flush glass display and overall design. Plus, it’s about $130 less than a similarly configured HDX 16. However, the $999 Acer 6930G offers better performance and a high-def video option in a lighter and equally stylish package. Still, as long as you don’t care about watching Blu-ray movies on your notebook, the MC7803u is quite a bargain.