Editors’ Note: Portions of this review were taken from our earlier review of the Gateway MC7801u.
If an economic recession means cutting back on more luxurious features for the sake of saving money, then the Gateway MD Series is right for the times. Drawing from the fashion-forward style of Gateway’s $999 16-inch MC Series, the MD Series (we reviewed the MD7801u) delivers the same stylish chassis with a few cost-saving tweaks, including a smaller 15.6-inch screen and nonbacklit keyboard. But unlike most budget systems, the MD Series has very few trade-offs for $799. Its everyday performance is solid, and you get a whopping 500GB of storage and more than 5 hours of battery life.
Elegant, Yet Bulky, Design
The MD Series sports the same classic, automotive-inspired design of Gateway’s MC Series, but forgoes a few subtle details. The black cover (also available in burgundy) has just the right level of gloss and is offset with a black, silver-bordered strip (which was leather-coated on the MC Series) that runs vertically down the center of the lid. A brushed silver trim on the lid and around the edges of the chassis still provide a black-tie look to the entire system.
Like we found with the MC Series, at 6.8 pounds and 15.3 x 10.4 x 1.7 inches, the MD7801u is a bit large for anything but occasional travel, and by size alone it can be considered more of a desktop replacement than a mainstream notebook. While it weighs just a tad more than 15.4-inch systems like the 6.4-pound HP Pavilion dv5 or the 6.6-pound Lenovo IdeaPad Y530, it is, respectively, 1.9 inches and 1.1 inches longer than each. Nevertheless, the MD Series is portable enough to tote around from the living room to the bedroom, and we were able to squeeze it into a backpack.
Around the chassis are 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 along with a DVD drive. While no models of the MD Series are available yet with a Blu-ray drive, it may become an option at a later date.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Under the lid, the black, 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 MD7801u’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.
The keyboard on the MD7801u was comfortable, but provided a bit too much tactile feedback, which resulted in an annoying clicking sound when we struck the keys. 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. While we missed the illuminated keys of the MC Series, we didn’t have any problems typing while working in a darker room.
To the right of the keyboard is a strip of orange touch-sensitive buttons, including Play/Pause, Stop, Fast-Forward, and Rewind from top to bottom. Below those is a volume-control strip with a one-touch mute button beneath it. These buttons pulsate when pressed to show they’ve been activated; similar to those on the MC Series, they were a bit finicky, but after getting the right feel down we had no problems controlling the volume and maneuvering through our Windows Media Player playlist with just the touch panel.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel resolution display is bright and crisp, and it features a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is good for watching movies though shorter than a 16:10 aspect screen. Also sacrificed in the name of economy is the edge-to-edge glass screen found on the MC Series; the MD’s display is surrounded by an inch-thick bezel.
We enjoyed watching our Saturday Night Live: The Best of Mike Myers DVD on the MD Series. However, to our dismay, the glossy display 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, clear sound. When listening to The Eagles’ “Tequila Sunrise” on Pandora.com, the speakers were audible from the next room; instrumentals were detailed, but like we felt with the MC Series, a subwoofer would have provided more oomph.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam delivered adequate images during a Skype video call but our caller complained a bit about our face appearing grayed out. The image improved somewhat when we adjusted the brightness and contrast using Gateway’s included webcam utlity. The same software allowed for adding effects (which doesn’t include fun avatars like Logitech’s or HP’s software) that spices up video with some basic colored borders and clip art.
The MD7801u packs a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor and 4GB of RAM. Its score of 3,051 on PCMark Vantage (which tests Vista application performance) is about on target for a mainstream notebook (only 22 points below the average), and 31 points higher than Lenovo’s IdeaPad Y530, which starts at $649 on Lenovo’s Web site.
The MD Series’ everyday performance lived up to our standards. It took 55 seconds to start up, which is about five seconds faster than the category average. When we played a DVD while running a Norton Internet Security 2008 scan, we didn’t notice a hiccup in playback. Similarly, multitasking was smooth; there were no issues while writing this review in Microsoft Word, conducting a video call in Skype, and having multiple Firefox browser windows and tabs open.
The 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive is spacious (and nearly twice the size of that in the MC Series) and provides plenty of room for photos, videos, and music. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), the MD7801u posted a transfer time of 4 minutes and 41 seconds, or a rate of 18.1 MBps; that’s about 1 MBps faster than the mainstream average.
As expected, the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics card on the MD Series didn’t blow us away. On 3DMark06, the MD7801u managed a score of only 854, and on 3DMark03 it delivered 2,109. Its 3DMark03 score is 2,879 points below the mainstream category average, and its 3DMark06 score is 1,853 points below average. Nevertheless, a high-action scene in a DVD of Heroes played back smoothly when we output it via the HDMI port to a 32-inch TV at 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution.
The MD Series delivered an almost-playable 26 frames per second on F.E.A.R. with automatic settings enabled but 12 fps with the game set to the notebook’s native screen resolution and effects dialed up to the max. On the other hand, we were successfully able to run Second Life and walk and fly our avatar around with little buffering, which makes this notebook fine for casual gaming.
Battery Life and Wireless
On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the MD7801u’s standard eight-cell battery lasted a stellar 5 hours and 18 minutes, which is just about 2 hours longer than the mainstream average, and more than an hour and a half longer than the Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 managed. Compared with its more expensive older brother, the MC Series (which packages power-draining discrete graphics), it lasts 1 hour and 28 minutes longer on a charge.
The MD Series delivered solid wireless results, with 18.8 Mbps of throughput at 15 feet from our access point and 16.1 Mbps at 50 feet. Its 802.11b/g/draft-n connection provided good Web-surfing speeds; we enjoyed watching an episode of NBC’s Mama’s Boys on Hulu.com without any skips or pauses.
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 MD Series had very little bloatware, but the Start Menu included shortcuts to Napster and an installation of NetZero. Gateway backs this laptop with a one-year limited warranty and one year of toll-free phone support.
Gateway trimmed some features from its premium multimedia MC Series in the hopes of creating a more affordable but comparably performing 15.6-inch notebook, and it mostly succeeded. The $799 MD7801u is a value-conscious laptop with a premium design, solid performance, and excellent battery life. While similarly priced laptops are more portable, the Gateway MD Series is a great-looking machine that lasts a long time on a charge.