It's the best kind of sticker shock. The Gateway NV55C54u delivers a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive for just $459. Gateway also throws in a dedicated number pad. However, this 15-inch budget laptop makes some compromises here and there to keep the cost low. So is the buyer better served by paying more for a faster machine? Read on to see how the NV55C54u measures up.
Unlike its cousin, the stylishly white NV55S05u, the NV55C54u features a solid black plastic design, accented with an embossed wood grain pattern. It seems a little tacky to us, but the finish resists fingerprints well. A Gateway logo rests on the left side of the lid and a glossy black bezel frames the 15.6-inch display.
Measuring 15 x 9.9 x 1.3 inches, the NV55C54u matches the NV55S05u in size and is just slightly larger than the Toshiba Satellite L755D and HP Pavilion g6. This Gateway weighs in at a light 4.8 pounds, and is just small enough to fit into a messenger bag or backpack.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The NV55C54u features a keyboard identical to the NV55S05u's except in color. The black island-style keyboard offers a large right Shift key and a dedicated number pad, as well as function row keys for all the most common functions. You'll also find shortcut keys for Gateway MyBackup and Social Networks. The keys themselves offered just enough tactile feedback to make typing a pleasant experience, but there's a fair amount of flex in the layout.
Likely due to cost, Gateway shrunk the touchpad from 3.4 x 1.8 inches on the NV55S05u to a somewhat uncomfortable 3.1 x 1.7 inches on the NV55C54u. Despite the decrease in size, the touchpad remained responsive and two-finger scrolling worked smoothly. The only problems we encountered were with pinch-to-zoom and rotate, which did not react as consistently as we would have liked.
Ports and Webcam
Gateway kept the port configuration of the NV55S05u the same on the NV55C54u, placing two USB 2.0 ports, a DVD burner, and a Kensington Lock slot on the right. There's another USB 2.0 port, headphone jack, microphone jack, HDMI, Ethernet, VGA, and the power jack on the left; and a 2-in-1 digital media card reader in the front.
The integrated 1.3-megapixel HD webcam captured video with crisp detail in 1280 x 1024p, although images appeared darker under fluorescent lighting than in sunlight. Sound during Skype calls was similarly crisp.
Like the NV55S05u, the NV55C54u is a relatively cool computer. After streaming Parks and Recreation on Hulu.com for 15 minutes, the notebook registered 92 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad and between the G and H keys. The underside of the notebook was even cooler at 79 degrees.
Display and Audio
The NV55C54u's 15.6-inch UltraBright LED LCD display didn't offer particularly vivid visuals. When we played the trailer for The Adventures of Tintin on YouTube in 1080p, Tintin's distinctive blue sweater and Snowy's white fur coat appeared slightly muted, even at full brightness. Viewing angles on the NV55C54u were similarly lackluster, washing out when the viewer shifted a foot in either direction. The screen itself is not especially bright, averaging only 167 lux when measured by our AEMC lightmeter. The HP Pavilion G6 came in higher, at 200 lux.
The speaker bar located above the keyboard provides just enough sound to get the job done. When we listened to Jimi Hendrix's rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," the audio struggled to fill a small room, and the bass was barely discernible.
The NV55C54u performed relatively poorly on PCMark07, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. With a first-generation 2.4-GHz Intel i3-370M CPU and 4GB of RAM, the NV55C54u turned in a score of 1,429, a score that falls well below the 15-inch category average of 2,238, and was bested by the Toshiba Satellite L755D (2.3-GHz AMD Quad-Core A6-3400M processor, 4GB of RAM) by 117 points. Only the HP Pavilion g6, which has the same processor and RAM, failed to surpass the NV55C54u, scoring 1,332. Still, we were able to stream movies, listen to music, surf the web, and rip CDs without seeing a slowdown.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, the Gateway took 7 minutes and 4 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses. This time is 8 seconds slower than the category average, but is noticeably faster than the Toshiba Satellite and the NV55S05u, which turned in times of 9:08 and 10:48, respectively.
The NV55C54u's 320GB 5,400-rpm SATA hard drive booted Windows 7 in 53 seconds, beating the Toshiba L755D by 7 seconds and the category average by almost 9 seconds. The HP Pavilion g6 (49 seconds) was even faster, though.
The Gateway also did reasonably well during our transfer speed test, copying 4.97GB of files on its 5,400-rpm SATA hard drive in only 3 minutes and 19 seconds. At 25.6 MBps, this beats the HP Pavilion g6 (22.4 MBps), the Toshiba Satellite L755D (22.4 MBps), and the NV55S05u (21.3 MBps).
Befitting its status as a budget laptop, the NV55C54u has little graphics capabilities. Its feeble Intel HD integrated graphics card performed abysmally during our tests. On 3DMark06, a synthetic benchmark designed to measure overall graphics power, the Gateway scored 1,751, almost 3,000 points lower than the category average of 4,748. By comparison, the HP Pavilion g6 notched a score of 1,602.
Don't expect to play any 3D games on this system. Playing World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 on resulted in an unplayable 10 frames per second. The HP Pavilion g6 turned in similar scores. The pricier Toshiba L755D scored 54 fps on recommended settings, and 27 fps with effects maxed out.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), the NV55C54u lasted 4 hours and 54 minutes. This beats the 4:37 category average and the HP Pavilion G6 (4:39), but not by a lot. Still, the NV55C54u outlasts the NV55S05u and the Toshiba Satellite L755D, which clocked in at 4:26 and 4:09, respectively.
The NV55C54u is the cheapest of 22 configurations of the 15-inch NV series, and ships with a 2.4-GHz Intel i3-370M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive for $399. More-expensive configurations include the NV57H44u, which features a dual-core 2.4-GHz Intel i5-2430M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB hard drive for $499, or the $629 NV75S17u, which comes with a quad-core 1.5-GHz AMD A8 CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 640GB hard drive, and AMD Radeon HD 6620G GPU.
The NV55C54u comes with a small number of standard utilities and software, including Cyber-link PowerDVD, a trial version of Norton Internet Security 2010, Norton Online Backup, and Microsoft Office Starter 2010. A full version of Microsoft Office has been pre-loaded onto the computer but requires the purchase of a product key to activate.
Gateway also includes some of its own proprietary software. MyBackup Solution and Recovery Management help users back up and recover lost or damaged files, while Launch Manager allows the user to launch the application of his or her choice from the Programmable key on the keyboard. The Social Networks application lets you instantly access Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube by pressing the social-networking button in the upper right of the keyboard. As nifty as this feature is, we were disappointed that the application didn't offer support for Google+, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
Other software include Nero 9 Essentials for burning and ripping CDs and DVDs, WildTangent Demo Games, Adobe Flash Player, and Adobe Reader.
Not surprisingly, when Best Buy offered the Gateway NV55C54u for $399, it sold out there in no time. Consumers should be able to find this laptop at other online retailers for $459, which is still a great deal. For $50 less than its closest competitor, the HP Pavilion g6, the Gateway provides slightly better performance, longer battery life, and a dedicated number pad. We prefer the design and larger touchpad of the HP, but overall the NV55C54u is one of the best notebook deals around.