A budget notebook with decent specs? We’ve seen plenty. But one with a small, portable shape and luxurious design? That’s less common. The Gateway UC7807u, a 13.3-inch thin-and-light that starts at $749 looks and performs like a more expensive notebook. There are, of course, some trade-offs: the UC Series isn’t the lightest system in its class, and we wouldn’t advise playing demanding games on it. But otherwise, this small system holds a lot of value.
The UC7807u’s sleek, industrial design (which is a Gateway re-badge of a Packard Bell notebook sold in Europe) belies its $799 price tag. Although the glossy, putty-colored lid is simple enough, when you open it you’ll find a black, brushed metal chassis. Other nice touches include a silver, brushed-metal hinge, responsive touch-sensitive volume and multimedia controls that glow red, and a circular touchpad.
However, at 5.3 pounds this machine is a bit heavy for a 13-inch notebook. For instance, the recently redesigned Apple MacBook, which also has a 13-inch display, weighs just 4.5 pounds. Moreover, the MacBook is just an inch thick, whereas the UC7807u is 1.5 inches thick. All in all, the UC7807u feels much heavier and chunkier in hand. Similarly, the Samsung Q310-34P weighs 4.8 pounds and the HP Pavilion dv3 (which we have not yet tested) has a rated weight of 4.3 pounds.
Touchpad and Keyboard
Despite its unusual shape, the trackpad on the UC7807u was easy to use in our tests: it’s spacious and provides just the right amount of friction. Unfortunately, the touchpad has no dedicated scroll area.
The touchpad button is just a single, brushed-metal button, as opposed to the traditional two distinct buttons on most machines. Nevertheless, it was responsive, if a bit stiff.
The keyboard has flat, close keys that’s neither an island layout (à la the MacBook line) nor a typical plush keyboard. Although we like the look of the layout, as well as the size of the keys themselves, the keyboard felt a bit mushy and it was noisier than we would like.
Display and Audio
The 13.3-inch display (1280 x 800) provided versatile viewing angles, despite its glossy finish, both from the sides and head-on, when we watched an episode of Heroes on DVD. The screen was noticeably dimmer than the 13-inch panel on the HP Pavilion dv3510nr, but not disturbingly so.
The speakers, which flank the multimedia controls above the keyboard, produced pleasant, but weak sound. Even with the volume cranked, when watching a movie alone in a quiet room with the notebook a few feet away, we still craved more oomph.
Ports and Webcam
In addition to a slot-loading 8X DVD burner (another stylish touch) the UC Series has three USB 2.0 ports; HDMI and VGA ports; an Ethernet jack; Kensington lock slot; and headphone and mic ports. We like that all of the ports are on the sides of the notebook, and that the USB ports are divided between the two. We also like the glowing red power button, which is built into the left side of the hinge. The notebook also has an ExpressCard/34 slot and a 4-in-1 memory card reader.
Although the 1.3-megapixel webcam produced smooth video, both video and still photos had poor resolution and dull colors. We like Gateway Web Camera’s large viewing box and simple interface, although it’s annoying that every time you finish recording a photo or video you have to confirm the location to which it will be saved (we could not change this in the settings).
The UC Series comes with a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU and 3GB RAM, which is generous for a budget machine. Its PCMark Vantage score of 2,685 falls about 150 points short of the category average, which becomes acceptable when you consider that this pool of scores includes considerably pricier machines. For example, the $1,299 Q310-34P scored 3,370—but it’s equipped with a faster 2.26-GHz processor.
The 5,400-rpm, 250GB drive transferred 4.97GB of multimedia files in 5 minutes and 19 seconds. That 16.0-MBps transfer rate falls just short of the category average of 16.9 MBps. And its 52 second boot time is fast for a Vista notebook.
When it came to our hands-on testing, the UC7807u moved fast: it launched Windows Media Player and Microsoft Word 2007 in 2 seconds, and Internet Explorer 7 in 3 seconds. We had no problem Web surfing and switching among several open tabs. To its credit, the UC7807u was able to transcode a 2-minute-and-16-second H.264 clip into an MPEG-4 file quickly: it took 53 seconds with no other programs running, and 54 with a DVD playing in the background.
The UC7807u did hiccup while playing a DVD in Windows Media Center; even clicking on the mute button caused the screen to go dark for a few seconds and for the playback to pause briefly.
Like other notebooks we’ve seen with Intel’s integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics card, the UC7807u delivered subpar numbers on our gaming benchmarks. It notched 1,739 and 722 on 3DMark03 and 3DMark06, respectively, which is about 1,000 and 500 points below average for the category.
The GMA 4500MHD won’t stop anyone from speedily competing everyday tasks, but it does rule out playing the latest 3D games. Take our frame-rate tests for F.E.A.R., a graphically demanding game: it ran an average of 16 frames per second on autodetect and 8 fps on maximum settings. Neither of these frame rates are playable. Meanwhile, the typical thin-and-light produces 37 and 15 frames per second, respectively, on the same tests.
Battery Life and Wireless
The biggest trade-off you make for the UC7807u’s low price is below-average endurance. The six-cell battery lasted 3:39 on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is 49 minutes shorter than the typical thin-and-light. For instance, the latest MacBook lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes on the same battery test, and the Q310-34P lasted 4:41.
When it comes to wireless performance, this machine’s scores are above average: its draft-n radio delivered strong throughput of 20.1 Mbps and 16.1 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively (the average throughput is 18.6 Mbps and 15.1 Mbps).
Software and Warranty
As far as consumer notebooks go, the UC Series doesn’t have too much bloatware. The bundled software package includes CyberLink Power2Go, Google Desktop, Microsoft Money Essentials, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (complete with a PowerPoint 2007 viewer), a six-day trial of Symantec Norton 360, and Windows Live Messenger.
The UC Series comes with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, including 24/7, toll-free phone support.
Gateway UC7807u Verdict
If style, portability, and a low price are all priorities, you can’t do much better than the Gateway UC7807u. Assuming you can live with its relatively short battery life and a little bit of extra weight compared with the 13-inch competition, this notebook is a very good choice.