Gateway NV5934u Review

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$599.99

Pros: Good overall performance ; Attractive design ; Decent gaming performance ; Strong wireless range ; Included backup software

Cons: Stiff, narrow mouse button ; Slow hard drive and boot time ; Keyboard could be more comfortable

Verdict: Good performance and a handsome (if aging) design makes this 15-inch notebook a solid buy.

Launched over a year ago, Gateway's NV series has been a staple on our ever-changing hot list of budget notebooks, thanks to its reliable performance, strong wireless range, and middle-of-the-road battery life and graphics performance. There's no doubt that the 15.6-inch NV5934u, which packs in Core i3 power for just $599, offers plenty of value. Now, other budget notebook makers have caught up to--and even surpassed--Gateway in terms of design. Nevertheless, this machine brings plenty to the table.

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Design

The Gateway NV series' design hasn't changed a lick since it debuted a year ago. The lid (ours was a teal color) has a fine honeycomb pattern and glossy finish, which makes it a fingerprint magnet. The mostly black chassis is set off by a cylindrical matte silver hinge. On the inside, the area above the keyboard is glossy, and houses responsive touch-sensitive controls for adjusting and muting the volume, enabling or disabling Wi-Fi, and launching Gateway MyBackup (there's also one programmable button). Otherwise, the palm rest and keyboard deck are made of plastic with a flat finish.

The keyboard doesn't extend fully to the edges of the chassis; there are 0.8 inches of space on either side. That's a shame, since flat keys are arranged closely together (more on that below). At 5.6 pounds and 14.7 x 10.2 x 1.5 inches, the NV5934u is a reasonable size for a mainstream machine: light enough to shuttle from room to room, but not ideal for long trips outside the house.

There's nothing wrong with the design; in fact, it will strike many shoppers as sleek. To our eyes, though, it's getting a bit stale.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The flat surface of the NV5934u's keyboard and slightly rough texture makes resting your fingers on it feel comfortable. The keyboard includes a full number pad and its essential keys, such as Enter, are amply sized. Still, the keyboard feels more cramped than others we've tested, particularly those with an island/chiclet-style layout. We scored 82 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs typing test. That's not bad compared to our all-time high of 88 wpm, but we found ourselves making more typos than usual.

We've never liked the NV series' stiff, narrow mouse button. We'd much prefer two larger buttons that are easier to press. Although the surface of the relatively large touchpad is smooth, the cursor felt a bit jumpy as we moved our finger across the desktop. Moreover, multitouch gestures, such as scrolling through web results with two fingers, didn't always work.

Display and Sound

The 15.6-inch (1366 x 768) display looked bright and crisp while we watched Tina Fey return to Saturday Night Live as a host (courtesy of Hulu), but the glossy finish made it difficult to view from the sides. Dipping the screen forward, as if we were on an airplane with the seat in front of us reclined, afforded clearer viewing angles.

The speakers provided plenty of volume and clarity. Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" sounded as it was supposed to: upbeat, without too much tinniness or metallic feedback.

Ports and Webcam

The NV5934u has a generous selection of ports, including four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and VGA output (for connecting to high-def and standard-def TVs and monitors, respectively), Ethernet and dial-up modem jacks, headphone and mic ports, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.

The VGA webcam wasn't very sharp, and a Skype caller said our image had a greenish tint. The lighting, however, was nice and bright, and there was no motion blur. Too bad the mic was weak, leaving us with faint sound.

Performance

For $599, the NV5934u comes equipped with a 2.13-GHz Intel Core i3-330M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive, and Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit). These are all good specs for the money, but it's important to realize that this is also standard: the MSI A6200 and HP G62t both offer the same Core i3 processor for the same price. The $599 A6200 and G62t also both offer 4GB of RAM, while the G62t also adds a larger (and faster) 7,200-rpm, 500GB hard drive.

That said, the NV5934u delivered solid performance. Its score of 4,702 on PCMark Vantage, a benchmark measuring overall Windows performance. That score is above the category average (3,885) and the MSI A6200 (4,191) but below what the HP G62t turned in.



Unfortunately, the NV5934u's 320GB hard drive is slower than other budget laptops on the market, even though its speed of 5,400 rpm is standard. It transferred a 4.97GB mixed media folder in 6 minutes and 29 seconds, which translates to a rate of 13.1 MBps. Meanwhile, the Satellite L505-ES5018 completed the same task at a rate of 18.7 MBps, and the MSI A6200, 23.2 MBps. The HP G62t transferred the same folder at a relatively blistering rate of 31.8 MBps. The sluggish hard drive likely has something to do with this notebooks's 90-second boot time, while the average system takes about a minute.

While using the NV5934u, we were able to zippily switch between various open tabs in Internet Explorer 8, including our bustling Twitter feed; NYTimes.com, which loaded stories briskly; and Facebook, where we quickly clicked through dozens of our friends' photos at a time. When it came to more heavy duty computing, the NV5934u converted a 114MB MPEG-4 clip to AVI in 1:04 using Oxelon Media Encoder, which is anywhere from 4 to 10 seconds faster than other budget 15-inch notebooks we've tested lately, including the HP G62t, MSI A6200, and Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018.

Graphics

Although its integrated Intel GMA HD card isn't impressive compared to discrete offerings by Nvidia and ATI, this is pretty much the only option you'll find in a sub-$600 machine. Still, its score of 1,736 on 3DMark06, a gaming benchmark, is better than many competing notebooks. The MSI A6200 and HP G62t, which have the same graphics card, notched 1,726 and 1,377 on the same test.



The NV5934u managed a playable 46 frames per second in World of Warcraft with a resolution of 1024 x 768 and a useless 11 fps at the native resolution, 1366 x 768. That's better than the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018, which played WoW at 32 fps and 21 fps, respectively. (The MSI A6200 and HP G62t fared better than the NV5934u, with maximum frame rates of 53 fps and 42 fps).

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The NV5934u's six-cell battery lasted 3:24 on the LAPTOP Battery Test, in which the computer continuously surfs the web using Firefox. Although the Satellite L505-ES5018 couldn't break three hours (lasting just 2:53), most other notebooks in this price class can make it to around four hours unplugged. The MSI A6200 lasted 3:52. Once again, the HP G62t bests them all, lasting 4:03 on a charge.



The Atheros 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi radio delivered throughput of 53.3 Mbps at 15 feet and 29.7 Mbps at 50 feet, which is excellent. The only other budget notebook we've seen that comes close to this performance is the Satellite L505-ES5018, which manages a comparably reliable 50.7 Mbps at 15 feet and 32.8 Mbps at 50 feet.

Energy Efficiency

In addition to battery life, we also like to test how energy efficient a laptop is. The NV5934u took 1:08 to charge to 80 percent, and 1:35 to fully charge. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 21.4 is greener than the average mainstream system (36.8), as well as that of the MSI A6200 (27), and the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018's 39. Only the HP G62t, which has a rating of 20.2, fared better.

Software and Warranty

The NV5934u comes with a predictable array of bundled software and trialware, including CyberLink Power2Go and PowerDVD8, eBay Worldwide, Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer, a trial version of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (including a PowerPoint 2007 viewer and compatibility pack), a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2009, and Windows Live Essentials.

Gateway MyBackup is also preinstalled; it has a clean interface that lets novices check off common file types and advanced users cherry pick specific files and folders in a traditional Windows file tree format. The software also makes it easy to select a storage destination (such as an external drive) and then schedule backups.

The notebook comes with a one-year warranty including 24/7 toll-free phone support. See how Gateway fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown.

Verdict

For $599, the Gateway NV5934u offers similar specs to the competition--a 2.13-GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive--but it delivers slightly better performance. However, for the same price the HP G62t offers a faster, larger hard drive, better performance, and longer battery life. Still, if you prefer the look of the Gateway NV to the HP G62t, you'll be getting a well-rounded notebook for an affordable price.

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CPU 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330M
Operating System MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 16
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel GMA HD
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
USB Ports 4
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1 year/24/7 toll-free
Size 14.7 x 10.2 x 1.0-1.5 inches
Weight 5.6 pounds
Company Website http//:www.gateway.com