Pros: Best 3D performance for the price; Beautiful high-definition display; HDMI and eSATA ports; Good productivity performance
Cons: Speakers not very powerful; No Blu-ray drive
Verdict: Gateway's Centrino 2 desktop replacement offers sizzling gaming performance at an unbeatable price.
Editor's note: Although our review unit came configured with a fingerprint reader and Bluetooth, these options are not available in the production model.
Gateway shook up the gaming notebook market earlier this year by pairing a high-end graphics card with a middle-of-the-road processor in the P-6831FX. The system was so popular that Best Buy temporarily jacked up the price by a few hundred dollars. The P-7811FX continues the same winning formula with new components: Nvidia's blazing GeForce 9800 GTS graphics card, complete with 512MB of video memory, and a new Intel Centrino 2 processor, the 2.26-GHz P8400. Add in a flashy (almost garish) design and a high-definition display, and you have one of the best value-price rigs of 2008.
Using the same design and color scheme as theP-6831FX, the P-7811FX is done up in a glossy black finish with a copper and silver trim. At 15.8 x 11.8 x 1.7 inches and 9.2 pounds, it's a cool-looking chassis without too much bling. A checkerboard pattern and FX logo grace the lid, which opens to reveal a stunning 17-inch, high-resolution (1920 x 1200) widescreen display.
The full-size keyboard is spacious and comfortable and features a full numerical keypad, both of which are surrounded by copper trim. Sandwiched between two average sounding speakers are a flush-mounted, orange-backlit media player control panel and a sliding volume control. The touchpad was responsive and is conveniently positioned to provide easy access to the keyboard without requiring too much wrist movement. Nestled between two mouse buttons is a biometric fingerprint reader.
Multimedia and Connectivity
The 1080p screen on the P-7811FX provided crisp imagery and reasonably wide viewing angles, but you may want to keep ambient light to a minimum as the glossy coating tends to be a bit too reflective. We watched a DVD of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The movie looked great and showed no noticeable motion blur, but the speakers were merely adequate. We listened to Eric Clapton and J.J Cale's "The Road to Escondido" and felt the bass was lacking. A subwoofer would have helped.
The 8X DVD multi-drive features LabelFlash etching technology, which is nice for making your own custom labels, but we'd gladly trade that for a Blu-ray optical drive. However, you do get a nice selection of I/O connections, including HDMI and FireWire ports, three USB ports, a VGA jack, and an eSATA port, which makes it easy to back up the 200GB (7,200-rpm) hard drive to an external device. A 5-in-1 card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot round out the connectivity offerings.
Embedded in the upper bezel are a 1.3-megapixel webcam and microphone, which can be activated using Gateway's Camera Assistant Software (included). The webcam proved more than adequate for video chats and quick e-mail snapshots.
Because it's based on the new Mobile Intel PM45 chipset, the P-7811FX supports the latest DDR3 RAM, and it comes with a whopping 4GB of the speedy dual-channel memory. Even though the 2.26-GHz Core 2 Duo processor isn't the fastest in Intel's Centrino 2 stable, it's certainly a step up from the 1.67-GHz Core 2 Duo CPU on the P-6831FX. This notebook managed an impressive score of 3,994 on our PCMark Vantage test, which measures application performance in Vista. That's about 300 points higher than theDell Studio 17, a non-Centrino 2 system. The P-7811FX did not hesitate one bit while running the webcam software, surfing the Web, and performing a virus scan all at the same time.
Even more impressive was the P-7811FX's 3D muscle; armed with Nvidia's GeForce 9800 GTS 512MB graphics controller, the system turned in a very high 135 frames per second on our F.E.A.R. gaming test with the resolution set to 1024 x 768. Playing a few rounds at that setting, we didn't notice any hiccups or jaggies. Coupled with a 3DMark06 score of 8,679--nearly 4,000 points above average--tells us that this system can hang with the more expensive gaming notebooks. The only other system to best this score is theAlienware Area-51 m9750, and then only by 27 points.
On our Call of Duty 4 tests (we measured the frame rate using the FRAPS application), we were able to cut through the first two levels with a stellar average of 90 fps with the settings optimized and the screen set to a resolution of 1024 x 768. That's 11 frames per second better than theP-171XL FXedition, which had a weaker Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTS graphics card. When we turned up the juice, setting the resolution to its native 1920 x 1200, and turning all of the eye-candy on, we averaged a very playable 38 frames per second.
In Crysis, we set the resolution to 1920 x 1200 and all of the texture settings to Very High, and averaged just 17 fps. While the game was playable running through the forests, firefights were too sluggish for our liking. When we set the system to optimal, the game defaulted to High settings and a resolution of 1024 x 768; we averaged 21 frames per second, and gameplay was more fluid. While not stellar, it's a very noticeable improvement of 6 fps over the P-171XL FX notebook.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The P-7811FX also features Intel's new WiFi Link 5100AGN wireless connection, which supports 802.11a/b/g/n networking. Throughput was decent, coming in at 17.6 Mbps at 15 feet and 15.2 Mbps at 50 feet from our access point. These numbers are on a par with the category averages of 17.8 Mbps and 14.8 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively.
The 9-cell battery lasted for 2 hours and 5 minutes on our DVD rundown test, which is 17 minutes longer than the category average and long enough to view most movies without requiring a recharge. In our Laptop Battery Test (which tests endurance by continuously surfing the Web until the battery dies), the P-7811FX lasted over an hour longer at 3:14. That's to be expected, because this test doesn't tax the system as much.
Solid productivity performance, excellent graphics, and a reasonable price tag make the Gateway P-7811FX a wise choice for anyone seeking a desktop replacement notebook that can do it all. Some multimedia mavens may prefer theHP Pavilion dv7, which offers better sound and adds a Blu-ray drive and TV tuner for $500 more. But this Gateway system blows away HP's dv7 when it comes to 3D games and its higher-resolution display.
|CPU||2.26-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400|
|Operating System||MS Windows Vista Home Premium|
|RAM Upgradable to||4GB|
|Hard Drive Size||200GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||7,200rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive||DVD+R DL|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTS|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Firewire|
|Ports (excluding USB)||eSATA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||VGA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Modem|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Microphone|
|Card Slots||5-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||One-year parts-and-labor/24/7 toll-free phone|
|Size||15.8 x 11.8 x 1.7 inches|