Time and again, Gateway's NV series has made our shortlist of top budget notebooks, but with a few caveats. We've always enjoyed its balance of performance and battery life and, with the exception of its lone mouse button, have praised its design. The revamped NV59C09u ($799), a 15.6-inch laptop, has a slimmer, lighter build that includes a social networking hotkey and dashboard, along with a Blu-ray player, something most sub-$800 laptops don't offer. This time around, though, the NV's performance was less impressive in comparison to other notebooks in the same price range.
After churning out umpteen NV notebooks with updated specs but the same design, Gateway has re-thought this line of laptops. Following a trend set by HP and Dell, Gateway ditched its super glossy lid and instead went with a subtly patterned one whose finish has a bit too much kick to be called matte, but is still subdued enough that it's not reflective. The result is an attractive, more understated surface that masks fingerprints. The lid and palm rest's silver color and fine pattern of wavy lines should also prove gender-neutral.
Gone, too, are the touch-sensitive multimedia controls above the keyboard. Instead, there's a thin chrome strip above the keys that houses LED lights for Wi-Fi and battery status, as well as a discreet power button. The multimedia keys are now baked into the top row of the keyboard, as they are on Macs. In addition to multimedia keys, there's a dedicated button for launching Social Network Service--Gateway's own dashboard for Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube (more on that later).
The chiclet-style keyboard--basically, Acer's FineTip design--is new to the NV series, too, although Gateway still fits in a full number pad, something many other 15-inch systems lack. As a result, though, the touchpad is placed left of center, so that it falls in the center of the keyboard, but not the palm rest itself. The NV59C09u feels surprisingly compact at 15 x 10 x 1.3 inches and 5.4 pounds; it weighs the same as the Editors' Choice-winning HP G62t and is lighter than the minimalist 5.6-pound 15-inch MacBook Pro and older 5.6-pound Gateway NV.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Despite having an island-style layout and a full number pad, the NV59C09u's keyboard is still spacious enough that the Enter, Backspace, and right Shift keys are all full-sized (the left Shift key is another story). Although the keys weren't terribly bouncy, we were still able to type at a fast clip, notching an all-time high score of 100 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test.
The large, gesture-enabled touchpad responded smoothly to pinching and zooming, as well as to one-fingered scrolling. With a smooth, low-friction surface and an easy-to-press touch button to match, this redesigned NV is an improvement over its predecessors.
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Even after playing a Hulu clip at full screen for 15 minutes, the notebook stayed cool, measuring 90 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad and 92 degrees at the center of the keyboard and on its bottom side. True, the average notebook this size also measures 90 degrees around the touchpad, but it also reaches temperatures of 93 degrees on the keyboard and 98 degrees on the bottom, the side that gets the least ventilation.
Display and Sound
When we watched the first Iron Man movie on Blu-ray, the picture looked bright and sharp on the 15.6-inch screen, as did a lower-resolution SNL Digital Short on Hulu. Still, the benefits of having a Blu-ray drive are mostly lost on a 1366 x 768 display. A higher resolution would have been nice, although we suppose that's a reasonable trade-off to make in a sub-$800 machine.
The speaker strip, barely noticeable above the keyboard, produced slightly metallic bass notes when we played "Telephone" by Lady Gaga and "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones.
Ports and Webcam
The NV59C09u includes every port most users could need, including three USB 2.0 ports; HDMI and VGA output for high-def and standard-def monitors and TVs, respectively; an Ethernet jack; and headphone and mic ports. Rounding out the list is a 5-in-1 memory card reader. The Blu-ray player takes up most of the right side, save for two of the USB ports; the rest of the ports are on the left side (the memory card slot is tucked into the front edge).
The 1.3-megapixel webcam has a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024. While our photos showed good colors and brightness, we could only make out a fair amount of detail, even at the highest resolution. Our video, meanwhile, showed motion blur even at VGA resolution, while the laptop's microphone produced echoing sound, too. In general, the Gateway Video Web Camera software is too minimalist; there aren't even thumbnails of photos and videos you've just shot.
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Click to enlargeThe NV59C09u's list of specs echo what we've seen on lots of budget notebooks lately: a 2.13-GHz Intel Core i3-330M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive. In general, it performs better than the average mainstream laptop. Its score of 4,846 in PCMark Vantage, for instance, falls almost 700 points above the average.
Then again, the less expensive HP G62t ($599) comes with the same processor and amount of RAM, as well as a larger, faster 7,200-rpm hard drive, and it notched a much better score of 5,306. The Dell Studio 15, which packs a more powerful Core i5 processor and a 7,200-rpm hard drive, also steamrolls the NV with a score of 5,735. The Samsung R580, which has a 2.26-GHz Core i5-430 CPU and 4GB of RAM, bested them all with a score of 5,804.
The NV converted a 114MB MPEg-4 file to AVI in 1 minute and 4 seconds using Oxelon Media Converter, which is faster than average. The machine was powerful enough that we didn't notice Norton Internet Security running in the background as we watched a Hulu clip at full screen. Meanwhile, its boot time of 1:03 is right on the money in terms of what you can expect of a notebook this size. However, its 5,400-rpm hard drive transferred a 4.97GB mixed media file in 4:51--a rate of 17.5 MBps, which is slower than the mainstream average of 22.5 MBps as well as the Samsung R580's speed of 26.2 MBps.
Although the NV59C09u has the same integrated Intel GMA HD graphics card that most budget notebooks have nowadays, its performance is far from impressive. Starting with benchmarks, it scored just 1,730 in 3DMark06, whereas the average mainstream laptop manages 3,442; the R580, which has discrete Nvidia GeForce GT310M graphics, notched 3,889 on the same test.
The NV's frame rates in real-world games weren't good either. Even with the resolution downgraded to 1024 x 768, it averaged 32 frames per second in World of Warcraft, a not-too-demanding title (it reached 9 fps at 1366 x 768 resolution). With Far Cry 2, a game with more detailed graphics, the results were dismal: 11 fps at 1024 x 768, and 5 fps at 1366 x 768. The R580, meanwhile, averaged 137 fps in World of Warcraft and 46 fps in Far Cry 2 at a resolution of 1024 x 768.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The NV's six-cell battery lasted 3:49 on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is just three minutes longer than the average mainstream laptop (the comparable R580 only lasted 3:22). That said, the HP G62t, which also weighs 5.4 pounds, lasted 4:03 on the same test (the Dell Studio 15 lasted an impressive 4:45, but only with a nine-cell battery that brought the weight up to a hefty six pounds).
The Atheros 802.11b/g/n wireless radio delivered strong throughput of 46.4 Mbps at 15 feet and 26.7 Mbps at 50 feet.
Click to enlargeThe NV59C09u took 1:01 to charge to 80 percent and 1:32 to fully recharge. Its LAPTOP battery efficiency rating (a number we derive by dividing the battery life by the watts consumed while charging) is 19.2, which is more efficient than the category average of 33, as well as the G62t (20.2) and the Studio 15 (29).
Gateway's Social Networking Service, a long, rectangular dashboard that you can drag around the desktop, is to Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr what Tweetdeck is to Twitter (unfortunately, Gateway's software doesn't work with Twitter, which is a bummer). From this dashboard, you can view your news feed, as well as post status updates. You can even filter the feed so that you're just looking at status updates or friends' recent photos.
It's a neat idea with an easy-to-grasp interface and simple-enough setup (you have to authorize, say, your Facebook account to connect with Gateway's software the way you would with any other third-party app). However, we noticed that the various feeds often took a couple seconds to load, a problem you likely won't have if you're viewing your social networks in your browser.
Warranty and Other Software
Like older NV notebooks, the NV59C09u comes with Gateway MyBackup software, which makes it easy to select folders and file types that the machine automatically backs up to the destination of your choice (such as an external hard drive or a CD/DVD drive). The bright and minimal interface is easy to use, although people who want to back up their files in the cloud will still be using the client software for whatever service they use.
Less appealing is the floating dock for Gateway's webcam software, which appears whenever you drag the cursor to the top of the screen. It's easy for this box to get in the way by mistake when you're using the search bar in Firefox or Internet Explorer.
The notebook's typical bundled software includes trials for Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, complete with a compatibility pack and PowerPoint 2007 viewer, as well as for Norton Internet Security. Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer also comes pre-installed. Less common programs include CyberLink Power2Go and PowerDVD 8, along with a plug for eBay. Like many other notebook vendors, Gateway also includes its own suite of utilities, designed to address everything from data recovery to power management.
The NV59C09u comes with a generous two-year warranty, while most other laptops are covered for just one year, unless you purchase extended coverage. The warranty includes 24/7 toll-free phone support. To get get an idea of how helpful Gateway's phone support is, click here.
At $799, the 15.6-inch Gateway NV59C09u is a good pick for notebook shoppers who want a built-in Blu-ray drive but don't want to spend a lot of money. The NV series' two-year guarantee also means you'll save money on an extended warranty. However, while the NV has longer battery life than the comparable Samsung R580 ($829), we prefer the latter because of its discrete Nvidia graphics. If you can do without Blu-ray playback, we'd instead steer you toward the HP G62t, a $599 notebook that performs better and lasts longer on a charge.