We got our lucky paws on Gateway's first-ever gaming machine, the P-171XL FX Edition, and threw this bad boy through our tests to find out how well it holds up against system-crunching titles like Crysis. We love the hard-core components Gateway includes for the $3,000 price tag, and we think this system has plenty to offer gamers who demand screaming performance and cutting-edge design.
Design of the P-171XL FX Edition
It's immediately obvious that this laptop was designed with fraggers in mind. The P-171XL has a glossy black shell with Halloweenesque orange, silver, and carbon-fiber-colored accents. Inside, above its 17-inch matte widescreen, are a webcam, microphone, and small blue LED light that glows when the webcam is on. Even at just 1.3 megapixels, the camera produced a crisp picture that reproduced colors quite well and wasn't too dark or too light.
Gateway packs the P-171XL with a full-size, copper-bordered keyboard and number pad. We appreciated the large touchpad and included fingerprint reader. Five multimedia buttons, including DVD, Windows Media Center, and music quick-launch buttons, sit just above the keyboard. Each is flush with the surface and glows orange, making for a clean-looking package. A touch-button volume control was handy for tweaking the volume on the fly.
Three USB ports are on board, but we prefer four or more. We can't complain too much, because on the right side are both an HDMI port and an eSATA port for hooking your notebook up to an LCD TV or an eSATA external hard drive. Other features include a VGA port, a headphone and microphone jack, Gigabit Ethernet, ExpressCard slot, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.
Complementing the P-171XL's 1920 x 1200-pixel display is an HD-DVD/DVD-Multi drive. We watched an HD DVD using CyberLink PowerDVD Ultra and noticed that dark scenes, such as a night shot of a speedboat chase in Miami Vice, had a noticeable amount of noise. Well-lit scenes were crisp and beautiful, however. And now that HD DVD is defunct, Gateway is working on integrating Blu-ray into future iterations.
We were also disappointed with the screen's viewing angles; anyone sitting too off-center is going to see a large drop in color quality and picture visibility. The display is also susceptible to glare, so you'll want to keep the lights low during movies.
Gaming Performance of the P-171XL FX Edition
This notebook's 2.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900 processor is among the fastest in Intel's lineup. Gateway also included the Nvidia GeForce Go 8800M GTS, which fired out 156 frames per second on F.E.A.R. in autodetect mode, after we updated the drivers online. The more expensive Dell XPS M1730 ($3,800), which features the same processor, was able to knock out a comparable 152 frames per second, owing to its two GeForce Go 8700M GT cards in SLI mode.
With the graphics set to High in Crysis, landscapes were absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, the P-171XL had trouble rendering everything perfectly. Crysis is notorious for bringing systems to their knees, but we were disappointed with the average 8 frames per second during our half-hour gameplay test. With the optimal settings (set to High), Crysis averaged 15 frames per second and was still playable for the most part, albeit a bit too jittery for our tastes. Nonetheless, the graphics were still stunning. We recommend playing on Medium for the best gameplay. Our Call of Duty 4 test yielded strong results: We averaged 79 frames per second over an hour of gameplay with the settings on optimum. Even during a large 15-minute firefight, we averaged 73 frames per second.
Good Overall Performance
The P-171XL's CPU, 3GB of RAM, and 400GB 7,200-rpm hard drive helped it yield a solid 26,308 on our 3DMark03 benchmark tests, which was on a par with the Dell XPS M1730's score of 26,983. On 3DMark06, the P-171XL held up just as well against the M1730, where it scored an average of 8,032--just below the Dell's 8,064 score but still trailing the Alienware Area-51 m9750's 8,706 score. The P-171XL's PCMark Vantage score of 4,045 smoked the Vigor Artorius Pro gaming rig that we reviewed recently, which managed just 2,401 but is about $600 cheaper.
We had no complaints with the P-171XL's above-average Wi-Fi performance of 19.6 Mbps at a distance of 15 feet, and 15.9 Mbps at 50 feet. Battery life with Wi-Fi off clocked in at 2 hours and 37 minutes--not horrible for a gaming machine but still nearly an hour below average for desktop replacements.
Gateway P-171XL FX Edition Verdict
Overall, the Gateway P-171XL FX Edition is a solid rig, and at its $2,999 price point, it holds its own surprisingly well against the big boys of gaming. The eSATA and HDMI ports, and the 1920 x 1200 display, sweeten the deal. We were pleased with the performance in Call of Duty 4, but Crysis performance was just okay. We would wait until Gateway rolls out a Blu-ray option before spending this kind of dough.
Editors' Note: This review has been modified from its original version due to driver updates that significantly affected gaming performance.
Alienware Area-51 m9750 Review
This is the first Core 2 Duo/SLI laptop available, and its speed blew our minds.
Gateway M-150XL Review
Gateway's M-150XL looks slick and offers plenty of power for the price, but a few shortcomings keep it from being a top pick.