Quick question: Which affordably-priced notebook class features systems with 11.6-inch displays and small, lightweight bodies that barely tip the scale at 3 pounds? If netbooks immediately come to mind, think again. Gateway's new EC1430u ultraportable has a decidedly netbook-like design, but differentiates itself from mini-notebooks by offering an Intel Pentium dual-core processor that offers a more robust Windows 7 computing experience than the relatively sluggish Atom CPU. Priced at $549, the EC1430u is $150 more expensive than many netbooks, but with the premium you get better performance and over 8 hours of battery life. We just wish the keyboard had a firmer feel.
Measuring 11.2 x 8.0 x 1.2 inches, the EC1430u is virtually identical in stature to the Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T (11.2 x 8.0 x 1.2 inches) and the HP Mini 311 (11.4 x 8.0 x 1.2 inches), a notebook and a netbook that both feature 11.6-inch displays. Like those systems, the EC1430u weighs just 3.2 pounds (and lacks an optical drive), making it a PC that's remarkably easy to carry.
An understated beauty, the EC1430u features Gateway's black NightSky finish on the lid, which draws the eye with its gloss--along with a fair number of fingerprints. Lifting the lid reveals a matte black keyboard and base that complements the lid and (thankfully) doesn't attract smudges. The entire system is highlighted by small metallic touches in the form of the hinges, mouse buttons, strips for the status indicator on the lower-left of the base, and the Gateway logo on the lid. A subtle dot pattern covers the palm rest area and the thin strips that flank the keyboard.
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The right side of the system contains two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, Ethernet and Kensington lock ports, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader; the left side houses one additional USB port, HDMI, VGA, and the power port; the back of the machine is bare, and we like that the six-cell battery sits flush against the system; the bottom front of the EC1430u has a pair of stereo speakers and switches to activate or deactivate the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. While a Bluetooth switch was present on our review unit, it did not possess Bluetooth compatibility.
Keyboard and Touchpad
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The keyboard on the EC1430u offered a mixed typing experience. Although we had no problem typing this review on the system (we liked the keyboard's wide girth and large right Shift key), we didn't like the amount of flex beneath the island-style keys; the typing experience was soft compared to the Acer Timeline 1810T, which has a similar layout. Secondary functions are highlighted on their respective keys in red lettering.
A relatively large touchpad (2.8 x 1.5 inches) let us whip the cursor across the desktop with ease, but its real treat is the multitouch functionality that let us use pinch gestures to zoom in and out of photos, as well as rotate them. The mouse buttons, however, are pretty awful; they're small and stiff. These buttons are even smaller than those found on the Timeline 1810T, which at least extend beyond the front lip of the system.
Display, Audio, and Webcam
The EC1430u sports a glossy 11.6-inch (1366 x 768-pixel) display. We saw bright colors and rich blacks when we streamed the high-definition version of Confessions of a Superhero from Hulu. Viewing angles were wide, but due to the nature of the glossy display, reflections are an issue.
When we fired up Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song" on Slacker, and then The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "The Wind Cries Mary" MP3, the bottom-mounted speakers delivered decent volume. The Dolby Audio technology gave the tunes extra richness, and we could hear a clear distinction between the high- and low-end sounds.
When chatting with friends using Meebo and the 0.3-megapixel webcam, they reported seeing lifelike skin tones and only a minimum of motion blur when quickly moving. The webcam allows users to shoot BMP, JPG, or PNG stills at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240-pixel resolutions, and AVI video at a maximum of 30 frames per second. Mousing over the upper-right portion of the desktop brings up a Video Web Camera shortcut bar that lets you launch the application without needing to go to the Start menu.Ok
The EC1430u's 1.3-GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 processor is what clearly elevates this ultraportable over netbooks. On PCMark Vantage (a benchmark that measures system performance), the EC1430u scored an even 2,700, which was a shade below the 2,783 ultraportable average (and about 240 points less than the 1810T's 2,938), but still more than double the 1,107 netbook average. In our time with the notebook, we saw snappy performance when video chatting with friends while we simultaneously worked on other documents, thanks to 3GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB).
Our unit came configured with Intel's GMA 4500MHD GPU, which produced a 543 score on the 3DMark06 benchmark (an application that measures graphics performance). This meager score was over 330 points less than the 877 ultraportable average (and on a par with the 1810T's 594 score), but over 400 points better than the 130 netbook average. That said, the EC1430u was outclassed by the HP Mini 311, a netbook whose Nvidia Ion graphics notched a 1,386 3DMark06 score.
Still, the notebook smoothly played a 1080p Taxi 3 clip that we downloaded from the WMV HD Content Showcase in full screen mode. When we transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 video clip to AVI (using HandBrake), it took 11 minutes and 33 seconds, which is faster than than 13:38 category average and only a bit slower than the 1810T's 11:24.
The 320GB hard drive (spinning at 5,400 rpm) proved to be slightly faster than most. It achieved a data transfer speed of 22.2 MBps during our LAPTOP Transfer Test (the duplication of a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), which was a hair above the 20.6 MBps ultraportable average (and close to the 1810T's 23.1 MBps mark). It also booted the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system in 50 seconds, which is 10 seconds faster than the 60-second average, and 17 seconds faster than the 1810T's 67-second mark.
Wi-Fi andBattery Life
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The EC1430u's Intel Wi-Fi Link 1000 802.11a/b/g/n radio pushed data along at a rate of 20.3 Mbps when the notebook was placed 15 feet away from our access point, and 14.9 Mbps when positioned 50 feet away. The former mark falls just below the category average (20.5 Mbps), while the latter is a bit further below average (17.3 Mbps). Regardless, we didn't have any problems streaming content from Hulu or Slacker.
The EC1430u lasted a lengthy 8 hours and 11 minutes on a charge while running our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). This was almost 3 hours longer than the ultraportable average (meaning you can work all day without needing to carry a back-up battery or AC adapter), but over a half hour shorter than the 1810T's excellent 8:45 endurance.
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It took the EC1430u's battery 3 hours and 28 minutes to charge to 80 percent capacity, and 4 hours and 32 minutes to completely charge (slower times than the 2:22 and 3:39 averages). It achieved a LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 15.4, which is better than the 19.8 ultraportable category average (lower scores are better). This notebook is not rated by EPEAT.
Software and Warranty
The EC1430u comes preinstalled with Gateway Recovery Management, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (60-day trial), Microsoft Works, and Norton Internet Security 2009 (60-day trial). You also get the Gateway Recovery Management utility for creating a default backup disk, and Gateway PowerSave Solution for switching between performance mode (for multitasking) and power save mode (when you want longer battery life). Gateway covers the system with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support. Click here to see how Gateway fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
The $549 Gateway EC1430u combines the portability of a netbook with the computing might of a full-powered PC at a reasonable price. If you're intent on playing games, or frequently convert video, you may be better suited with the $399 HP Mini 311 (which leverages Nvidia's Ion technology for extra graphics punch), but you'll lose close to 2.5 hours of endurance. If long battery life is of more importance, spring for the $599 Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T, which provides an extra 34 minutes of endurance along with a better keyboard. Nevertheless, the Gateway EC1430u offers good bang for your buck in a sleek chassis.