In 2008, Gateway made a splash with the P-7811 FX, a gaming rig that offered blistering performance for just $1,399. A little more than a year later, Gateway is following that effort up with an even more powerful (and expensive) system in the P-7808u FX Edition. This latest version (priced at $1,799) packs an Intel Core 2 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS graphics with a full gig of dedicated video memory, which lets it breeze through the latest 3D titles. However, while the guts have improved, the industrial design remains the same and is starting to feel a bit stale. This rig is worth the splurge, but in this price range, it's not quite as good as the competition.
The massive 15.8 x 11.8 x 1.7-inch P-7808u FX has a glossy black shell with the same Halloween-esque orange, silver, and carbon fiber accents that we're familiar with from earlier models, such as the P-7811 FX. Gateway packs the 9-pound P-7808u FX with a full-size, copper-bordered keyboard and number pad. The keyboard exhibited very little flex and was comfortable to type on. The layout was spacious enough even with the full number pad, although the right Shift key is shrunken. We also liked that the mouse buttons had a snappy response and were easy to press quickly (which makes it easier to blast away opponents).
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. A 1.3-megapixel Web cam is above the display and two speakers border the multimedia controls.
Three USB ports are on board, but for a system this size, four or more is preferable. We can't complain too much, because on the right side are both an HDMI port and an eSATA port for hooking up your notebook to an LCD TV and an eSATA external hard drive. Other ports include VGA, a headphone and microphone jack, Gigabit Ethernet, modem, an ExpressCard/54 slot, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.
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Display and Audio
The P-7808u FX has a large 17-inch widescreen display with a 1440 x 900-pixel native resolution. This pixel count is way below the 1920 x 1200 offered by this notebook's predecessor, as well as the $1,999 configuration of the Alienware M17 , which may turn off some gamers. Nevertheless, the blue sky over the plains of wheat in a scene from There Will Be Blood was deep and pronounced. Two or three people can comfortably watch the display, too, but anyone sitting at more than a 45-degree angle will see some color distortion, and the glossy screen caused a lot of reflections. (Gateway told us that a Blu-ray drive option will become available in the near future, but the company couldn't provide specific timing.)
Click to enlargeThe speakers on the P-7808u FX continue to lag behind rigs like Toshiba's Qosmio X305-Q725 , although that system is considerably more expensive. Daniel Day-Lewis'raspy whispers as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood weren't loud enough--even at full volume--for anyone to enjoy the movie from more than five feet away. The Wallflower's "6th Avenue Heartache" sounded better, but the audio sounded tinny and lacked bass altogether. You wouldn't be able to hear footsteps of a sneaking enemy (even with the speakers at full volume in a library), so unless you want to get flanked in Call of Duty 4 because you couldn't hear the enemy approaching from behind, you'll want to use a gaming headset or a set of desktop speakers.
Click to enlargeColors from the 1.3-megapixel webcam looked washed out and our skin tones weren't represented correctly when making a video call in Skype. You can adjust these settings, but the quality wasn't as good as others, such as the 2-MP camera found on the MSI GT627. When it's on, a small blue LED lights up next to the camera.
Quad Core and Graphics Performance
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With 4GB of RAM and all four cores of the 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000 processor running at full force, we were pleased with the zippiness of the P-7808u FX when opening such applications as Windows Media Player. In PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista performance) the P-7808u FX scored 4,249; that's about 850 points higher than the desktop replacement average, and nearly 1,000 points higher than the Alienware M17.
We booted into Windows in just 56 seconds, 15 seconds faster than the desktop replacement average. The system's 5,400-rpm, 500GB hard drive also outperformed Toshiba's X305 on the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying 4.97GB of multimedia files), achieving a data transfer rate of 23.6 MBps, about two MBps faster than the average, and about 7 MBps faster than the M17 and 10 MBps faster than the X305.
Gateway packs in a beefy, high-performance Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS graphics card with 1GB of DDR3 RAM into the P-7808u FX, which performed admirably on our benchmarks. Its 3DMark06 score of 10,019 was noticeably better than the X305 (9,625), the GT627 (8,780) and the P-7811 FX (8,629). However, the $1,999 M17 scored a slightly better 10,655 points. In 3DMark03, we saw only marginal performance increases over similar gaming notebooks like MSI's GT627 and the earlier Gateway P-7811 FX; the P-7808u FX notched a score of 28,671 while the GT627 pulled in 26,297 and the P-7811 FX reached 28,529.
Nvidia's CUDA technology uses the GPU's cores to help balance the processing power during multitasking as well, which proved itself during our transcoding test. Converting a 2:17 HD video file (1080p) from MPEG-4 to AVI using Handbrake took an impressive 1 minute and 26 seconds. When we transcoded the file again while watching There Will Be Blood, it added only 6 additional seconds to the conversion time and the video played fluidly as if nothing was happening in the background.
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The P-7808u FX proved to be an excellent gaming machine. On F.E.A.R., with the game set to maximum settings and the screen at its native resolution, the system cranked out 119 frames per second. The MSI GT627 achieved the same 119 fps, but that's with a lower 1280 x 800-pixel native resolution and a smaller 15.4-inch display. With the game set to autodetect and the resolution set to 1024 x 768, the P-7808u FX achieved 147 fps, compared with 132 fps on the GT627.
On Far Cry 2, the system pulled in a stunning 85 fps with the graphics set to 1024 x 768, and a still very acceptable 53 fps with the resolution cranked to the native 1440 x 900. When we turned on all the DirectX 10 eye candy and ran around tossing grenades and blowing up bad guys, the P-7808u FX didn't flinch once. Trees blew fluidly in the breeze, and we were able to speed around in a Jeep through waving fields of dry grass without any performance lag. With the graphics set to low on the Alienware M17, we were only able to achieve 36 fps, but that was at a much higher resolution of 1920 x 1200.
Our gaming experience in Call of Duty 4 was excellent. Particle effects from explosions were lifelike, and even details such as the stitching on bulletproof vests and the hairs of our sergeant's beard looked remarkable. As in Far Cry 2, we didn't experience any in-game bugs or lagging due to graphics performance, even during large nine-person firefights on the game's second level. Overall, it was very obvious that the hardware under the hood was up to the rendering tasks, even with the graphics turned up all the way.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
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The P-7808u FX ships with a nine-cell battery--a big improvement over the six-cell battery that comes with most gaming systems--which delivered 3 hours and 43 minutes of juice. That's 47 minutes better than the desktop replacement average, and about 1.5 hours longer than this notebook's predecessor. While it's unlikely that you're going to leave this system unplugged for any length of time, it's good to know you can.
The Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100 802.11a/g/Draft-N wireless LAN delivered 19.8 Mbps of throughput at 15 feet and 18.8 Mbps at a distance of 50 feet, was just above the desktop replacement averages of 19.0 Mbps and 15.8 Mbps, respectively.
Software and Warranty
The Gateway P-7808u FX comes packaged with a host of software installed, including Adobe Flash 9.0, Adobe Reader 9.0, CyberLink Power2Go, CyberLink LabelPrint, eBay Desktop, EarthLink, Gateway Games Powered by WildTangent (ten demo games with 60 minutes of play), Microsoft Money Essentials, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (60-day trial), Microsoft Works 9.0SE, Microsoft Windows Media Player 11, NetZero Internet Access, and Symantec Norton 360 (60-day trial). A year of Gateway's limited parts-and-labor warranty and toll-free 24/7 tech support is included with the system.
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Gateway offers two other models in the FX series, the P-7805u and the P-7807u. The P-7805u comes with a less powerful 2.26-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, a faster 7200-rpm 320GB hard drive, and the same Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS graphics card. It also has a 17-inch display, the same media ports, and 4GB of RAM, but it costs $1,299. The P-7807u has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and shares all of the other same specs and costs only $1,399.
Gateway P-7808u FX Verdict
Although the design could use a refresh and the sound could be better, the Gateway P-7808u FX is an excellent gaming machine; it chewed through everything we could throw at it, and we had an exciting time shooting up the baddies without having to worry about our lag. Our rig was also a multitasking champ, transcoding video while watching a DVD without breaking a sweat. Gamers with $1,799 to blow, though, might as well step up to the $1,999 Alienware M17, which offers a higher-res display and comparable gaming performance. Gamers on a budget should consider one of the more affordable configurations of the Gateway FX series that brandish the same graphics muscle as the P-7808u but without the quad-core CPU.