After browsing around for a couple of weeks looking for a replacement all-rounder laptop that's capable of handling development applications and database management systems (such as WSAD, SQL Server and DB2) simultaneously -- and also for playing the odd game (such as Half Life 2 or Winning Eleven 8) I stumbled upon the Gateway 7426GX at J&R (an electronics retail store in New York and with an online presence at www.jr.com).
The specs for the Gateway 7426 immediately caught my attention, and upon seeing the price of this notebook I was immediately sold (how many sub $1,700 notebooks include 1GB RAM, a dedicated video card and a 64 bit processor?).
In terms of looks, this Gateway laptop does not fare that well against competing beauties such as the Toshiba Qosmio E15-AV101 or the Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (the latter has a beautiful screen, probably built by God himself). I might have actually picked up the Fujitsu N3510 if it had a better video card or the Toshiba Qosmio if it had a higher resolution screen than what it offers. But after vigorously reminding myself that looks aren't everything, I went off to a Best Buy store (where they had the 7426 for about $150 cheaper than J&R) and picked up this laptop up for $1399.
Not a drop dead gorgeous laptop, but it'll do (view larger image)
Review Symbol Legend:
+ = positives
- = negatives
! = important note
Gateway 7426GX Specifications:
! The 64MB Radeon 9550 is essentially an underclocked and alternately labeled ATI Radeon 9600. I will henceforth only refer to it as the latter.
First Run & Aesthetics
+ On initial boot up of this Gateway, I was highly impressed with the screen quality. Though not as awe-inspiring as the Fujitsu N3510, the display certainly looks better than most common CRT displays I have worked with in the past. The reflectivity characteristic of the screen (it's of the glossy style) is not an issue unless you plan on working outside in the sunlight, or with a bright light directly to your back - in either case, a regular LCD screen would be almost as useless, so there's no point in complaining about too much about that. The 1280 x 800 resolution is perfect for the screen size (a higher resolution would have made text difficult to read on regular settings). The screen was also devoid of any dead pixels which is certainly a nice thing. I've never had dead pixels on any of my laptops, but from the number of people who complain about them, I was rather worried I'd become a statistic!
The screen remains sharp even from acute viewing angles (view larger image)
+ The build quality for the Gateway 7426 is solid. The keyboard has good tactile response and the reflective material used on the side panels look good (though they tend to smudge with fingerprints easily). The blue lights are also a nifty touch (with the one at the front being more of a shade of purple). I had heard of hinge problems with laptops with similar shells, however the hinges here feel nicely stable and solid. The touchpad has a classy and solid feel to it and is adequately responsive.
+ The sound quality is above average after some equalizer tweaking (the initial settings border on tinny, and is not helped by the speaker positioning). The included AC97 configuration software should be able to configure sound to the satisfaction of many. Audiophiles should get an external speaker system or use a decent pair of headphones.
- Packaging BLANK CD's and asking you to back up your pre-installed programs yourself is idiotic and lazy on the part of Gateway. How much more would it have cost them to simply provide a single recovery DVD, rather than giving you 5 blank CDR's? At the very least, a CD/DVD with hardware drivers should have been provided. I am definitely not a fan of recovery-hard drive partitions (when a company places recovery files and programs on your hard drive instead of on included disks). When I buy a laptop with a hard drive specified as being 100GB, I expect all of that to be usable and not taken up by "recovery files" (I'll accept lost space due to necessary file system overhead and other such things of course). Here's the worst part with this "recovery" implementation Gateway provided, the first of the provided CDR's I attempted to backup on failed! I was initially worried that my drive was bad, but all other attempts using my own CDR's worked fine. So in addition to not providing recovery CD's, the CDR's Gateway does provide are apparently substandard and didn't work for writing to with the actual laptop you bought.
Gateway's "Recovery CDs" are blank CD-Rs coupled with instructions on how to back up your laptop, or rather "Here's the horse, Sam. Go plough them fields yerself" (view larger image)
- A distressing number of applications all decided they wanted to be active on boot up of the 7426. Ever-present and ever-useless AOL is here as usual, as is the virus-like MSN messenger which is adept at enabling itself for startup even after it is specifically disabled. Strangely enough, MSN Messenger was not available for removal under the control panel. Undaunted, I simply wiped out a couple of file directories and edited the system registry directly to kill MSN messenger from ever deciding it wanted to come back (by the way, you should not attempt to do this yourself if you don't know what you're doing, things could get ugly).
- The space bar is too short for my full approval and the function key is poorly placed. In addition, why are there plastic placeholders for the card reader slots instead of spring loaded door covers (like the one over the PC card slot) ?
Notice the short length of the spacebar here?
! Normally I format new laptops immediately - without even booting into the current operating system - and install my own OS and software. However, as my software along with most of my worldly possessions are still miles away in another state, I have to make do with the pre-installed OS for now. This was a blessing in disguise, as I would have been stuck without any recovery media thanks to Gateway's "backup" scheme. So if you plan on doing this remember to backup immediately after first boot (it actually prompts you to do so).
! The inclusion of Windows XP Home instead of Pro with this was an uninspired decision by Gateway, I think most people (including myself) wouldn't have been opposed to paying some extra bucks for a higher end OS. Although I admit this laptop is supposed to be targeted more towards gamers who would not really benefit from Pro over Home (which makes inclusion of a 9600 as opposed to a higher end card a bit puzzling, albeit partially justified by the low final cost).
+ From a business usage standpoint, the performance of this machine has been excellent so far. It runs the memory-grabbing WSAD 5.1 as well as DB2 8.2 and MySQL simultaneously without skipping a beat. So far, I haven't suffered from any periods of unresponsiveness or stalls as I frequently did with my ThinkPad R31 notebook, not to mention my pathetic Sony VAIO SR33. The hard drive speed of the laptop (4200RPM) has not been an issue for me on any occasion so far, although I plan to upgrade (just as soon as I find a decently priced 100GB 7200RPM drive!). I haven't had a chance to fully gauge this machine's battery life, but average usage for 1 1/2 hours cut my battery to about 50%. Not stellar, but suits my needs well enough.
+ Its game performance was very acceptable, helped in no small part by its powerful CPU. While way better than any integrated solution, the 64MB Radeon is most definitely the bottleneck for this system's game performance. Half Life 2 played very well with only antialiasing turned off at 1280x800. Unfortunately, it was a different story for Doom 3. I had to turn down most of the settings in order to get that to play acceptably at SVGA (which it eventually did, albeit the random stutter that may have been caused by an active database running in the background). All in all, it should be powerful enough to handle all but the most demanding games (i.e. if you're a Doom 3 buff, this is probably not for you).
Half life 2 in all its glory (view larger image)
+ Standard CD burning seemed to work well (after the initial scare mentioned above). I haven't had a chance to test DVD burning yet. Once I do, I will update the review with my impressions.
! I overclock my Graphics Processin Unit (GPU) to about 420 / 210 when playing games, so for the 3D benchmarks, I have two sets. One for the stock 300 / 200 settings and one for the overclocked 420 /210 settings.
3DMark 2001 SE (1024x768x32 NoAA Z24 DXTC DB D3D Pure HW 21/21): 9724 (Stock) , 11766 (Overclocked)
Aquamark 3 - 20228 (Stock), 25929 (Overclocked)
Comparison of notebooks using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Gateway 7426GX (AMD Athlon 64-bit 3700+)||1m 39s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 28s|
PCMark 2004 Results:
System TS = 4376
CPU TS = 4432
Memory TS = 3263
HDD TS = 2724
Graphics TS = 2029
These scores are very respectable for the most part. The lower Hard Drive and Graphics score under PCMark accurately reflect the slower hard drive and older graphics card.
This is a very solid laptop and offers strong performer with a remarkable feature set for the price. While the Athlon 3700+ is a wonderful processor in itself, the 64MB Radeon hampers the 3D performance of what would otherwise have been a superb mobile gaming rig.
Not perfect, but with its excellent specs and strong overall performance, all at a price that doesn't break the bank, I highly recommend it to anyone but hardcore gamers.
Pricing and Availability
Product Tour: Gateway 7426GX Product Tour
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