by Andrew Johnson, Alaska USA
Overview and Introduction:
The Gateway M460 series is designed to be a versatile and surprisingly mobile desktop replacement notebook, based on the wonderful Intel Centrino package. Configuration options allow you to balance price, performance, and mobility. At the low end, the M460S offers a 15" screen and integrated graphics plus up to an amazing 10 hours of battery life at a low price, while the 15.4" widescreen model is available with integrated graphics or a higher end ATI Mobility Radeon X600.
While you might not expect Gateways' uniquely cow-like packaging to contain a sleek, elegant, powerful notebook computer, Gateway appears to offer just that, and at a good value too.
Gateway M460 (view larger image)
Configuration as reviewed and upgrade cost over base system price of $1399.99:
Purchasing from Gateway:
The base advertised price for the top of the line Gateway M460XL is $1399.99. The upgraded processor, batteries, and additional graphics card memory added $364.99 to that for a total of $1764.98. I think the upgrade prices are fair and much more reasonable than some other big manufacturers. Most notable is the 12-cell battery, which will approximately double your battery life for only $40 more.
Gateway offers purchasing flexibility including retail outlets, telephone sales, online purchases, and through online chat. From my experience and what I've heard from others, dealing with someone on the phone or through online chat can result in an additional 10-15% off the published online price.
On another system purchase I chatted a full hour and was able to have all my questions answered, including a photo emailed to me of the battery when I asked if it protruded out the back of the system.
Form & Design:
The M460XL is a simple two-tone black and silver design. It is elegant and conservative, with no extra buttons or obnoxious "WIDESCREEN" stickers, etc. When closed the lines are clean and nothing overhangs or looks as though it doesn't fit. Below the touchpad buttons are pretty blue lights for wireless, disc access, etc. These match the soft blue that surrounds the power button, as well as the blue lights up from that indicate power and charge. The charge light does turn a "loud" purple/pink color while charging.
Unfortunately there is one cost-cutting measure that is evident, to me at least: Both the 15" and 15.4" widescreen models are the same dimensions, so the screen on the 15" version has too much bezel space on the sides, and the 15.4" version has too much along the bottom. A thin, even bezel always conveys and well-thought-out design to me. See Gateways photo of the 15" M460S
At 1.3-1.4 inches thin, the M460 appears very slim, especially since it is moderately wide to accommodate the 15.4" widescreen.
With the large 12-cell battery, the notebook weighs in at exactly 7 pounds, which feels quite heavy in relation to its size. Also this large battery protrudes out the back of the notebook approximately of an inch. The available 6 and 8-cell batteries fit flush. This gives great flexibility. Some may prefer a single slightly larger battery to carrying a spare and having to swap out midday or worse, mid meeting.
The Gateway M460XL feels solid and everything fits very well. It is not extremely rigid like a ThinkPad, but I do feel comfortable picking it up by any one corner. One weak point is the screen back. If you press with just a small amount of pressure, ripples appear on the screen. Perhaps I'm spoiled by my solid, sturdy, metal Dell 9300 screen, which is, however, much thicker and bulkier.
The Gateway M460XL features a modular bay for an optical drive, extra battery, or second hard drive. I really like this design, and am disappointed when manufacturers don't include this option. For one, it allows you to swap batteries away from power without shutting down. Or on a long flight you can watch a DVD with the main battery and then pop in the modular battery for extra long runtime. For those who simply want maximum battery life and don't want to carry extra things, the optical drive can be left behind and both batteries can be used until they run out.
Gateway M460 Screen Shot (view larger image)
The screen is gorgeous and a delight to use. It is difficult to express in words how truly fine this display is. It is a traditional matte, non-glare type, and among the best notebook screens I have ever seen. It is equally as bright as my benchmark desktop screen, the 23" hp 2335 LCD, and even more important the whites are very true. The only difference other than viewing angle is slightly lower saturation, which I have noticed on all laptops.
There are no dead pixels, and the illumination is perfectly even, much better than most low and mid range desktop screens such as a Samsung 713v I have. This photograph is real, not a "synthesized" display. Notice how even the illumination is. Under normal and even low lighting conditions, with the backlight on but an all black screen, it looks as though it is turned off. What this means is there is no light leakage whatsoever and the blacks are very true and dark, something often hard to find with LCDs.
There are 8 user-selectable brightness levels, and even the battery saving lowest level is more than sufficient for most environments.
Hardcore gamers may notice some streaking due to lower pixel response time, but I was unable to detect any in my testing except when moving the mouse curser very quickly over a saturated color, such as the deep blue in the photo.
I have never seen a laptop with truly perfect viewing angle, and the Gateway M460 is no different. High end desktop screens show virtually no change from any angle, even when viewed form below. Still, the Gateway M460 remains one of the best I have ever seen.
The "sweet spot" is large enough that several people can gather around and view the same exact image. Even far left and right angles are viewable, and the brightness and contrast only gradually and evenly falls off as you move to the side. From above the image becomes washed out, and from below it becomes dark. However, it seems to be more subtle than most laptops. No glossy screen is available with this model.
As with any notebook, the speakers won't please an audiophile or replace anyone's stereo, but at least these get sufficiently loud and while there is no bass to speak of, they reproduce the lower midrange frequencies sufficiently for male vocals to sound realistic in movies and music.
Processor and Performance:
The Pentium M continues to surprise with performance often surpassing Pentium 4's with 50% greater clock speed. It is an efficient processor, and it shows. The Gateway M460XL is very snappy in basic tasks. DVD playback only requires about 10% CPU usage at 2 GHz.
For most users, even the slowest Pentium M option (1.6GHz) should be more than suitable.
The Pentium M certainly performs well in benchmarks. For these benchmarks I compared the Gateway M460XL to my office workstation. It is not a very fair test as the workstation has 4 times the RAM (2 GB), a 10,000 rpm hard drive which is nearly twice the rotational speed, and a faster FSB of 800 MHz verses 533 for the notebook. However the tests are not extremely disk intensive which is the area the desktop has the largest advantage.
Super Pi (Time to calculate Pi to 2 million digits. Lower is better)
My primary use for computers is professional digital photography. Processing RAW files from the 16.7 megapixel Canon 1Ds MK II can slow any computer. I have created my own Photoshop benchmark which actually emulates tasks real photographers do (not odd filters which perform best on a Mac G5 for example)
Test 1: Process 10 RAW files with Photoshop CS2 and save as Tiff with LZW compression.
Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M: 170 seconds
Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz: 151 seconds
Test 2: Unsharp Mask. Combined processing time of several common settings performed on a 50 megabyte file.
Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M: 7.8 seconds
Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz: 8.7 seconds
Test 3: Resize 50 megabyte file to a 8x12" 360 dpi print using bicubic interpolation.
Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M: 1.0 second
Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz: 1.0 second
My initial test was to resize to a 190 megabyte, 16x24" 360 dpi print, but the notebook had to use the hard drive which made it take about 15 times as long as the desktop which could perform the operation in RAM. Photoshop is really a RAM hog and this proves that enough Ram can truly give a tenfold performance increase or better.
HDTune: This measures hard drive performance under ideal conditions:
Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M with 80 GB, 5400 rpm drive:
Access time: 19.1 (lower is better)
Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz with 36GB, 10,000 rpm drive:
Access time: 8.7 (lower is better)
Dell Inspiron 9300 1.6GHz Pentium M with 60GB, 7200RPM drive:
Access time: 14.9
3D Mark 2005
The Gateway M460XL with a Radeon X600 scored 1255 3D Marks, compared to 990 for my Dell Inspiron 9300 with a Radeon X300. I expected better from this card, especially compared to the X300.
Keyboard and Touchpad:
Gateway M460 Keyboard (view larger image)
The keyboard is full sized with correctly sized shift, caps lock, backspace, and enter keys. The delete key is blissfully located in the upper right corner, and the pgup/pgdn/home/end keys are conveniently located along the right side of the keyboard. The Gateway keyboard is solid with little flex, and the keys have a good feel with a good amount of travel.
As a personal preference, I prefer the Fn and Ctrl keys to be swapped to be more like a traditional layout. Some notebooks allow these to be swapped in BIOS, but I haven't discovered that feature with the gateway.
The M460XL features both a touchpad and a pointing stick, which may be a welcome bonus to some that is often only found on business notebooks. The pointing stick has its own separate buttons, and can be tapped to function as a left mouse button by itself.
The touchpad works well but is not recessed so it may be brushed by some while typing.
Input and Output Ports:
Gateway M460 Front Right side (view larger image)
There are four USB 2.0 ports, all placed along the right side of the notebook. I prefer them to be spread out a bit for more flexibility. Also along the right side are the modem and Ethernet ports, the SD card reader, the mini-firewire port, and the Type II PC Card slot.
The front contains only the microphone and headphone mini-jacks. There is also a built in microphone to the right of the keyboard.
Gateway M460 Rear left side (view larger image)
The back contains only the power connector and VGA port, which is capable of driving at least a 23" LCD at 1920x1200 resolution.
Finally the left side houses the optical drive or modular battery (shown here) and an S-Video port for plugging into a TV.
The included Intel 802.11 b/g card works well and found and connected to my wireless network without problems at all.
Gateway offers no less than 4 battery options for the M460 series. 6-, 8-, and 12-cell main batteries are available, plus an additional 6-cell modular battery which replaces the optical drive. I got the maximum battery option of the 12-cell plus the 6-cell modular battery.
Gateway M460 Modular Drive (view larger image)
One disadvantage of the 12-cell battery is it sticks out the back of the laptop approximately ". The 6- and 8-cell batteries fit flush.
Gateway M460 12-cell battery (view larger image)
Thanks to efficient power management and the large batteries, I am able to squeeze 6-7 hours of battery life when using both the 12-cell battery and the 6-cell modular bay battery. This is with the screen at minimum brightness and wireless on, doing small tasks such as web browsing and typing.
The 12-Cell battery alone can achieve about 5 hours, while the tiny 6-cell modular battery will last just under 2 hours.
It should be noted that the regular 6-cell battery has about 25% more capacity than the modular 6-cell battery.
Calculations indicate the 8-cell battery should last about 3.5 hours under these conditions.
DVD playback is always a different story as it requires use of the optical drive, video card, and CPU more than basic tasks. However, the Gateway M460XL performs respectably. With the 12-Cell battery and maximum brightness, battery life is approximately 3 hours while watching a DVD. Minimum brightness adds just 20 minutes to this.
Operating System and Software:
I received Windows XP professional with my system. Gateway also includes black CDs and software to make your own customized recovery discs. However, there is also a 5 GB recovery partition.
Unfortunately there was a fair amount of unwanted software for virus protection and internet service trials, but it was easily removed.
Customer Support: I have had good and bad experiences with Gateway customer support. They seem to be quick at responding via all methods (online chat, telephone, email).
However, I did have an interesting problem recently. I ordered a notebook and had to cancel my order for financial reasons. I canceled via email and got confirmation. A few days later I received an order update indicating the order was still placed. I called, and canceled again. The rep told me I may have to refuse delivery because they might not be able to cancel shipment. It turned out to happen that way, even though it took approximately a week after my call before it shipped!
I have been incredibly pleased with this notebook in all areas except one: Noise. The fan comes on frequently and it is fairly noisy. Sometimes it changes speed rapidly. It seems as though the motherboard fan control is not very intelligent, and is perhaps cooling too conservatively.
The Gateway M460XL has proved to be a surprise for me. I am becoming sold on Gateway. They offer a very competitive product with little to complain about. The Gateway M460XL is a great all-around notebook for someone who wants a wonderful and large screen, great performance, and decent portability.
Pricing and Availability
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