by Philip Kiser, Florida USA
The Gateway S-7700N is a desktop replacement style notebook featuring a fast Pentium M processor and ATI X700 or nVidia Go 6800 graphics card. The S-7700N notebook is part of the Gateway small business notebook offerings, but if you're into gaming then the S7700N is worth a look too..
Gateway S-7700N (view larger image)
The Gateway S-7700N is a 17" widescreen desktop replacement-style notebook with moderate portability. As this is a business model, it shipped with XP Professional and Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition. Powered by Intel's ubiquitous Pentium M processor (available in model range from 740 to 780) and the powerful ATI Mobility RADEON X700 (or available GeForce Go6800) graphics, the S-7700 is a multimedia powerhouse, even if not the best built computer on the market.
Specification on the S-7700N:
It's important to know the competition. The S-7700N, despite being a "business machine," goes up against most 17" multimedia notebooks.
This review will examine the S-7700N in comparison to some of these machines, especially the Dell Inspiron 9300 (clearly the closest competitor to the S-7700).
Build and Design:
Gateway S-7700 top view (view larger image)
The S-7700 casing is constructed of plastic, and it shows. The whole case flexes to some degree. The back of the screen flexes in substantially near the Gateway logo, but this doesn't appear to cause any "ripples" on the screen. The palm rests flex mildly, but the notebook's most notable flaw in this area is the keyboard: it has the worst flex of any keyboard I've used, bending down several keys surrounding the one you're striking by up to 2cm. The flex seems to get worse as you move towards the left-hand side of the keyboard, but is generally not good all around. The touchpad also flexes a bit, although not nearly as badly as the keyboard. The flex doesn't impede typing, however, which is actually a relatively pleasant proposition. The PCMCIA port is covered by a spring-loaded door, which is a much better solution that an easily-lost plastic filler card, but there is nothing covering the 4-in-1 card reader or any other ports at all. And in a very pleasant departure from my Inspiron 9300, the "Intel Centrino" sticker is perfectly straight!
While the keyboard does flex, it still provides for fast and easy typing (view larger image)
Typing on this machine is fluid and the keys have good travel, despite the keyboard's excessive flex. I find myself making the fewest typos using this keyboard of any of my laptops, the sole exception being when I use the right "Shift" key. It is shortened substantially to make room for the arrow keys, and takes some getting used to. There are some odd choices of key placement, as well, namely the "Fn" key being left of the "Ctrl" key and the location of the "Del" and "Ins" keys above the "Backspace" key. The arrow keys are squished in pretty small, and the Function keys are compressed as well. Possibly the oddest thing, though, is that the "Print Screen" key is an Fn shortcut (Fn + Ins). The numeric keypad, on the other hand, is properly sized and laid out, and is very useful when entering serial numbers, registration codes, etc. The touchpad is unremarkable, though I think the small, speed bump-style buttons are a bit too small to be easily found, and would have preferred larger buttons as on my Inspiron 9300 or 7422GX. It is otherwise like any other trackpad, with a single vertical scroll region and tapping features. It should be noted that the scrolling doesn't work with Firefox, but this can be remedied with a driver update.
Touchpad view (view larger image)
The design of the S-7700N is more thoughtful than the construction. The case is stylish silver with black accents, and looks very professional. The blue LEDs were a solid choice, much easier on the eye in the dark than the hideous lime most manufacturers (Dell included) use. The numeric keypad is definitely a plus, and it comes in very handy for entering serial numbers, PIN codes, etc. (Definitely a feature I wish the Inspiron 9300 had.) The screen bezel is uniform.
Screen and Speakers:
The S-7700N's screen is a standard matte finish at WXGA+ (1440x900 pixels) resolution. A WSXGA+ (1650x1050) matte and WSXGA+ Ultrabright (glossy) are also available as build-to-order options for $100 and $125, respectively. The WXGA+ screen is very bright for a matte finish screen and has a nearly 180-degree viewing angle from the sides with little loss in brightness. The bottom viewing angle is good but there is significant loss in brightness. The top viewing angle is not as good, you'll get significant color distortion at as little as 15-degrees off of the prime viewing angle. The screen has 8 available brightness levels, the difference between each level is pretty substantial. The backlight has noticeable leakage from the top and bottom of the screen, though it doesn't interfere with most usage and certainly isn't as pronounced as the light leakage on my Inspiron 9300. The screen has a slight "sparkling" effect, but it isn't anywhere near as pronounced as on Dell's LCDs. The whites are very white, and color contrast is consistently good. My screen arrived with nary a dead or stuck pixel. I would have liked the opportunity to see the higher-resolution WSXGA screen, my Inspiron 9300 is also WXGA+ and the difference comparison would have been nice to see. I think WSXGA+ option for the Gateway would be the better choice (especially for the modest price), as you would easily be able to fit two full windows on screen at once at that resolution, with the text remaining readable.
Screen view in the dark, notice light leakage toward the top and bottom of the screen (view larger image)
Having used both glossy (on my Gateway 7422GX) and matte screens (AVERATEC 3270, Dell Inspiron 9300, and now this), I still find the glossy finish easier on the eyes and to provide brighter, truer colors. Still, it's mostly a matter of personal preference, so try to see some of each before making a decision. It should be noted, however, that previous reviews for Gateway's screens fall into two camps -- those on glossy screens that rave about their pixel-perfect beauty, and those on the matte finish screens that harp on backlight leakage and poor viewing angles.
The screen may be fairly good, but the speakers are another story. The S-7700 uses a standard two-speaker setup powered by "Conexant AMC" integrated sound. The speakers point out, but the downward slope of the front of the notebook obscures their sound slightly. Perhaps I am spoiled by the deep bass sound of my Inspiron 9300's 3-speaker setup (2 standard speakers + built-in subwoofer), but these speakers sound tinny and lack bass, even compared to the 2-speaker setup of my old 7422GX. These speakers also put out very little sound: with the Wave setting at 50% and the Main volume at 75%, these speakers barely match my Inspiron 9300 with Wave at 30% and Main at 50% in volume. My 7422GX also triumphs here, capable of putting out much more sound (with much richer bass) than these speakers. However, quality doesn't decrease noticeably as volume increases, which is at least some salvation for these speakers. As with (almost) any notebook, however, if you're going to be using it at home a lot (which is likely as this is a large desktop replacement), you'd do well to invest in some inexpensive external speakers.
The notebook itself has the following ports: 4x USB 2.0, 1x Firewire400, 1x S-Video out, 1x VGA-out 1x 10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN, 1x V.92 56k modem, 1x each Audio In/Out, 1x 4-in-1 card reader, and 1x Type II PCMCIA/CardBus32 slot. The USB ports are arranged 2 on each side, towards the back of the notebook. This provides a good position for use of an external mouse. The standard port array is fine for most uses, though I would like to have seen a DVI port and perhaps more card reader capabilities on a notebook of this price.
Right side view, featuring the optical drive and 2 USB ports (view larger image)
Left side view, with CPU fan exhaust vent, Firewire port, S-Video out, and the other 2 USB ports.
The port replicator adds 4 more USB 2.0 ports, another FireWire port, a 9-pin serial port, an LPT port, a VGA-out, another S-video out, additional Audio In/Out ports, and another Gigabit LAN and Modem port. Only the VGA port on the back of the computer is completely rendered inaccessible by adding the port replicator, yielding a good sum of available ports. The lack of a DVI port even on the port replicator is very disappointing, as I am certain that the ATI X700 supports DVI-out. I also find the lack of any PS/2 ports for older mice and/or keyboards an omission, but most people can afford a $15 USB mouse if they can afford a $2000 computer. One slight issue here is that a mouse or other USB peripheral plugged into the docking station while the computer is off may not be recognized upon boot, and you'll have to unplug and reinsert it. The docking station lifts the back of the computer slightly, further improving the already pleasant typing experience, and helping to improve ventilation. It is designed so that it would fit even with the extended life battery, and serves to recharge the battery while the notebook is docked. If you are planning to use this machine in one location with great frequency (for instance at home or at the office), especially where you have a lot of peripherals, the docking station/port replicator is a worthwhile investment, though steep at $200.
The port replicator and its plethora of ports.
And now we come to the meat of the review. The best build quality in the world means nothing to you when you're trying to play Doom 3 on a 900MHz Celeron, and even shoddy build quality can be excused if the performance to price ratio is good enough (hence why the Inspiron 9300 is so popular). The performance of the S-7700N (as configured) is certainly passable for anything you throw its way, but I'd hesitate to call it a "powerhouse" machine. The processor is an Intel Pentium M 740 running at 1.73GHz, the minimum available processor configuration. This processor is a Dothan core (533MHz FSB, 2MB L2 Cahce) running on the newest Intel i915 chipset. Despite the "low" clock speed, the notebook is snappy for all but the most demanding of daily tasks. Simple programs load quickly and even my Java programming tasks are handled with ease. Boot time from Gateway logo to welcome screen is 35 seconds, and from there to being able to run a program is just less than 20 seconds. Here is the CPU-Z information on the processor:
For an accurate benchmark of processor speed, we use the program SuperPI. SuperPI forces the processor to calculate Pi to a certain number of digits (in our case, 2 million). The time this takes is recorded and used for comparison.
|Gateway S-7700N (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 46s|
|Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
If this machine has a bottleneck in performance, it's definitely the somewhat meager 512MB of RAM. Sure, it's Dual-channel PC2-4300 RAM, but there's only 512MB of it. If buying this machine for anything more intense than basic tasks such as office work and occasional light gaming, I really have to encourage you to spring for 1GB of RAM or even more. Right now the upgrade to 1GB is free, so take advantage of that.
CPU-Z on the RAM:
The graphics card itself is very powerful. It is an ATI Mobility RADEON X700 with 128MB of DDR VRAM. This card can chew through most games you throw at it, playing UT2004, Doom 3, and Half-Life 2 at very respectable speeds. The card is Shader Model 2.0b and OpenGL 2.0 compliant, although like all ATI hardware, it fares much better in DirectX games (such as Half-Life 2) than in OpenGL games (such as Doom 3). Here is a brief chart of comparisons with my Dell Inspiron 9300 (256MB GeForce Go6800, 1.86GHz Pentium M, 2 GB PC2-4200 RAM), both using the latest drivers with no overclocking:
|Benchmark||Gateway S-7700N||Dell Inspiron 9300|
|3DMark '05 (standard settings)||2587 3D Marks||3406 3D Marks|
|Doom 3 (1440x900, High, All eye candy, 8xAF/0xAA)||28.3 FPS||53.4 FPS|
|Half-Life 2 (1440x900, All settings maximum, 2xAF/0xAA, Water Hazard custom timedemo)||59 FPS||84 FPS|
|Half-Life 2 (1440x900, All settings maximum, 2xAF/0xAA, Highway 17 custom timedemo)||67 FPS||98 FPS|
|Unreal Tournament 2004 (1440x900, All settings maximum, 0xAF/0xAA, ONS Torlan avg. framerate)||54 FPS||67 FPS|
Several other games, such as SC: Chaos Theory and the AOE III demo were playable at very high settings as well, although I couldn't get benchmarks for them.
Playing (or getting ready to play) UT2004. Note the FPS counter is green, which is a good thing (view larger image)
I should note that in all of the game tests, there was extensive hitching as textures were loaded in and out of RAM, an issue not present on my I9300. This could easily be remedied by adding more RAM. Otherwise, the x700 proves itself a worthy gaming card, capable of handling today's most demanding games with ease.
The hard drive is a basic 60GB drive at 5,400RPM. This drive performs speedily for a 5,400RPM drive, but a significant performance improvement could be noticed from a 7,200RPM drive. Here are the HDTune benchmark results:
Here are the PCMark '04 results, again as compared to my Inspiron 9300:
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|Gateway S-7700N||Dell Inspiron 9300|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.428 MB/s||3.3371 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||25.991 MB/s||27.850 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||22.691 MB/s||24.337 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||10.482 MPixels/s||11.049 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1661.758 MB/s||1951.269 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||2.747 KB/s||2.884 KB/s|
|File Decryption||51.831 MB/s||55.471 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2370.378 KB/s||2559.530 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||4.599 Pages/s||5.586 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||50.283 FPS||52.089 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||176.246 FPS||197.197 FPS|
|Graphics Memory - 64 Lines||1886.398 FPS||1381.430 FPS|
As you can see, the slightly faster processor and added RAM give my Inspiron 9300 a marginal advantage in both day-to-day and intensive tasks, but the S-7700 holds up easily. The scores for "Graphics Memory" are dubious, as the Go6800's graphics performance far outweighs the X700 in the S-7700N; this is why purely synthetic benchmarks shouldn't be your only decision-making factor.
The Gateway S-7700N comes standard with an 8-cell Lithium Ion battery rated at 4,800 mAh. This battery is rated at five hours, and can easily achieve this on minimum brightness with WiFi off and maximum power saving features while using only basic office apps. The battery lasts just about 3 hours under heavier usage, e.g. playing Unreal Tournament or Java coding work, with brightness at 50% and WiFI on. DVD viewing, although I haven't tried it on battery, should give approximately equal battery life. 3 hours of battery for DVD viewing out of a standard battery is excellent, and an optional 12-cell battery (which sticks out of the back of the unit) would provide enough battery life for anyone.
Heat and Noise:
The Gateway S-7700N's fan is generally quiet. It can rev up to be a bit louder than most smaller notebooks under heavy usage, mainly gaming, but generally remains quieter than my Inspiron 9300, which has a fan that runs constantly. It admittedly isn't cooling quite as much horsepower as the 9300, but is still much more bearable in a quiet setting such as a classroom where you need to be quieter. The optical drive is also seated firmly (unlike the rattletrap casing on my I9300), and runs very quietly.
The notebook produces very little heat, surprisingly, and remains cool to the touch on the bottom even after extended usage. During gaming, the palm rests do heat up a bit, but this is to be expected from such a thin notebook, and it really isn't enough to be uncomfortable. Overall, I'm very impressed with this aspect of the computer, and it's certainly a big selling point for those who live, work, or go to school in a situation in which you need a whisper-quiet notebook.
This particular S-7700 came loaded with Windows XP Pro, Office 2003 SBE, and a mercifully below-average amount of "annoyware." Instead of listing everything, here's a screenshot of the Add/Remove programs dialogue at first boot:
Certainly far from the worst I've seen, but several things (such as anything branded "Norton" or "McAfee") came off immediately, replaced with better, free alternatives (such as AVG and Ad-Aware).
Regrettably, there are no definitive keepers here, other than maybe Nero if you need it and PowerDVD (which I've used to watch a couple DVDs and seems like a good, simple utility for such). If you're expecting the wonderful management utilities included by companies such as ASUS or IBM, you're out of luck, you won't find any software here from Gateway other than the recovery media creator.
Which leads into an interesting point: Unless you really love Nero, PowerDVD, or Norton (gag) with all your heart, there is no need to create a set of recovery CDs, as prompted, because XP Pro and Office 2003 CDs are included. Since Gateway didn't include blank CDs (as they do with retail models such as the MX7515), that's a good thing.
I haven't had any issues specifically with this notebook (or even my last Gateway) that have warranted a call to tech support. Gateway's website seems to be genuinely helpful, at least, although a few slight inaccuracies in product information are slightly troublesome. Basically, I wouldn't be too concerned about failure to honor warranties or intentional ignorance, but in customer surveys Gateway does not rank up there with highly renowned tech support such as Apple.
The Gateway S-7700 is a good computer for the price and the purpose it serves: A multimedia powerhouse for the mobile professional, or gamer. I can vouch for the power of the available nVidia Go6800 card for gaming, which leads me to believe this notebook is designed not just with the diligent worker in mind, but the diligent goof-off as well! Still, it packs the horsepower and battery life to be a very effective business, education, and presentation tool without weighing you down. For the user who needs the power of the Inspiron 9300 and the versatility of the ASUS W2v, the Gateway S-7700 provides a happy medium of price and quality. Plus it looks darn cool.
My only major complaints are the amount of flex on the unit and the lack of a couple of important ports for a desktop replacement style machine (DVI). Still, the smart design features ranging from the numeric keypad to the blue LEDs, and the incredible available horsepower from a GeForce Go6800 or Mobility RADEON X700 and a high-end Pentium M, make this notebook a more versatile -- and cost-effective -- alternative to it's brethren from ASUS, Dell, or Sony. Bravo Gateway: despite a few bumps along the road, you've ultimately left me with a smile on my face once again. If you don't move this notebook around a whole lot, the construction concerns should prove unwarranted, but if you are going to be carrying it about quite a bit then a well-padded carrying case is highly recommended.
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