Gateway 450X Laptop Review (pics, specs)

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Gateway 450X Laptop Review

by Chris Gsell

Gateway 450X Desktop Replacement style Notebook Computer (view larger image)

In this article I will be reviewing the Gateway 450X notebook computer. The particular model that I am reviewing is a Gateway Factory Recertified unit with the following configuration:

  • Intel Pentium M Processor 1.4GHz
  • 256MB DDR SDRAM
  • 40GB 4200rpm hard drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB
  • 15 TFT LCD w/ SXGA+ resolution (1400×1050)
  • Modular 24x/10x/24x CD-RW and 8x DVD combo

This notebook falls into the thin and light category, weighing in at just over 6 lbs (with CDROM and 6-cell battery).

Notebook Decision

I decided on this notebook after about a month of careful comparison shopping both in online stores and regular retail outlets. I do a lot of design work for both web and print, and needed to find an affordable laptop that could serve as my only work machine if necessary but I had been spoiled by the ultraportable revolution (my last notebook was the ultra-svelte Sony Z505LE), so my goal was to find the perfect balance of features and form-factor. To meet these ends the machine I would eventually purchase needed (in order of importance):

  • Support of high resolution natively on its LCD (as well as support high-resolution on an external monitor
  • A powerful processor for running design applications like Photoshop and Illustrator in a speedy manner
  • A large LCD for displaying the aforementioned high resolution images
  • An internal optical drive that could both play DVDs and burn CDs. 

I was determined to find a unit that had these features, but was still light enough to carry around on a regular basis and I did, indeed, find that in the Gateway 450X. Other machines I considered during my research were: The IBM Thinkpad T41 (too expensive with the same features), the Dell Inspiron 600m (very nicely priced, but the 450X s 15 LCD beat out the 600m s 14.1 ), and the Sony Z1 series (way too expensive with the feature set I needed). 

I acquired this notebook via an eBay auction with PM Distributors in NYC. I paid $1,124.99 USD, which I think was quite a good deal for this machine. The unit was factory recertified by Gateway and the purchase price included both a 3 month limited warranty from Gateway and a 3 year extended warranty from a third party service vendor.

Design

Gateway 450X from back leftside view (view larger image)

The Gateway 450X is a very well designed notebook. At first glance, with the case closed, the form factor is sleek and very attractive. The casing is a matte silver color and the back of the screen is adorned in the center with the three sided Gateway blob logo in shiny chrome. The notebook has a sturdy feel to it, although it should be noted that after handling the device, it will be noticed that the casing is most definitely plastic, even though its initial appearance would make you think it was cast in a brushed aluminum or other metallic material. The screen hinges have a nice smooth feel to the action, and feel solid when being opened and closed. Inside, the notebook is decidedly less sleek and sexy but is well laid out in a dark elephant hide colored gray plastic. There is ample room on the palm rest for even the biggest of hands, and the interface is generally uncluttered, with only a chrome power button and 4 small hotkeys in a row across the top of the keyboard under the screen and a row of LED icons above that which light up for hard drive access, optical drive access, caps lock, scroll lock and pad lock (numeric keypad enabled). Unlike many notebooks nowadays, this machine opts for a less cluttered interior, lacking interface widgets and gee-gaws, which I for one appreciate.

view from above, size comparison of phone to Gateway 450X

Screen

The screen is large (15 ), and bright. My last notebook was a Sony Vaio, and while the Vaio series has slightly better LCDs in terms of brightness and glare reduction, Gateways offering is very pleasant to look at.  My particular unit came with absolutely no dead pixels and runs at 1400×1050 resolution (SXGA+). If you have been using a notebook with XGA resolution, then the screen will be the first thing you notice on the 450X. SXGA+ allows for ample screen real estate, and makes for a very comfortable work area when dealing with large spreadsheets and multiple Photoshop tool palettes. The resolution, coupled with the 15 LCD make for a combination that is easy to read, and a pleasure to look at.

Gateway 450X screen (view larger image)

Speakers

The internal speakers of the 450X are nothing spectacular. System UI events sound good, but music files of any flavor (MP3, WMA, OGG) sound tinny through the onboard sound system. Music files do sound great through the headphone jack, and the 450X also comes equipped with an unamplified line in jack for making recordings from external sources. If you want to use this laptop as a media center, I would recommend getting nice set of external speakers.

Performance

On the performance front the 450X is quite the trooper. The 1.4Ghz Pentium M Processor is Intel s latest mobile processor (and constitutes 1/3 of the highly touted Centrino Technology), which performs quite well in both processing power and power usage. Don t let the clock speed fool you, the Pentium M series performs as well as higher clocked P4 M in both synthetic and real-world benchmarks (using SiSoft Sandra, my unit benchmarked comparably to a P4 M 2.3GHz) and is much better in terms of battery life. If you are not going to be using your laptop as a desktop replacement, and don t intend to keep it plugged into wall power at all times, the Pentium M is definitely the way to go. The processor fared well in office applications and content creation apps, handing even the most intense Photoshop filters with ease. The 256MB of RAM shipped with the system should be enough for light use (web browsing, word processing, reading e-mail), but power users who want to have multiple applications running simultaneously will definitely want to upgrade the installed RAM to at least 512MB. The 450X maxes out at 1024MB (1GB) via 2 user-accessible SDRAM slots, which should be more than enough for most mobile computing applications. In the event of a full system lockup, the 450X is also equipped with a recessed hardware reset switch (the kind you poke with a pin — akin to those found on Palm devices), which allows for resetting a locked-up machine without having to pull the battery out, a nice touch.

Heat

Heat wise the Gateway 450X seems to run a little hot during some operations, and extended use while the machine is on your lap will result in sweaty thighs for sure. Using HMonitor, I determined that the most dramatic changes in temperature resulted from extended hard disk access. Multiple simultaneous downloads from P2P clients caused the system temperature to soar to around 69 F. The system fan seems to kick in somewhere between 65 -67 F and stays on until the system drops to 59 -61 F (this operation usually takes around 6 seconds).

Keyboard and Touchpad

Gateway 450X Keyboard (view larger image)

The keyboard is full sized and feels great to type on. It is not quite as springy as the IBM T series, but is generally not mushy and provides a fair about of tactile feedback. I would appreciate a bit more springiness, but the keyboard is more than acceptable for everyday use. The touchpad is one of the best I have ever used. It is smooth and responsive, with nary a skip, even when performing touchy Photoshop lasso operations. The bundled Synaptics touchpad software allows for programming hot spots for document scrolling (both horizontal and vertical), which makes the touchpad even more a pleasure to use. This model, however, is not equipped with hardware volume hotkeys or any kind of hardware media control. Muting and volume can be controlled via function key combinations; in my opinion the absence of these keys keeps the keyboard area clutter to a minimum, so it s kind of a trade off.

Input and Output Ports

The 450X is equipped with a cornucopia of ports. Even users needing to hook up to legacy hardware should have no problem integrating the 450X into their aging electronic toolbox. Along the left side of the machine you will find a port bay containing the following:

  • (1) Microphone jack (1/8 )
  • (1) Line in jack (1/8 )
  • (1) Headphone jack (1/8 )
  • (1) Firewire (IEEE-1394/iLink)
  • (2) USB 2.0 ports

left side of Gateway 450X (view larger image)

Right next to that is another bay containing the 450X s PCMCIA interface. The PCMCIA bay is equipped with nicely spring-loaded doors to keep the inside of the unit dust free when the bay is not in use. The slots accept Two Type II or One Type III PC Card Slots.

On the right side the machine is equipped with a Kensington lock and a multi-drive bay. Mine came with a modular 24x/10x/24x CD-RW and 8x DVD combo, but it can also be ordered with a vanilla CDROM, DVD-RW, a second hard drive, a second battery, or a multi-purpose memory card reader the can read the entire spectrum of flash memory cards (CompactFlash Card type I, CompactFlash Card type II, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Microdrive, MultiMediaCard, SD Memory Card, SmartMedia Card).

On the back, you will find a variety of ports (from left to right):

  • Power port
  • TV out (RCA Jack)
  • V.92 56K modem
  • 10/100/1000 Ethernet
  • Mouse port (PS2)
  • Parallel port
  • Serial port
  • VGA port

The addition of the TV out is a nice feature (common on Gateway laptops) and is nice for watching DVD video (or anything, for that matter) on a regular TV screen. The TV out, when coupled with the headphone jack, allows for connecting the notebook into a home entertainment system without the need for additional hardware or breakout boxes .

backside of Gateway 450X (view larger image)

Conspicuously absent is an IrDA port (infrared), so those of you used to synchronizing your handheld in this manner will have to go back to using a cradle or invest in an 802.11 solution (the unit under review came without both WiFi and Bluetooth on-board).

Software

My unit came with Windows XP Professional (SP1) installed. Everybody should know by now the features and benefits of having this particular flavor of Windows, so I won t go into detail on that topic. For those of you who desire a bit more openness in your choice of OS, you will be pleased to know that the 450X fared well with a standard Knoppix Live-CD Linux distribution (I ran the Knoppix Security Tools Distro), having internet connectivity and all Knoppix features available out-of-the-box with no tweaking to any config files. A quick jaunt onto Google will reveal that the majority of Linux distros (both live-cd and standard hard drive installs) run well on this laptop with little to no extra configuration necessary.

In addition to coming with Windows XP (both pre-installed and on a factory made recovery CD ), this machine came with the usual suite of basic software:

  • Microsoft Works 7.0 DVD Edition (All the standard Works apps plus Word 2002, Encarta, Streets and Trips 2002, Money 2002 and Picture It! Photo 2002)
  • Norton Anti-Virus 2004 (with a 3 month update subscription)
  • PC Doctor
  • MusicMatch Jukebox Standard
  • AOL, MSN internet software
  • Gateway Rhapsody (iTunes clone)

The NAV software and subscription is appreciated, and even the Works suite has made some progress over the years. Streets and Trips has actually evolved into useful piece of software, and with the advent of StreetStumbler (a Streets and Trips interface for the popular NetStumbler WiFi wardriving software) it now proves even more useful.

Included in my purchase price were a limited 3 month warranty from Gateway and an extended 3 year warranty from a third-party vendor. I have not yet had to use either of these, so only time will tell how these features pan out.

Summary and Conclusion

I don t really have any complaints about the 450X, especially given its very affordable price point. Like most products there is room for improvement. To make this machine the perfect dream laptop I would have designed the case in aluminum (a material that would have loaned itself well to the look that Gateway was going for the 450X s sleek design and metallic appearance). A better video card would be nice (like the Radeon Mobility 9000 series w/ 64MB) and would make playing even the latest 3D games possible (in its defense, the Radeon 7500 does do a great job with the older crop of 3D games like Quake 3 Arena, Unreal 2003 and the like, and should fare well with all but the most recent additions to the 3D gaming world). With its large, high resolution SXGA+ LCD panel, beautiful industrial design and solid construction, powerful and energy conserving processor, and dazzling array of input/output ports — all fit into a very portable form factor — this notebook strikes an excellent balance between the desktop replacement and the ultraportable markets. I believe it will appeal to a broad cross-section of users who need a general purpose notebook for business that can still pack a reasonable gaming and multimedia punch. All in all, this notebook is a strong performer across the entire spectrum of mobile computing, and is an excellent value for the money.


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