INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
Notebook shopping over the past year has become complex to say the least. When I entered the desktop replacement market to find a new computer to use for, well, everything, it was daunting. Most notebooks these days have similar specifications, and those specs are rarely exactly what you wanted.
At some point the research online gets to be too much and you just go to the stores to browse, and that’s where I found the Gateway 7000 series. Fully-featured notebooks at very competitive prices; the only thing about them that gave me pause was the Gateway brand, which I (and I’m sure many other consumers) have had a poor impression of in the past. I came to this site and investigated and found that yes, by and large, Gateways aren’t really synonymous with quality – except for this line.
The specifications of the Gateway 7510GX follow, and I will try to be as thorough for the other technophiles as possible and break down the technical information.
Mobile Athlon 64 3700+ Processor
1MB L2 Cache
90nm San Diego Core (includes SSE3 instruction set)
ATI Radeon Xpress 200 (RS480) Chipset
Conexant AC’97 Audio Controller
AC’97 Modem Controller
1024MB DDR333 PC2700 SDRAM
Two 512MB Samsung modules
Expandable to 1.5GB
100GB 4200rpm Hard Disk
15.4″ WXGA UltraBright Display (1280x800x32)
ATI Mobility Radeon X600 Graphics
128MB Dedicated VRAM on a 128-bit bus
128MB Shared HyperMemory
PCI Express x16 Bus
Core 400MHz, memory 260MHz (520MHz Effective)
Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW Drive
Write Speeds: 2.4x Dual Layer DVD+R, 8x DVD+/-R, 4x DVD+/-RW, 24x CD-R, 10x CD-RW
Read Speeds: 24x CD-ROM, 8x DVD-ROM, 3x DVD-RAM
*I can’t find any confirmation of whether or not this unit can write to DVD-RAM, but I believe it can. The comparable model on LG’s website can, but I can’t confirm this one.
6-in-1 Media Reader
Secure Digital, Multimedia Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Compact Flash, Micro Drive
Broadcom 802.11g Wireless Ethernet Adapter
Marvell Yukon PCI-E 10/100 Wired Ethernet Controller
Boatload of Ports
4x USB 2.0, 1x 4-pin FireWire (IEEE1394), 1x S-Video Out, 1x VGA Out, 1x Mic, 1x Headphone, 1x Type II PCMCIA
Windows XP Home with SP2
REASONS FOR BUYING AND THE SUBSEQUENT PURCHASE
I was looking to consolidate my desktop and notebook into one unit that I could take with me wherever I needed to. I’m a student filmmaker, and I also use my notebook for my job, so I needed something that was as fully-featured as possible while still being a fairly reasonable size and having some semblance of battery life. I play computer games every now and then and needed something that could actually perform reasonably.
The vast majority of notebooks in my price range were either Centrino notebooks with only 512MB of RAM and GMA900 (or worse, Intel Extreme Graphics Decellerator 2) or Pentium 4 notebooks. Not mobile P4. Desktop. Forget it, part of the reason for switching away from the desktop was because I didn’t want a space heater anymore.
I needed something that could keep up with an Athlon XP 2500+ with 1GB of RAM and a Radeon 9800 Pro (I do miss that All-in-Wonder, the one crucial sacrifice for switching to a notebook).
While shopping around I came perilously close to settling on the HP zv6000, which I still submit is a hell of a deal, but I was hung up on the graphics core. While the Radeon Xpress 200M with 128MB dedicated memory is the best integrated graphics you can buy (though at what point do you really differentiate between integrated and discrete when the “integrated” GPU has its own VRAM?), it’s just not fast enough. My main criterion with the graphics core was that it be able to play Doom 3; not necessarily for Doom 3’s sake, but for futureproofing’s sake.
I looked at Dells for a little while but I’m not sure even Dell knows what the prices are on its notebooks considering how many coupons and sales and savings fly around, and I personally don’t care for the brand. I like Toshiba, but Toshiba’s notebooks are overpriced and underpowered these days. Sony and Fujitsu were likewise overpriced; I was examining an S360 for a while before I realized if I was going to replace my desktop, a 13.3″ screen wasn’t going to cut it.
ultimately, nothing else really caught my eye until I saw the 7426GX at Best Buy. The price on it was a little steep ($1,549) and considering my reservations about the brand, the extended warranty finally pushed it out of my range. Then I saw an open box 7422GX, grabbed it for $1196, plus $250 for extended warranty. That worked pretty well, but the USB ports, at least in the back, kept acting screwy (something you can attribute either to the VIA chipset in the system or just faulty hardware). When the 7510GX was released not long after for a ridiculous sale price of $1,249 (that’s $300 LESS than the 7426GX model it succeeds), I made the exchange.
The Gateway 7510GX in all its glory.
BUILD & DESIGN
If there’s anything to say about the 7510GX appearance-wise, it sure isn’t a looker. Decked out in boring black with a boring silver hood, it might be the least exciting looking notebook ever. Even the Gateway logo looks a bit cheap. The nice thing, though, is that it isn’t really gaudy either, just dull. But I didn’t buy it for looks, I bought it for personality.
Credit where credit is due, though: the texture of the surface of the notebook, under the keyboard, is a bit unique. Plastic, for sure, but could be mistaken for rubber without closer scrutiny, and is actually quite soft and comfortable.
The system itself feels fairly sturdy. There are horror stories about the hinges of 7000 series laptops floating all over the forums here (pick up that extended warranty!), but that appears to be a superficial problem that doesn’t affect the machine itself.
There is some flex and give of the plastic shell of the unit; it doesn’t seem inherently fragile, but it also doesn’t seem like the sturdiest notebook in the world either.
The screen is actually fairly firm with little wobble if any. There is, however, a decent amount of flex to the shell of it, with some moderate rippling.
Heatwise, the unit is remarkably cool; cooler than the 7422GX it replaced. The fan spins up fairly infrequently and is actually pretty quiet. The underside gets pretty warm, but never outright hot. The only curiosity is that the shell of the screen, below the LCD, actually gets hot. You won’t burn yourself, but it’s not comfortably cool either. But seeing as how you’re never going to sit there with your fingers pressed against it, it’s more a curiosity than anything.
The system is about 7 or 8 pounds, close to 9 with the AC adaptor. It’s really about where it should be in its class; it’s not too heavy but it’s not exactly light either. I have a backpack for it so it’s not a big deal to me.
Overall, the build is solid if utterly unspectacular.
And what a screen. 1280×800 with Gateway’s glossy BrightView. More prone to glare from other light sources, but also prone to looking totally sweet. The screen is surprisingly attractive for what is essentially a sub-budget notebook. It came with no dead pixels, which was a major fear of mine. The open box 7422GX I had didn’t have any either – food for thought, those of you getting sick or scared of dead pixels.
The screen’s plenty bright enough and the lighting is even. If there are any problems with it, I can’t tell.
SPEAKERS AND SOUND
Power lights and a pair of very impressive little speakers.
As with any notebook I have to recommend buying external speakers or headphones. However, for what it’s worth, the speakers in this unit are surprisingly rich and clear. Somewhat tinny and lacking bass, as you would expect, but also quite loud. Unusually loud for notebook speakers, in fact. To wit: I usually have the master volume set at 25%. That’s impressive to me.
I would actually say the sound quality is better than most budget speakers and is quite livable. If you’re going to buy external speakers or headphones, buy good ones. I bought a $30 pair of 2.1 Altec Lansings that sounded exponentially worse than these speakers. For what it’s worth, I listen to my music, do my video editing, and play my games using these integrated speakers and have found them to be very acceptable.
The machine itself can’t be described as “whisper quiet,” but it’s very close. There’s a single fan that rarely spins up, which is impressive, because as I said earlier, the unit never actually gets hot. The clicking of the hard disk is also sometimes audible, but almost all of this is easily masked by just playing music.
Really, a very quiet machine.
PROCESSOR AND PERFORMANCE
Boot time is unholy with the crap this unit comes preinstalled with, but after reformatting with a spare copy of Windows XP Professional I, like so many other reviewers here, “just happened to have laying around,” I found the boot time to be a fairly reasonable 30 seconds or so.
The real killer of performance in this machine that keeps it from the realm of “absolutely ridiculous” and in the realm of “quite livable” is the painfully slow hard disk. It’s livable, and the 1GB of RAM goes a long way towards alleviating the problem, but heaven help you if you get stuck using the swap file.
However, when you’re doing anything that doesn’t require you to wait for the hard disk, it’s FAST. Render times on Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro are stellar, and real-time is equally impressive. For example, on my old Athlon XP 2500+, a scene using a particular effect would have to constantly pause and re-render frames when shuttled through on the timeline. On this unit? Shuttling is fluid.
Beyond that, there are complaints that the processor underclocks to 800 MHz on the battery. Yes, that’s 800 MHz, but that’s 800 MHz on an Athlon 64. Believe me when I say it’s still a solid performer.
Gaming performance is another story. The 7422GX had a Mobility Radeon 9600 64MB that was sort of cute and respectable, and it tried real hard and for the most part succeeded. I could play UT2K4 at native resolution and that was fine by me. It struggled badly with the end boss of Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil, but up until that point was okay.
And now we have the PCI Express Mobility Radeon X600 128MB, which is every bit as disappointing as the desktop part. This core is tired and has been used and reused to death. All this GPU is, is a Mobility Radeon 9700 with HyperMemory. Call it on what it is. On older games and older benchmarks, this is indistinguishable from a Mobility Radeon 9600 at similar clocks.
The extra memory does go a long way, though. Doom 3 becomes much more playable (moving up a full resolution and quality setting), and everything else I’ve thrown at it has run swimmingly.
For what it’s worth, the GPU is capable, the video RAM is plenty, and it’ll probably last you a while. But the HyperMemory is unexciting when a core like this is really more comfortable with 128MB of VRAM anyhow, and it’s just not fast enough to properly handle 256MB worth of data.
Benchmarks? I’ve run a few.
3DMark Score 1664
CPU Score 3778
GT1 7.2 fps
GT2 5.0 fps
GT3 8.2 fps
CPU Test 1 1.9 fps
CPU Test 2 3.4 fps
Multithreaded Test 1
Compression 3.352 MB/s
Encryption 35.689 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2
Decompression 28.758 MB/s
Image Proc. 14.302 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3
Virus Scanning 2018.620 MB/s
Grammar Check 3.374 KB/s
File Decryption 72.442 MB/s
Audio Conversion 3071.085 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 5.383 pages/s
WMV Video Compression 52.968 fps
DivX Video Compression 62.789 fps
Physics Calculation 196.298 fps
Graphics Memory – 64 1029.513 fps
Doom 3 v1.3*
640×480, Low Quality 52.7 fps
640×480, High Quality 40.6 fps
800×600, Medium Quality 36.4 fps
800×600, High Quality 33.9 fps
1024×768, Low Quality 17.9 fps
1024×768, Medium Quality17.4 fps
*The first run of the Doom 3 benchmark is never a good, valid run, because it loads in textures from the HD on the fly. The second run is with all textures in memory. I used the second run for each of these numbers. Also, the game recommends 800×600 High Quality, which would mark the first time I’ve seen Doom 3 overestimate hardware instead of underestimate it.
Unreal Tournament 2004 v3355*
1024×768, no AA/AF 44.8 fps
1024×768, no AA, 8x AF 33.0 fps
1024×768, 2x AA, 8x AF 29.3 fps
1024×768, no AA/AF 50.1 fps
1024×768, no AA, 8x AF 41.2 fps
1024×768, 2x AA, 8x AF 37.3 fps
*Run with all settings in game set to highest quality. AF set to quality.
Aquamark 3 28062
HDTune – Fujitsu 4200RPM 100GB
Transfer Rate Minimum 15.5 MB/sec
Transfer Rate Maximum 30.6 MB/sec
Transfer Rate Average 24.8 MB/sec
Access Time 20.1 ms
Burst Rate 58.6 MB/sec
CPU Usage 5.6%
Super PI 1m31s*
*This is a full eight seconds faster than the 7426GX, which had a Mobile Athlon 64 3700+, likely using an older core.
KEYBOARD AND TOUCHPAD
The curiously awkward keyboard and troublesome touchpad.
I’ve found the keyboard to be very comfortable and responsive. Keys are a little bit stiff, but there’s very little flex if any. The keyboard is really quite solid and easy to use, but the layout is still sort of screwy bordering on downright bizarre. If you look at the bottom of the keyboard, you’ll see the Fn to the left of Ctrl, when it should be at right. Worse, the spacebar is rather short, with some of its space being occupied by an unnecessary duplicate key. Scroll lock is a regular key but num lock needs you to hold the Fn key.
Touchpad is awful, no real way to describe it, and I’m convinced it’s a design flaw because the old 7422GX’s touchpad wasn’t any better. The surface isn’t smooth and I find my fingertip sticking a bit and sort of rubbing against it instead of gliding. Some of the trouble can be alleviated by maximizing the pad sensitivity and disabling unnecessary features, but ultimately you’re just better off buying a USB mouse. More than that, I don’t know if scrollbars on other notebooks are like this, but the scrollbar on this is almost impossible to control properly. It’s so much easier to just reach over and press “Page Up” or “Page Down” or even just use the arrow keys.
My biggest beef is with the shortcut keys at the top of the unit, which are impossible to configure. The volume up and down keys do in fact turn the volume up or down, but you only know by the sound; there’s no display. Mercifully, the shortcut keys default to useful things (the music note opens your music software, the e-mail button opens your e-mail software, the “i” opens your web browser, and the magnifying glass button opens a “find” dialog box.)
What I can’t fathom is the omission of a mute key from anywhere on the unit. It’s not a Fn function, it just plain doesn’t exist. I don’t understand why I’d need a “dimmer switch” that turns off the lights on the unit, making all…what, four, five small blue LEDs invisible…but mute? That’s for suckers!
Do yourself a favor and download one of the myriad freeware programs available that lets you set up hotkeys for volume control and actually has an on-screen display.
INPUT AND OUTPUT PORTS
Okay, so the keyboard isn’t “fully featured.” It’s a good thing the rest of the computer is. We’ve got a sweet core, a playable GPU, a huge hard disk, plenty of RAM, now we want to connect crap to our computer. And we can.
Connections to pretty much anything you need short of bluetooth and ExpressCard54.
Every other useful connection.
Four USB 2.0 ports (two on the back, two on the left side), which is extremely convenient. Then the 4-pin FireWire port on the left side is very handy (especially for movie geeks like me). The S-Video on the back produces a serviceable picture on your TV set, and then there are the usual suspects of ethernet and modem jacks, a VGA port, and mic and headphone jacks. I do take issue with the mic and headphone jacks being on the back of the unit, though, which just doesn’t make any sense at all. Why not the front right side, which has plenty of real estate? All there is on the right side is the optical drive.
The 6-in-1 media reader on the left side has proven handy, reading every common form of flash, and I’m sure I’ll have to use the PC Card slot on the same side someday.
It’s the four USB 2.0 ports plus the FireWire that make this one gravy for me.
The unit comes with a Broadcom 802.11g wireless adaptor that, on the packaging, swears up and down there’s a “125MB High Speed Mode” which I have yet to bear witness to. The wireless range on the unit is, unfortunately, somewhat poor, but on the bright side I have yet to be dropped by it, so at least it’s stable.
I live in a two room apartment and the wireless router is set up in the living room in the center of the apartment. The router is a high-end 802.11g 108Mbps Netgear. The fastest connection this thing’s ever had to it has been 54Mbps – 802.11g spec – but averages around 36MBps from my room. At the moment it’s down to 24MBps. Still plenty, but somewhat disappointing.
The unit does not include Bluetooth, which is fine by me. Bluetooth’s relevance is continually disputed, but I personally have yet to have had a need for it, so it doesn’t matter to me. If it’s a big deal for you, buy a USB dongle for it.
The battery lasts 1:40 when playing a DVD at full brightness with no wireless. For average use, it typically lasts around 2:30. What’s worth noting is that, as I mentioned before, the CPU downclocks to 800 MHz on the battery. Ultimately, though, this would be the absolutely fatal flaw of the unit: the battery life is mediocre. However, in fairness, compared to other desktop replacement models based around the Pentium 4, this battery life is stellar, it just can’t keep up with Centrino based computers.
Of course, on the other hand, it does outperform most Centrino based computers in its class, so it’s a question of whether or not you want to make the trade off.
OPERATING SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE
The computer comes with Windows XP Home with Service Pack 2 and a small variety of software, most of which will only work for a limited time period. It comes with Microsoft Works & Money 2005, Nero 6 Suite (which is a stripped down version of Nero Burning ROM, my personal favorite CD/DVD writing software), PowerDVD (nice and preferable over WinDVD in my opinion), Microsoft Office 2003 Trial (60-day period), AOL 9 with 3-month trial period, Norton Internet Security 2005 (90-day trial), and McAfee AntiSpyware (30-day trial). Then there’s a compliment of weird crap that comes with it, too, that I honestly do not know what it does. I never did care for time limited subscription based software.
For what it’s worth, though, this thing is nowhere near as brutalized by unnecessary pack-in software as HP or Sony notebooks are (Sony’s a real offender, my last notebook from them had Microsoft Money AND Quicken installed).
You have to make your own recovery media. When it was on my old $2,000 Sony, that was crap (even worse, they didn’t even include the CD-Rs to make it), but this is a below-budget machine, so I don’t take issue with it. What I do take issue with is how they only let you make one set of recovery media. And what’s just plain weird is that the thing comes with 6 CD-Rs expressly for you to burn the media (but not enough to burn the individual app/driver discs), but gives you the option to burn it to DVD. Wouldn’t it have just been simpler and cheaper to include the two DVD+Rs instead of the CD-Rs?
I haven’t had to use the customer support, but it’s my understanding that because this is a retail notebook, any problems I have I have to take up with Best Buy anyhow. My experiences with them have been surprisingly good (hence how I even got this machine in the first place), and usually they’ll just take your word for it if you have a problem. The regular warranty is 90 days, so do yourself a favor and pay for the extended warranty, which’ll bring the price of this thing up to where it ought to be anyhow. The $250 I spent on it was worth it for my peace of mind.
Gateway’s site, however, is borderline worthless. The driver files they offer are inappropriate (if you can explain to me how an Intel chipset driver runs an AMD notebook, I’ll give this thing to you); the sound driver doesn’t even actually work. I wouldn’t recommend this notebook to an average computer user, but if you’re like me and you understand how this stuff works, you’ll be fine. You’ll get a little frustrated, but you’ll figure it out.
The randomly noisy optical drive.
My main gripes have to do with the lack of power management software, lack of controls for the shortcut keys, lack of an on-screen display for the ones that are there, the poor keyboard layout, and the lack of a frigging mute key or shortcut. Additionally, the hard disk is slow and threatens to drag the whole thing down with it, and the Mobility Radeon X600, while more than serviceable, still just strikes me as being somewhat…tired…and the HyperMemory is completely unnecessary.
The optical drive also tends to be a bit noisy, and Gateway’s site is abysmal. If you aren’t capable of being your own tech support, this may not be the right computer for you.
But then I tell novices to buy Macs anyhow. 😉
It may seem like I have a lot of issues with the computer, but part of that is because I feel as a consumer you should be informed of what you’re getting into. This computer isn’t perfect; in fact it’s pretty generic. However, it runs and it runs well and stable, and what you get for the price is, in my opinion, downright obscene. They don’t even make desktops with these specs at this price, and if you’re comfortable being your own tech support, to say this is a steal would be understatement of the year.
The processor is a house, the GPU is – while a bit maligned by yours truly – really very capable, and the performance you get for what you pay just can’t be ignored.
A few years ago Best Buy had its own like of computer hardware under the vprMatrix brand. When I was shopping for a monitor I noticed their vprMatrix was the only 17″ on display that could run at 1600×1200. It was $200 with a $100 rebate. SOLD. I brought it home and found it was worth far more than that. The monitor didn’t top out at 1600×1200. It topped out at 2048×1536. Bargain? You could say that.
The Gateway 7510GX is the notebook equivalent of that monitor. The HyperMemory, however inconsequential it is, isn’t even advertised. Nor is the cooler-running 90nm San Diego core Mobile Athlon 64 3700+. And they don’t mention that under the hood, they changed the VIA chipset that powered the 74xx series to an ATI Radeon Xpress 200, PCI-Express capable chipset. And it’s at a price that downright shames the competition. All you have to do is take a chance on it. For the money you’d expect yesterday’s technology, driven by a mediocre, problem ridden SiS chipset, not a brand new CPU core and a proven chipset by an up-and-comer in the chipset world.
From a design perspective, it seems whoever put this together managed to cram an absolute beast of a computer into this chassis, then got bored and gave up on the actual external design, leaving you with a boring-looking black box that conceals an ungodly amount of power. But if you’re like me and you care more about the actual computer than its looks, this is the machine for you.
This thing shames the overpriced Dells, Sonys, Toshibas, Fujitsus, and Alienwares of the world. Take it and run while you still can.