by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada
Note to readers: This notebook shares the same chassis as the American NX850 series sold through Gateway.com, so this review might be of interest to people researching that machine as well
Gateway 8510GZ angle view (view larger image)
I like Gateway. In my opinion the image of jersey cow boxes and green pastures that Gateway uses in their ads is cool. I have always imagined these ads being particularly effective on people like my parents. They like seeing ads for technology that show cute little animals dancing to disco music and I am sure that if they were in the market for a PC that Gateway’s marketing campaigns would do the trick. Gateway is like a friendlier and less successful version of Dell. For reasons that I can’t fully articulate, I like Gateway whereas I tend to avoid Dell. Maybe this is because people tend to cheer for the underdog — Gateway is definitely an underdog.
So, I like Gateway because they have funky cow-like boxes and they are an underdog. Never let it be said that marketing is not valuable. Hey, any marketing person that can convince people to associate highly toxic beige machines with lush natural vistas is doing their job. Besides, in a world of commodity PCs that are made in anonymous Chinese factories, I think PC makers are happy to take any point of distinction that they can get.
The Gateway 8510GZ that I am reviewing is not in fact the first Gateway that I have wanted to buy. For the longest time you could not buy Gateways in Canada. This was a shame as they always seemed to have a compelling laptop in their lineup whenever I was in the market. Heck, I found this website while researching the infamous eMachines 6809 — that was a very hot widescreen laptop with an Athlon64 (user upgradeable) and a RADEON 9700. Technically that could also count as a Gateway product since they were in the process of merging with eMachines (who were having their way with the value segment of the PC market at the time). I was not sure how the newly merged entity would compete in the value segment, I figured it would go as badly as Compaq/HP. Thankfully it seems Gateway’s mobile products have become much better as a result of the merger.
Gateway is making notebooks that really appeal to budget conscious gamers. I don’t know what this segment is worth, but I know that I cycle through a few notebooks per year (at least). I suspect that much like the PC video card market where the midstream cards are ATI and NVIDIA’s bread and butter, the mid-priced gaming capable notebook is in the middle of the bell curve. As a life-long gamer and parent of a school-aged child I can tell you that the best way to sell a school computer is to make it play games really well.
The Gateway 8510GZ is priced at $1599 CDN and is clearly a computer designed to be a family PC. Canadian naming conventions for Gateway products is different than in the USA. This notebook shares the same chassis as the American NX850 series, so this review might be of interest to folks researching that machine as well.
I should also point out that I am a Mac guy. Everything else being equal, I would get a Mac. Frankly the only reason I can think of for buying a Windows notebook over a Mac notebook for family use is games. It is that simple. So in this case I really like Gateway’s decision to spec a machine that can play games fairly well at a very competitive price. In this case, the 17″ Gateway 8510GZ represents a much better value than the 14″ iBook and costs a little bit less.
Open the box and what do you see? You see a nice friendly, Setting up your Gateway Notebook’ card. This is awesome. Do I need to read this? No, of course not and you probably don’t either. But think about your parents, or any non-technical folk whom you might have to give guidance to regarding: what computer should they buy? Do you really want people who asked for your help to open up the box and see a scary Microsoft COA card and 100 page manual? I have had at least a dozen notebooks on the bench in the past year or two and this is the only one that had a nice simple getting started guide upon opening the box. Gateway is the only PC maker that puts thought into the out of the box experience, in my experience. Apple excluded — they do the out of the box experience better than anyone.
The 8510GZ’s box is small enough that you could use it for trips if you don’t have a bag. That is pretty small considering how big this laptop is, and of course it has the white and black cow theme happening. I prefer this to the more common brown paper bag look. Why do huge PC manufacturers (cough Sony, Toshiba) dress their product boxes up like a bottle of malt liquor?
Despite the modest price of the 8510GZ the initial impression of build quality is quite good. I am usually a snob regarding materials used to manufacture notebooks, I like to see metal used as much as possible. But it isn’t fair to expect aluminum, magnesium or titanium construction on a machine priced like this — this is well under half the cost of a 17″ PowerBook! Gateway has picked some fine plastics here. The 8510GZ has a reasonable weight of 7.7 pounds (quite good for a 17″ screen notebook), but the chassis is satisfyingly stiff and solid-feeling. There is no unwanted flex when you rest your hands on the palm rests. The LCD lid has no flex and the hinges are sturdy. With a thickness of 1.2 inches the 8510GZ looks thin given its size. Overall, this is a conservatively styled yet handsome notebook.
Gateway 8510GZ closed right side view (view larger image)
Gateway 8510GZ right side view opened (view larger image)
Gateway 8510GZ left side view open (view larger image)
The keyboard layout is smart. Have you ever wondered why notebook makers do not use the additional chassis space that having a 17″ screen offers for a full sized keyboard and numeric keypad? There are a lot of big screen notebooks on the market that look silly with out-of-proportion keyboards. Thankfully the 8510GZ’s designers used all the space afforded by the XXL width chassis and filled it with a great keyboard. Key travel is a little longer than I am used to, tactile feel is good, and stiffness is better than average. Overall it is quite nice — better for heavy typists like me I think.
Gateway 8510GZ keyboard view (view larger image)
Gateway has spared the user the usual array of bright lights and convenience buttons that plague laptops these days. Instead they have employed a clean look. For example, the track pad is thankfully gimmick free — and it works well out of the box.
In my opinion, the specs are impressive. I don’t expect a budget machine to have this degree cutting-edge componentry. For a very reasonable amount of money you get the latest version of Centrino. This includes 533 FSB, dual channel DDR2, SATA and PCI-Express among other things. Nice stuff, let’s look at the details.
The CPU is an Intel Pentium M at 1.73GHz with 2 MB of cache. I was expecting to see the Banias’ Pentium-M which has less cache memory and uses a slower front-side bus used in budget products like this into 2006. This is a very nice part at the price. Basically, it means that you get a CPU that is 20% faster than the previous generation.
The Hyundai memory used in the 8510GZ is DDR2 in dual channel mode. This means that the 8510GZ’s 512 MB of RAM comes in the form of two 256 MB PC4300 SODIMMs. Yes, this makes memory upgrades a little trickier because in order to keep the higher performance dual channel mode you will need to buy a matching pair (two) of same-size SODIMMs (and let’s face it who will want to buy your two 256 MB SODIMMs?) , but the performance increase makes this worth it. It has been a long time since I tried to use a PC with only 512 MB of RAM, but I will suffer through this so that you can determine whether an upgrade is necessary.
Storage is handled by a wonderfully big and fast 100 GB HDD. In fact the 8510GZ uses a Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 ATA drive. Yeah, this is an ATA drive instead of the supported SATA interface, but in terms of performance you lose nothing, and according to the Hitachi data sheet for this drive the ATA version sues less power than the SATA version. Hitachi’s 7200 RPM drives are by far the best mobile drives in the industry, so having a 5400 RPM drive from them makes me feel a lot better.
This particular drive was split into two partitions. The C: drive has about 90 GB and the D: drive is configured as a recovery partition. Some folks may like to reclaim this space, but I think that including it is a nice touch. When you boot the 8510GZ it prompts you whether you want to go into the recovery console. I checked it out, and it looks a lot like a SUSE Linux install — very clean and easy to understand options. You can opt for a full restore (with format) or a system restore (old files backed-up). The recovery partition is adequately protected from accidental deletion.
You’ll get this if you try to change files on the recovery partition (view larger image)
Complimenting the HDD is an 8x Dual Layer DVD burner made by TSST. It is relatively quiet when reading and writing. It is nice to see drives like this trickling down, but I have not heard anything about TSST before so your guess is as good as mine regarding reliability.
With 16x PCI-Express being a standard feature of the new Centrino package, Gateway has wisely spec’ed ATI’s RADEON X700 video chip with 64 MB of ram. I would have liked to see 128 MB, but I guess compromises had to be made in order to hit a price point. The Mobility X700 is quite a capable part — it exceeds the capabilities of a desktop RADEON 9800. Clock speeds on the X700 are 350 GPU and 350 RAM. This memory is standard DDR, not the more exotic DDR2 or GDDR. It isn’t clear whether the memory bus is 64-bit or 128-bit, but the tests will fill in the blanks. There are both VGA and S-Video out ports on the 8510GZ.
The 17″ widescreen is very bright and has a high contrast/glare coating. It looks good in natural light, but might cause a headache in an office environment. The native resolution of 1440*900 is lower resolution than the ideal for a 17″ screen, in my opinion. The refresh rate was very good when watching movies and playing games.
The Gateway 8510GZ has a glare type reflective screen, notice the mysterious reflection of an author in the 3D computer graphic on the screen — no, that’s not a ghost (view larger image)
The balance of the spec is typical Centrino, no unpleasant surprises. You get 802.11 B/G wireless with very good range, 10/100/1000 LAN, audio in/out, four USB 2.0 ports, an SD/MemoryStick reader and Firewire.
The software bundle reflects the budget nature of the 8510GZ. You get Windows XP Home edition, Microsoft Works 8.0 (with Picture It, Encarta, and Money 2005), Nero Express, Cyberlink DVD player, Norton Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security.
Right off the bat, I don’t really like seeing security products from Norton and McAfee on the same machine. On first boot you will have pop-ups from these two programs competing for your attention — and that doesn’t even factor the built-in SP2 security features MS has added to their Operating System. Sadly, this pain-in-the-butt is not mitigated by at least getting a full year of updates. The Norton Antivirus subscription is only good for 90 days. Yuck. I removed both and downloaded Avast Antivirus (free for non-commercial Home use). Free tools from Lavasoft and MS do a good job of keeping spyware at bay.
I was also a little disappointed with the amount of HDD filler installed on the 8510GZ. A legion of AOL utilities were installed on the 8510GZ, and there was an install disk in the box, and in case you somehow missed the AOL stuff installed and included in the box, the very first site you will see when opening Internet Explorer is an AOL page. Other offending applications included Real Player, QuickTime and Adobe Acrobat — all of which will keep resource eating agents running in the background. It is better to install these when needed and configure them to not eat up RAM.
I also do not appreciate applications that prompt you to upgrade as soon as you open them. MS Picture It prompted me to upgrade’ to Digital Image Suite, Encarta, and Money — all premium’ editions. I guess the versions already installed on the 8510GZ are you get what you pay for editions.’ Why would Gateway subject their customers to this? Take all the cripple ware off this machine and add one useful application (maybe MS Word) and I think you could really differentiate a product like this.
Yuck, it’s MS Upgrade “Annoy Ware” (view larger image)
Gateway has a friendly restore disk utility that will prompt you to burn recovery disks. I liked this and it worked well. Another interesting application is BigFix’ which seems to be an application that monitors security status and reminds you to apply patches – pretty neat but perhaps redundant (MS automatic updates does the same thing). I checked out their website, and this looks like it might be a tool that would make remote support easier for Gateway.
As always, this is the interesting part. The 8510GZ is built up with some nice components. As you would expect, the CPU performance is terrific when compared to other recently tested P-M based notebooks turning in an awesome 1:44 in SuperPi (see chart). Gateway somehow manages to beat a few faster notebooks with the 8510GZ.
|Gateway 8510GZ (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 44s|
|Fujitsu S6231 (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 6s|
|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|
Here is how the 8510GZ fared in our PCMark04 test suite:
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|Gateway 8510GZ (Stock)||Gateway 8510GZ (Tweaked)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.23 MB/s||3.25 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||25.33 MB/s||25.87 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||21.6 MB/s||22.7 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||9.99 MPixels/s||10.46 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1827.36 MB/s||1691.56 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||2.69 KB/s||2.76 KB/s|
|File Decryption||51.28 MB/s||51.58 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2342.35 KB/s||2377.04 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||4.92 Pages/s||5.24 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||47.45 FPS||49.6 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||173.8 FPS||172.89 FPS|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||1882.1 FPS||1883.55 FPS|
|Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores|
|3DMark Score||1610 3DMarks||1694 3D Marks|
|CPU Score||3222 CPUMarks||3264 CPUMarks|
|GT1 – Return To Proxycon||6.8 FPS||7.0 FPS|
|GT2 – Firefly Forest||4.7 FPS||5.4 FPS|
|GT3 – Canyon Flight||8.3 FPS||8.3 FPS|
|CPU Test 1||1.7 FPS||1.7 FPS|
|CPU Test 2||2.8 FPS||2.9 FPS|
Overall scores in the synthetic benchmarks were pretty good. I suspect the relatively limited video RAM impeded the 8510GZ in 3DMark05, but the score in 3DMark03 was pretty close to what I obtained with my 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 desktop PC with RADEON 9800. The 8510GZ is a strong performer in office applications and has ample horsepower for video and photo work too. I have a strong suspicion that the RAM on the 8510GZ is 64-bit rather than the 128-bit ram used in the 128 MB version of the X700.
Gaming performance was also very good. The 8510GZ will play any game that you throw at it. I played Half Life 2 and Counter Strike Source as well as downloading a few game demos. In some games like Battlefield 2 and F.E.A.R. smooth game play comes at the cost of visual effects, but this does not make the games less enjoyable. Doom 3 and Half Life 2 played quite smoothly. I found that I could dial the features just a bit higher than the auto-detected settings. Call of Duty 2 ran wonderfully and looked fantastic.
In addition to testing the 8510GZ in its stock out-of-the-box’ configuration you can see that I ran tests after applying tweaks. I really wanted to see how much performance could be improved with a few simple tweaks removing software and updating drivers. Basically, I removed the following applications: AOL, McAfee, Norton, BigFix, Acrobat, Real Player and QuickTime. I tried to eliminate anything that might have an unwanted agent running in the background.
I also downloaded ATI’s Catalyst 5.9 Mobility drivers from www.driverheaven.net and the wonderful (and free) TuneXP utility. I am not going to bother with over-clocking the X700, but you could possibly squeeze another 10-15% by ramping up the GPU and Memory clock speeds. The 8510GZ has excellent thermal characteristics. It did not heat up during testing.
Something I found disappointing was the lack of HyperMemory support; this is ATI’s memory sharing technology. The dual channel 533 MHz DDR2 system RAM operates faster than the 8510GZ’s dedicated video RAM at 330 MHz. I thought that the benefit of a 16x PCI-E bus was the ability of linking the system and video ram. Taking another 64 MB from system RAM might really help the 8510GZ with some of the more challenging games. Some tests, such as 3DMark, report the 8510GZ as having 128 MB of ram. This might be HyperMemory at work, but I can not tell from the driver control panel (there is no where to turn the feature on or off). Maybe a BIOS update could fix this?
So what do the tweaked tests reveal? It turns out that what I thought were bloated memory hogging applications really did not have much impact on memory and CPU performance.
Although uninstalling some apps from the 8510GZ did not net a substantial improvement (5% is within the margin or error for these types of tests in my experience) TuneXP did perceptibly improve the 8510GZ in the input/output area (HDD tweaks). HD Tune shows an improvement, and the boot time and shut down times are noticeably better.
HD Tune (Stock)
HD Tune (Tweaked)
The final performance measurement for the 8510GZ is battery life. I found the battery life to be around 3 hours with the supplied 4-cell (according to Battery Eater Pro) 4800mAh rated battery. Batter Eater Pro returned the following result: 2:53:50 — right on the money. That is very good for what is essentially a small battery in a big screened notebook.
I noticed a large removable panel on the bottom of the 8510GZ when I was taking pictures. It seemed strange to have such a large door to add memory and access the miniPCI slot, so I removed the panel. I discovered a few interesting things.
Gateway 8510GZ underside view (view larger image)
Bottom of 8510GZ opened up (view larger image)
First of all, there is a metal skeleton inside the 8510GZ. It looks like magnesium, but now we know where the chassis’ strength comes from. The large panel itself is metal too.
Second, and most importantly, the 8510GZ is almost fully user upgradeable! The CPU is in a socket (you should be able to pop in any Dothan Pentium-M), the video card looks to be on an MXM or Axiom card (swap video cards!) and the memory and miniPCI are readily accessible.
Now, you will have a hard time finding a video upgrade for the 8510GZ at this time, but at least the option is open. Also keep in mind that the cards are designed for specific thermal characteristics and have slightly different form factors to accommodate more or less cooling. The X700 represents a thin and light solution, so an X800 or Go 7800GTX probably won’t fit. I have to do a bit more research in this area, because I know that Gateway also offers a notebook based on this chassis that uses a Go 6800 video card. If I learn anything useful on this topic I will provide an update in the discussion forum.
Likewise, it is not likely that you will be able to use the next generation of Pentium-M chips coming out next year, but the current generation goes up to 2.26 GHz and that is a good upgrade from the 8510GZ’s 1.73 GHz.
This is now the second Gateway notebook that I know of with a user-upgradeable chassis. You normally would only see this capability on much more expensive boutique notebooks or desktop replacements from companies like Dell and Asus. The 8510GZ really stands out.
What is not to like? Gateway has a real winner on their hands here. The 8510GZ is a great value and excellent performer. You will be hard pressed to find more features for your money, and best of all you can upgrade it!
Let’s talk about value a bit. Where I live, a desktop PC in this class with a widescreen 17″ LCD and a RADEON X700 would only cost a bit less than the 8510GZ. Factor in portability, WiFi and energy consumption (90 Watt PSU on the 8510GZ versus approximately 400 Watts for the desktop) and I really wonder why anyone would buy a desktop.
I do have minor complaints. The software bundle is a jumbled mess in my opinion. More is not always better. In this case I would strip out the trial-ware and fluff. What every user needs are good virus protection, DVD/CD burning software, a DVD player and possibly an MS Office compatible office suite. All the other stuff should be on a separate application install disk.
It is also somewhat disappointing that Gateway did not use the 128 MB version of the RADEON X700. But product managers are faced with tough choices and I can’t imagine what I would cut out of the 8510GZ to be able to include a 128 MB X700 at the current price point. The fact that you can pop-in a new video card in the future lessens the disappointment a bit. Besides, I don’t see any other notebooks in this price range with an X700 — caliber video chip.
I absolutely love the fact that you can pop the bottom off and upgrade the 8510GZ. I think it would be smart of Gateway to offer an upgrade service like Dell. Send your 8510GZ back for a video card upgrade next year. If it were priced like a typical desktop video card upgrade I would happily pay for that.
So, overall I think the 8510GZ is a top buy in this class. You really should look at it if you are planning to buy a new notebook in this price range. I would recommend this to anyone.
- Too much trial-ware and preinstalled software (yuck!)
- X700 only has 64 MB (possibly 64-bit video memory rather than 128-bit)
- Incredible value!
- Price/performance leader
- Can play any current generation game with reasonable settings
- Fantastic screen
- Solid construction (no flex, metal reinforced chassis)
- Novice-friendly restore recovery options