by Kevin Giberson
The notebook under review, a Gateway M255-E featuring the Intel Core Duo T2500 running at 2.0 gigahertz, is available at Gateway’s website, at the small and not-so-small business pages, and is touted as “designed for the mobile professional who demands ultimate performance and stability at a value.” If I were a mobile professional, I could go to the Gateway Small Business website and reasonably configure and purchase the M255 right this minutes for around $1,100 or $1,200 if I wanted the cut-rate one-year warranty, or $200 or so more if the beefier on-site three-year business warranty better suited my needs. I might add that for me a reasonable configuration would certainly include at least 1 GB of RAM, though this review model has half that. Please keep in mind that all of my dollar estimates are based on a $300 instant discount currently offered via Gateway.com, but pricing and discounts may change.
Gateway M255-E Specs:
- Processor: Intel Yonah Core Duo T2500 (2.0 GHz/2MB L2 Cache)
- OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional
- Hard Drive: 60 GB SATA @ 5400RPM (manufactured by Fujitsu)
- Screen: 14.1″ WXGA Ultabright Widescreen (1200 x 800)
- Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
- RAM: 512MB DDR2 SDRAM @533 MHz (2 x 256MB)
- Optical Drive: 24x CD-RW/DVD-ROM
- Battery: 6-cell lithium ion
- Wireless: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 a/b/g
- Weight: 5.47 lbs
- Dimensions: 1.39″ (H) x 13.38 ” (W) x 9.76″ (D)
- Ports/Slots: 1 IEEE 1394 (FireWire), 4 Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0), 6-in-1 removable memory card reader, 1 Type II PC Card Bus Slot, VGA monitor out port, S-video out, RJ-45 Ethernet LAN, RJ-11 modem, headphone/speaker jack, microphone connector
Although I didn’t purchase this notebook, my fascination with notebook computers always leaves me wondering if I would purchase any notebook I’m lucky enough to get my hands on. Moreover, being the kind of person I am, I invariably wonder about the notebook’s grand placement in the universe of notebooks: its purpose, the vision of its creator, its adherence to that vision, and also, alas, its price. In the end it seems to me that almost every notebook purchase involves a consideration of factors both metaphysical and monetary, philosophical and pedestrian: in short, purpose and price. Is the notebook a good buy? In its price range, is it solid? Based on its category, whether that’s “business performance” or “budget consumer,” does it perform well and do what you want it to do? How about the screen and keyboard, two of the most important considerations when buying a notebook? Are they comfortable to the point where most of the time you don’t even notice them, though occasionally you find yourself marveling at how nicely they enable work and entertainment? So how about the Gateway M255?
My first thought when I removed the M255 from its box was that it is a very attractive notebook, a nice, sleek mix of black and silver. My second thought was that its size represents an almost perfect blend of form and function, though these may never be clearly dichotomized when dealing with notebook computers. In any case, the M255 should prove both manageable and usable in most situations — on a plane, for instance. There’s no physical reason you couldn’t unfurl this thing on your seatback plastic tray and use it quite comfortably. And if your next-seat neighbors glance sideways and pause briefly at the M255, chances are they won’t be thinking, “Wow, that’s one ugly computer.” They may even be thinking the opposite.
Design and Build
Gateway M255 top view of lid (view large image)
The design, as I’ve just said, is very appealing, at least to me, which may be partly due to the fact that I own a Dell e1705, which is very large and has those notorious plastic white bumpers I could live without. The silver and black design of the M255, which definitely errs on the side of silver, does not detract much from a businesslike appearance. The build quality is decent too. A gentle, respectful, caring notebook user should have no trouble, given the solidity of the plastic, the strength and width of the hinges and the snug cover latch. Palm rests, if you use them, are firm and should hold under normal use.
Gateway M255 front side view (view large image)
Gateway M255 back side view (view large image)
Gateway M255 left side view (view large image)
Gateway M255 right side view (view large image)
Gateway M255 14.1″ screen (view large image)
The glossy “Ultrabright” screen is excellent and really has no negatives that I can see, though it would be great to have the option of a higher resolution than 1280×800, which is not the case. Movie viewing is a pleasure, and the highest available brightness seems more than sufficient. I would think, however, that most business people would prefer the matte screen for long stretches of work. If I did go to the Gateway website to order one right now, I would probably select the non-glossy option, even if it meant my DVD watching experience was somewhat diminished. As with other glare-type screens I’ve seen and used, the LCD on this particular machine is a veritable mirror in certain lighting circumstances.
The integrated Intel graphics solution is more than adequate for just about anything besides gaming and impressing your friends with your 3DMark05 results. There is one troubling issue, however, that relates to the integrated graphics in this particular machine, though I would think the problem is easily addressed: when running certain applications, this notebook can be quite sluggish, which I’m guessing is attributable to the presence of a mere 512 MB of RAM and the fact that the GPU is siphoning off up to 128 MB of that, leaving only 384 MB, at times, for XP Pro and running applications. More on this later.
Sound is exactly as expected and consistent with most notebooks: a little tinny and rather limited in volume, but good enough for listening to music and watching movies if you’re doing so in a reasonably quiet location. Also as expected, external speakers or headphones really improve sound quality.
Processor and Performance
This is where the evaluation of the M255 became tricky. I was surprised to discover that this Gateway review model came with only 512 MB of RAM, especially given that the Intel GMA 950 would effectively diminish available RAM by a significant percentage. While it may make marketing and pricing sense for an online computer seller to start with a stripped-down base configuration in the hope of selling add-ons at a decent margin, I figured a review model would include an adequate amount of RAM. What I found, however, once I began to use the notebook and run it through its usual paces, was that 512 MB was anything but adequate, at least if “ultimate performance” is the goal. Evidence began to accumulate to convince me that saddling a Core Duo T2500 (which is without question a stellar CPU) with something less than half a gigabyte of RAM was a serious mistake. One particular test led to this conclusion: while running Super Pi in the background to calculate pi to 32 million digits, the Google News website sometimes took well over a minute to open, as did OpenOffice.org Writer. Nothing remotely close to this drag had occurred with the other dual-core machines I had tested, though these had a full gigabyte of RAM installed. In the end, I spent a considerable amount of time looking for bottlenecks and making software and Windows adjustments. Eventually I got everything running noticeably better, but real-life high-stress performance was never very good compared to machines with double the installed RAM, including one that also used Intel GMA 950 graphics.
Note regarding Super Pi: While it’s true that Super Pi is primarily a test of the CPU’s performance when used as a benchmarking tool, there seems to be little doubt that a Super Pi run, especially a protracted one, will also make substantial use of a range of system resources, as evidenced by its creation of temp files on the hard drive and a substantially diminished amount of available physical memory while it’s running. (The M255 showed as little as 5 K of RAM available during the above test.) Although Super Pi itself seems able to get its hands on everything it needs to perform up to speed, it will almost certainly make it much more difficult for other applications to access the resources they crave. And if Super Pi can make it harder for other applications to run in a low-RAM situation, I’m guessing other applications can too.
I don’t pretend to be anything close to an expert on the intricacies of computer resource allocation, but I will say this: If you get yourself a notebook with a nice contemporary CPU, spend the extra 50 or 100 dollars to upgrade the RAM to at least a gigabyte, especially if you’re planning to do CPU- and RAM-intensive work.
On the other hand, standard benchmarks, which I ran in isolation, looked pretty good and were in line with what I expected.
A brief Super PI run (calculating pi out to 2 million digits) was typically impressive and consistent with other notebooks containing Yonah CPUs:
|Gateway M255 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 15s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 12s|
|Lenovo Z61m (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|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|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)||1m 46s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
An unremarkable 3DMark05 score, which should make little difference to those who eschew notebook gaming:
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
Gateway M255 (2.0 GHz Intel T2500, Intel GMA 950 Graphics)
|523 3D Marks|
|HP dv8000t (2.00 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 with 1.0GB 533MHz memory)||2,005 3D Marks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)||7,078 3DMarks|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)||1,791 3D Marks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)||2,090 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,157 3DMarks|
PCMark05 resulted in a respectable overall score of 30,87 PCMarks:
|Gateway M255 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||3,087 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300)||2,879 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz)||1,877 PCMarks|
Here are the HD Tune performance scores for this 60 GB Fujitsu drive:
Keyboard and Touchpad
Gateway M255 keyboard and touchpad (view large image)
One issue I noticed almost immediately with this keyboard was that I often found myself having to go back and press a key a second time to get the letter to take, which I don’t normally have to do. It’s possible that this particular keyboard is a little weaker than other M255 keyboards, or maybe some of the people who had a go at this machine before I (I’m not its first audition) were a little harder on the keyboard than they might have been. Or maybe (though I don’t think so) my own typing has been erratic for the past couple of weeks. Nonetheless, this problem was more than a little annoying and was not limited to one or two keys, but happened regularly with a variety of keys, including my favorite, the “u” key. Otherwise, (though it’s kind of a big otherwise), the keyboard was fine, despite being a bit noisier than my Dell e1705, which has an unusually good keyboard. The full-size qwerty core is like any standard keyboard, and though the placement of ancillary and function keys takes a little getting used to, the adjustment is not difficult. The touchpad behaved without a hitch.
I managed to get just over two and a quarter hours out of the six-cell battery, with wireless on and LCD brightness at high, two things I’m always loath to alter. Not great battery life, but an eight-cell battery is available for a nominal charge, and playing around with power saving features would undoubtedly improve battery life.
Heat and Noise
There is noticeable heat on the right of this notebook, where the hard drive resides. I’m not especially sensitive to a warm laptop experience, but others may be bothered by the heat emanating from the bottom right of this machine or the warmth of the right palm rest. The fan seemed to come on quite frequently, but it never really bothered me. I’d say fan noise was just about average for a notebook.
The Intel 3945 ABG wireless performed as expected, with zero problems.
Service and Support
I have not used support, but as noted earlier, a good three-year business-type warranty will bump the price up 15% or so.
There wasn’t a lot of extraneous software on this Windows XP Pro machine when I got it. I removed Symantec Client Security to try to adjust for the lack of RAM, simply using ALWIL’s avast! antivirus program instead, and installed the OpenOffice.org office suite and some benchmarking and monitoring software. Aside from some of the performance issues while under considerable stress, the M255 ran everything just fine, and startup and shutdown were clean.
The M255 is a physically attractive notebook with a good screen, and it’s easy to tote around. Based strictly on price, screen, size and build quality, it seems like a good choice for users looking to save money. This particular machine proved capable during basic use, such as email, Internet and document creation, but performed poorly under stress, and the keyboard consistently lacked expected responsiveness, making its presence known in ways it shouldn’t. While performance under stress would likely be addressed by an additional 512 MB of RAM, it’s impossible to say whether the keyboard problems are of a particular or general nature, or, for that matter, if further use would have resulted in user adjustments to diminish or eliminate responsiveness issues. There is also the very real possibility that another user would like the keyboard. One thing I do know: If I were to purchase one or fifty of these notebooks, I would insist on first testing with additional RAM, and if it were a bulk purchase, I would want additional opinions on the keyboard.
- Excellent CPU
- Attractive design
- Genuinely mobile
- Decent build quality for all plastic
- Good screen
- Inexpensive for a business notebook
- Keyboard responsiveness seems poor; typing often requires second strike of a key
- Hot on the right side, above and below the hard drive
- Poor performance under stress (may not be an issue with extra RAM)
- Three-year warranty represents a significant percentage increase in price