Gateway M680 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (44,843)

by Andrew Johnson, Alaska USA

I was so pleased with the first Gateway notebook I reviewed (the Gateway M460) that I was delighted to get the opportunity to review Gateways’ top of the line multimedia powerhouse, the M680.  The Gateway M680 is a 17″ widescreen notebook that is best suited as a desktop replacement.  It has a brilliant and large screen, hi-end graphics, and even a full sized keyboard with a number pad.  It packs some unexpected surprises as well, such as 6+ hours of battery life.

Gateway M680 Desktop Replacement Style Notebook (view larger image)

Configuration as reviewed and upgrade cost over base system price of $1949.99:

  • 17″ wsxga+ (1680×1050) ultrabright glossy-finish LCD
  • 2.13 GHz Pentium M 770 (Alviso) CPU with 533MHz FSB and 2MB L2 Cache  +$465
  • Modular 8x Multi-Format DVD Writer
  • 1024MB (512×2) DDR2 RAM at 533MHz
  • ATI Radeon X700 128MB graphics
  • 60GB 7200RPM hard drive +$55
  • 12-Cell Primary battery +$20

Purchasing from Gateway:

Gateway offers purchasing flexibility including retail outlets, telephone sales, online purchases, and through online chat.  From my experience and what I’ve heard from others, dealing with someone on the phone or through online chat can result in an additional 10-15% off the published online price.

On another system purchase I chatted a full hour and was able to have all my questions answered, including a photo emailed to me of the battery when I asked if it protruded out the back of the system.

I currently only have this notebook as a review unit, but I now intend to purchase one as soon as financially possible.  Read on to see how well the Gateway M680 stacks up!

Form & Design:

The M680XL is clad in black and silver plastic.  The design is simple, straightforward, and fairly classy.  For such a large notebook, it is a slim (but not ultra-thin) 1.24-1.42″ thickness, sloped slightly.

The large 12-cell extended battery extends out the back of the notebook, and with this heavy battery the total weight is nearly 8.5 pounds.  The 8-cell battery is lighter and fits flush.  Given the great battery life of the M680, I would recommend the smaller 8-cell for most users.

Right profile view of M680 (view larger image)

The Gateway M680 features a modular bay for an optical drive, extra battery, or second hard drive.  I really like this design, and am disappointed when manufacturers don’t include this option.  For one, it allows you to swap batteries away from power without shutting down.  Or on a long flight you can watch a DVD with the main battery and then pop in the modular battery for extra long runtime.  For those who simply want maximum battery life and don’t want to carry extra things, the optical drive can be left behind and both batteries can be used until they run out. 

Build Quality:

The Gateway M680XL feels very solid, even more so than the smaller M460XL.  The large screen has a sturdy back, and it takes a very hard push before ripples appear in the screen.  The hinges and latches both appear to be well built.

Heat and noise:

Most light use won’t cause the M680 to become noticeably warm.  After heavy use the keyboard area, especially to the left where the CPU is, becomes warm, but not hot.  The palm rest also gets only slightly warm, again mostly on the left where the hard drive is.

The fan comes on from time to time, and remains on during heavy use such as gaming.  It is not annoying, and it is fairly quiet.  Occasionally it will kick up to the high speed setting, which is louder but still nothing that would disrupt a classroom.  It is much quieter than some laptop which seem to go into “hurricane” mode.

Screen:

The screen is a big, beautiful, glossy 17″ wide-aspect LCD with a perfect 1680×1050 resolution.  Compared to the other 17″ options of 1440×900 and 1920×1200, this is the best in my opinion.  Given the normal working distance from a laptop screen, text is not too small like it is on a 1920×1200 screen, but there is significantly more working space than a 1440×900 screen (36% more in fact).

Gateway seems to make some of the most evenly illuminated screens with no light leakage.  The M680 is no exception.  The viewing angle is also like any good laptop: very good from the sides, decent from above, and poor from below.

The Question of Glossy:

There is a lot of discussion about glossy screens.  They look pretty, with deep blacks and saturated colors, but they can reflect bright light sources and even the user sitting in front of the laptop.  So which is better?  It truly is a matter of preference, but to me the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  I find that I naturally focus on the screen and can’t even see the reflected surroundings. 

If I choose, I can focus on the reflection, but it is easy to ignore.  It only becomes difficult with a black screen and a bright room.

This is demonstrated in this photo, which was taken with a black desktop background in a moderately bright room to accentuate the problem:

Example of glare problems (view larger image)

When it comes to light source reflections, I actually prefer the characteristics of a glossy screen.  This is because a matte screen will actually diffuse light reflections in such a way that no matter where the light source is, it will dull the screen image.  With the glossy screen, on the other hand, the light source is either obviously reflected or obviously not reflected. 

Being a photographer, I speak better with photos.  This illustrates the reflection “dulling” phenomenon and how a slight angle change can remove all reflections from only the glossy screen: 

Example of adjusting angle to remove reflection from a glossy screen (view larger image)

Speakers:  

The speakers are pretty standard for a notebook, although I would think they could improve on them with the amount of space a 17″ notebook offers.  They do get sufficiently loud to watch a movie with friends, and the sound is commendably crisp and clear.  There is absolutely no bass.

Processor and Performance:

My review model came equipped with the fastest Pentium M currently available: 2.13GHz.  It seems very quick indeed, and should outperform much higher clocked Pentium 4s because the Pentium M is such an efficient CPU.

Benchmark comparisons:

The M680 performed very well is a variety of benchmarks.

Super Pi (Time to calculate Pi to 2 million digits.  Lower is better)

  • Gateway M680XL 2.13 GHz Pentium M: 91 seconds
  • Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M:  98 seconds
  • Dell Inspiron 9300 1.6 GHz Pentium M:  116 seconds
  • Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz: 126 seconds

My primary use for computers is professional digital photography.  Processing RAW files from the 16.7 megapixel Canon 1Ds MK II can slow any computer.  I have created my own Photoshop benchmark which actually emulates tasks real photographers do (not odd filters which perform best on a Mac G5 for example)

Photoshop CS2: 

Test 1: Process 10 RAW files with Photoshop CS2 and save as Tiff with LZW compression.

  • Gateway M680XL 2.13 GHz Pentium M: 151 seconds (notice it exactly tied the faster Pentium 4 with the much faster disk)
  • Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M: 170 seconds
  • Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz: 151 seconds

Test 2: Unsharp Mask.  Combined processing time of several common settings performed on a 50 megabyte file.

  • Gateway M680XL 2.13 GHz Pentium M: 7.6 seconds
  • Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M: 7.8 seconds
  • Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz:  8.7 seconds

Test 3:  Resize 50 megabyte file to a 8×12″ 360 dpi print using bicubic interpolation.

  • Gateway M680XL 2.13 GHz Pentium M: 0.9 second
  • Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M: 1.0 second
  • Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz:  1.0 second

HDTune:  This measures hard drive performance under ideal conditions:

  • Gateway M680XL 2.13 GHz Pentium M with 60 GB, 7200 rpm drive:
    Min:  15.6
    Max:  38.9
    Average:  27.9
    Burst: 71.8
    Access time: 15.1 (lower is better)
  • Gateway M460XL 2.0 GHz Pentium M with 80 GB, 5400 rpm drive:
    Min:  17.2
    Max:  37.1
    Average:  27.9
    Burst:  75.4
    Access time: 19.1 (lower is better)
  • Desktop Pentium 4 2.8 GHz with 36GB, 10,000 rpm drive: 
    Min: 33.8
    Max: 55.2
    Average: 47.5
    Burst: 88.7
    Access time: 8.7 (lower is better)
  • Dell Inspiron 9300 1.6GHz Pentium M with 60GB, 7200RPM drive: 
    Min: 17.1
    Max:  39.9
    Average:  28.1
    Burst:  69.1
    Access time: 14.9 (lower is better)

3D Mark 2005

The Gateway M680XL with a Radeon X700 scored 2430 3D Marks

Keyboard and touchpad:

One of this notebooks best features, made possible by its large size, is a full size keyboard with a full number pad.  I frequently use the number pad, and am always slowed down on notebooks without one. 

Keyboard and Touchpad view (view larger image)

My one gripe is that the right shift key is miniaturized to accommodate the arrow keys.  They could have been moved down a row like on many other notebooks.

There is some flex all over the keyboard when it is pressed hard.  It is something I would never notice if I wasn’t looking for it.

The touchpad is responsive, works well, and is really not unique in any way.

Ports:

The left side houses the 2 USB 2.0 ports, the PC card slot, a mini 4-pin firewire port, and an S-video connection.

The right side has 2 more USB 2.0 ports and the multi format optical drive.

On the front are the microphone and headphone jacks and an SD card reader.

A VGA port, the power connection, and the modem and gigabit Ethernet ports are on the rear.  There is no DVI port.

Wireless:

The internal wireless card connected to various wireless networks without a hitch.

Battery:

My review unit came with the largest battery option, a 12-cell unit which extends out the back of the notebook to accommodate the extra cells.  It has approximately 37% more capacity than the standard 8-cell.

I am totally blown away by the battery life.  With optimized power settings and very simple use (typing, etc.) I am able to run for over 6 hours!  The 8-cell battery should achieve over 4 hours under the same conditions.  I did not expect such a large and powerful notebook to get such great battery life. 

DVD viewing always puts more demand on the system as the optical drive is spinning, the CPU is being used, and the video card is being used.  Much lower battery life can be expected.  However, results remained impressive.

At minimum brightness, with wireless off, I still achieved over 4 hours of battery life!  Even the 8-cell should get over 3 hours life while watching a DVD.  The lowest brightness setting is definitely good enough for a dim room or an airplane.

At maximum brightness, the battery ran down to 5% in about 3 hours. 

Even the standard battery is capable of playing most movies at maximum brightness with time to spare.

Operating System and Software: 

I received Windows XP professional with my system.  Gateway also includes blank CDs and software to make your own customized recovery discs.  However, there is also a 3.5 GB recovery partition.

Unfortunately there was a fair amount of unwanted “bloatware” for virus protection and internet service trials, but it was easily removed.

Customer Support: 

I did not need any customer support for this computer, although from my experience Gateway is very responsive and offers many methods of contacting them.

Complaints:

It’s been hard to come up with any real complaints, but I did have one issue.  Normally, the power setting “portable/laptop” will adjust the CPU speed based on load.  It is transparent to the user, but saves battery life.  For some reason, the “clock cycling” only worked when the computer was plugged in, even though it’s most important when running on battery power.  Selecting “Home/Office Desk” produced the correct behavior, and it is this setting I used to achieve optimal battery life and still score high in the benchmarks.

Summary:

While I only had the Gateway M680XL to write this review, I now hope to buy it to use as my only computer.  It has several attractive features that my Dell Inspiron 9300 does not have, and it is a very powerful desktop replacement that is still easy to use away from home, primarily due to its great battery life.  It is a great computer if you just have one, because it packs all the performance and features needed into a small package.

The Gateway M680 has outstanding overall performance, and commendable 3D performance capable of pleasing most gamers.  It is hard to beat at this price point.  The lowest end model, which is still very powerful, starts at under $1400.

Pros:

  • Big, sharp, high resolution screen
  • Amazing battery life for a 17″ notebook
  • Number pad and almost perfect keyboard
  • Very fast performance
  • Nice design

Cons:

  • Glossy screen could be annoying to some
  • Small shift key
  • Gradually gets warm under heavy use.
  • Possible BOIS problem associated with Speedstep clock cycling
  • No DVI port

Pricing and Availability:

Other Reviews by this Author:


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