Review: Gateway NV5214u 15.6-inch notebook

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Quick Version: Gateway’s new student-oriented NV series packs a lot of bang for the buck, although the machine is almost too heavy and bulky to function as a truly portable computer. If it’s going to spend most of its time on a desk, though, you get a fully-featured computer at roughly the price of an expensive netbook.

Features and Specs:

  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 QL-64 dual-core CPU (2.1GHz)
  • 15.6-inch screen (1366×768 resolution)
  • Vista Home Premium 64-bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA hard drive
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics
  • Six-cell battery
  • 8x DVD burner
  • Four USB ports, HDMI, VGA out, card reader
  • Weight: 6.82 pounds
  • MSRP: $329

Design: For a $530 computer, the look and feel is pretty nice. It’s still mostly plastic but it’s kind of got a faux brushed aluminum trim with a nice subtle pattern of tiny interlocking hexagons adorning the lid. The trackpad button is a cool long, thin reflective bar and the power button sits inside the right hinge.

hinge

As far as portability is concerned, this thing’s a beast, tipping the scales at almost seven pounds. It’s got a pretty significant footprint, too, at 14 inches wide by 10 inches long by 1.25 inches thick.

thick

I’m really not sure why Gateway made this computer part of its back to school offerings because, as someone who still remembers what it’s like to be a student, I wouldn’t have lugged this thing around campus unless it was absolutely necessary.

big

Screen: The 15.6-inch screen is plenty big and plenty bright. No complaints here. Videos hum along smoothly and the LCD is bright enough to ward off glare and reflections. The resolution is a standard 1366×768, which makes 720p videos look great. Gateway could have probably squeezed a 1400×900 panel in here but that would have driven the overall price up considerably.

screen

Keyboard: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of big notebooks. However, with big notebooks you generally get big, spacious keyboards. So it’s a little disheartening that Gateway’s decided to add a 10-key numpad to the keyboard on the NV series.

I would have much preferred a huge, sprawled out keyboard. Instead, there’s a decent keyboard that’s positioned slightly off-center. The keys almost feel a bit cramped, if you can believe it. You’ll get used to it after a while but this is not a great keyboard for those of you who are going to be typing all the time. Again, kinda defeats the whole idea of marketing this computer to students.

keyboard

Fun fact about Gateway notebook keyboards: I purchased a Gateway MX3215 for $600 way, way back in early 2006 and to this day, it’s still the best notebook keyboard I’ve ever used. I gave it to my mom and now she types like the wiiiind!

Battery: Battery life is okay — not great, though. I was able to manage an average of almost two and a half hours of actual computing. That’s a mix of surfing the internet, listening to music, watching short movie clips, and playing some older games. With Wi-Fi off and the brightness turned down to around 50% you ought to be able to manage close to three hours. Whatever the case, you’ll probably want to carry the charger with you at all times.

Performance: Gateway did the right thing by making four gigabytes of RAM standard on this machine (there’s actually a special 3GB version available at Fry’s). The Windows Experience Index is 3.7, bogged down by the graphics, but the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium clips along nicely. The included free upgrade to Windows 7 ought to make things even smoother, too, and upgrading the RAM and hard drive wouldn’t take too much time at all.

upgrade

You won’t be doing any serious gaming with the ATI 3200 graphics chip but older games and current casual games will work just fine. You’re supposed to be doing your homework anyway!

Other Features: HDMI out is a big plus, making it easy to connect the notebook to your HDTV. And Bluetooth is a welcome addition that has a tendency to be left out of lower-priced notebooks from time to time. The audio system is powered by Dolby and gets adequately loud, although at music and videos tend to snap, crackle, and pop at maximum volume so you’ll want to keep things at around 80% or so. You’re not going to rock a house party (or even a dorm room party) without external speakers, though.

Overall: It’s a nicely-equipped system for the price. You get a fast processor, tons of RAM, a decent graphics chip, and a beautiful screen, along with thoughtful extras like HDMI out and Bluetooth. However, as a portable computer, it’s not very portable at all. The near-seven-pound NV series is going to weigh even the lightest of backpacks down uncomfortably, while taking up plenty of space to boot. If it’s destined to sit on a desk for most of its life, though, the NV series packs plenty of bang for the buck.

Gateway NV Series [Gateway.com]

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