Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Gateway MD7801u

by Cisco Cheng

It's slightly misleading to call the Gateway MD7801u ($800 street) the budget version of the MC7803u, as they're both priced under $1,000—inexpensive for media center laptops. Their frames are beautifully designed, their features are ample, and their performance is more than satisfactory. The differences are subtle: The MC7803u has more bells and whistles, like a bigger glass screen, an illuminated keyboard, and a 3D graphics card. The MD7801u justified leaving those things out with a $200 lower price, so either one is a good choice.

Just like the MC7803u, the MD7801u is designed with a nod to automobile styling. The shiny black lid (or burgundy, if you prefer) is accented with a steel strip that runs down the middle—both classic and classy. The Acer Aspire 6930G-6723 and the Sony VAIO VGN-FW198UH have a basic design with unembellished glossy covers. Minor enhancements like illuminated logo and metallic trimmings go a long way in distinguishing a design. The HP HDX16t, for instance, uses an embedded pattern technique, while the Editors' Choice Dell Studio XPS 16 is one part aluminum, one part leather, and two parts lacquered top.

The MD7801u weighs 6.7 pounds, exactly one pound less than the MC7803u. The reason for the MD7801u's relative lightness is twofold: Its 15.6-inch widescreen is smaller than the MC7803u's 16-inch display, and the latter's edge-to-edge glass screen weighs it down, glass being significantly heavier than plastic. Although the MD7801u's screen lacks the clean look of glass, its brightness and size are perfect for multimedia enthusiasts. Its 1,366-by-768 resolution is the same as the MC7803u's and consistent with the 16:9 aspect ratio common in recent consumer HDTVs. If you're willing to spend a lot more money, the HP Pavilion HDX16t has a 1,920-by-1,080 (1080p) option for its screen, and the Dell Studio XPS16 sports an RGB LED widescreen, ideal for professional photographers.

The MD780lu lacks the illuminated keyboard of the MC7803u. This is by no means a deal breaker, but such a board comes in handy on a red-eye flight or in a poorly lit room. The full-size keyboard is very similar to the Dell 16's, in that the keys are packed close together and the grooves between the keys are less discernible than on the HP HDX16t or Acer 6930G. It doesn't have synthetic leather palm rests like the MC7803u, which is trivial. The mouse buttons, however, were a little too resistant for my taste.

In features, the MD7801u actually forgoes flash for substance. Its 500GB hard drive is a great deal at this price point, bigger than the drives of the MC7803u and the Acer 6930G (both 320GB). With the exception of a FireWire port, all the standard features are present, including four USB ports, a 6-in-1 card reader, the latest Intel Wi-Fi 802.11 draft-n chip, and ExpressCard slot. An HDMI port is hard to find on an $800 laptop these days, but the MD7801u sports one.

The MD7801u and MC7803u's processors are very similar in that they use last year's technologies. They cost less than the ones found on the Dell 16 and HP HDX16t; on the other hand, they don't perform as well. The 2.0-GHz, Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor in the MD7801u is significantly faster than the MC7803u's 2-GHz T5800 CPU and is more than adequate for the average user. When paired with 4GB of memory, it can tackle tasks from basic word processing to advanced video editing and image rendering. What it doesn't have is a discrete graphics card for hard-core games and 3D-intensive applications; the MD7801u uses Intel's integrated platform.

The MD7801u's performance scores were more impressive than those of the Acer 6930G and the MC7803u, specifically on the video-encoding, CineBench R10, and Photoshop CS4 tests. Its CineBench score beat the MC7803u's by a whopping 65 percent, and it was ahead on video encoding by 37 percent. The Acer 6930G is basically using the same components as the MC7803u's, but it managed to deliver better results, though it still trailed the MD7801u, by 6 percent video encoding and 3 percent on CineBench. I suspect the software load on the MC7803u might have caused the anomalies, but kudos to the MD7801u for outperforming the other two at this price point; the scores show that it is a good system for video editing.

3D performance is another story, as the MC7803u's ATI graphics card is better equipped to tackle games like Crysis and World in Conflict. The MD7801u's Intel integrated chipset is better suited to games like World of Warcraft and Internet-based games.

The downside of the MC7803u's 3D performance is that its ATI chipset and its higher thermal envelope hurt battery life. Its score on our MobileMark 2007 testing was 2 hours 47 minutes, fully 1.5 hours less than the UD7801u's 4:17.

The Gateway MD7801u removed some of the extras that made the MC7803u so attractive, including the illuminated keyboard, the glass screen, and a discrete graphics card. But in return you get a better processor and a bigger hard drive. The differences between them are minor; they're both excellent buys, and your decision may come down to how much you're willing to pay.

source : www.pcmag.com

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