Always looking for the right mix of power and value, we were big fans of Gateway’s 17-inch gaming laptop lineup, ranging from the $3,000 P-171XL FX to the $1,299 P-6831FX, a retail-only model that was the cheapest way to get Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GPU. Gateway’s recent refreshes of these systems have been equally impressive, even if they just offer minor component tweaks, in the form of the high-end P-172FX and a new version of the company’s budget gaming laptop, the P-6860FX.
For $1,350 (the system is occasionally on sale for $1,299) the P-6860FX offers some decent upgrades from the earlier P-6831FX, bumping the RAM from 3GB to 4GB and the hard drive from 250GB to 320GB. The CPU also gets a slight upgrade to a 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo T5550, but the underpowered processor remains the one weak point.
The P-6860 also includes the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, although you’re unlikely to see any real advantages or disadvantages from that in everyday computing tasks or playing current games, until more software is specifically coded for 64-bit systems. Because 32-bit Windows can address only 3GB of RAM, the real advantage of using the 64-bit OS is the capability to use 4GB or more.
With upgraded components but the same low price, the Gateway P-6860FX is our current choice for budget gamers.
|Price as reviewed||$1,350|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5550|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTS|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||15.8×12.2×1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||9.3 / 10.1 pounds|
Physically identical to the Gateway P-172XL FX and P-6831FX models we recently tested, the P-6860FX has the same glossy black plastic chassis with brushed aluminum detailing and copper accents around the keyboard, making a more subtle gaming machine than Alienware or Dell models.
As in the previous versions, the keyboard and separate number pad have roomy, comfortable keys–even if we’re not crazy about the dark red used on the number keys, which can make them hard to see. Above the keyboard is a row of media controls, with buttons cut right into the brushed metal border. These backlit buttons look cool, but it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’ve pressed them hard enough. A touch-sensitive volume slider sits to the right, and was responsive and easy to use.
The 17.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,440×900, which isn’t as high as the 1,920×1,280 in the more expensive 17-inch Gateways, but with the system’s slower CPU, you probably won’t want run most games at higher resolutions. We liked the screen finish, which was somewhere between the high-gloss finish found on most consumer notebooks (too much glare) and the matte finish found on business systems (too muted).
|Gateway P-6860FX||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video, DVI or HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader, eSATA||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard||PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||HD DVD or Blu-Ray|
All the current 17-inch Gateway FX laptops include not only an HDMI output (quickly becoming standard equipment in high-end systems), but also an eSATA port, which is good for hooking up external SATA hard drives. The higher-end models have thankfully dropped the fairly worthless HD DVD drive, but there are no Blu-ray options in the P-series lineup.
The P-6860FX isn’t the fastest performer in nongaming applications, because of its 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5550 CPU. Compared with the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 in the P-172 or the 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 in the HP Pavilion dv9700t, it excelled only on our Photoshop test, thanks no doubt to its massive 4GB of RAM, which the 64-bit OS can fully address. Still, we didn’t run into any slowdown or stuttering when playing media files, Web surfing, and working office documents at the same time.
The low-end CPU/high-end GPU combination is an odd one, but it’s largely works if you primarily want to use the Gateway P-6860FX as a cheap gaming rig. With the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card, we were able to get frame rates reasonably close to the more expensive P-172, and got more than 60 frames per second in Unreal Tournament III even at the display’s maximum resolution. We tested the 64-bit compatible game Crysis on both this system and the older P-6831 model (which has 32-bit Vista), but, as we expected, the difference in performance was negligible.
Our battery testing, using CNET Labs’ video battery drain test, gave us 2 hours and 1 minute of battery life, which is fairly impressive for a desktop replacement, as many 17-inch laptops give up well short of the 90-minute mark. Because desktop replacements spend most of their time tethered to a single location, battery life isn’t usually a big factor.