Gateway P-6831 FX: Best Midrange Gaming Notebook Everby Jarred Walton on March 28, 2008 6:00 AM EST
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It's a given fact that computers have been getting smaller since the days of vacuum tubes and ENIAC. What was once a glorified calculator that took up a space the size of a football field can now fit in something the size of your watch. Tasks that used to take months to compute on a mainframe can now be calculated in minutes on a midrange desktop system. Even in a relatively short period of time, we still see progression so that your top-end desktop gaming powerhouse from two or three years ago can be surpassed by a modern laptop.
That's all well and good, but a big problem a lot of people have with gaming notebooks is that their size relative to typical laptops is rather large, making them less convenient to carry around. Relatively short battery life is another drawback. But perhaps the biggest drawback is a very simple one: price.
We recently looked at the Dell XPS M1730, which is arguably the fastest gaming notebook currently available. With its 8800M GTX SLI graphics chips and overclockable Penryn X9000 CPU, you get performance that surpasses most desktops from 18 months ago, or if you prefer performance that will match a reasonably configured midrange desktop system. If you put together a Core 2 Duo E8400 system with something between GeForce 9600 GT 512 SLI and 8800 GT 512 SLI graphics, you should have roughly comparable performance. The problem is that such a desktop system can be assembled for less than $1500, whereas the powerful XPS M1730 costs about three times as much.
What would be really nice is if we had a viable midrange gaming laptop alternative — something that offers reasonable performance for under $1500. We're not talking about any of the junk shipping with integrated graphics, or low-end stuff like GeForce 8400 or even 8700M GT. And while they're reasonably fast, even single GPU 8800M GTX notebooks like the AVADirect (Clevo) M570RU start at over $2000. How about a laptop with graphics performance that can at least match the GeForce 9600 GT? After all, the 9600 GT can be had for a mere $150 and it doesn't seem to consume that much power; how hard can it be to put something like that into a laptop?
In fact, it's not really all that difficult, and NVIDIA launched exactly that sort of chip in late 2007 with the GeForce 8800M GTS. It has 64 Stream Processors, just like the 9600 GT. Most of the gaming laptops have opted for the more powerful (and more expensive) 8800M GTX with its 96 SPs, so we were quite interested to see exactly how much performance you give up by going with the 8800M GTS. Unfortunately, we can't really do an apples-to-apples comparison here, because Gateway didn't stop at cutting down the GPU. In the system we received, they also trimmed the CPU performance quite a bit, dropping all the way to a 1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5450. That certainly means CPU performance isn't going to match up well against something like a 2.8GHz X9000; what we want to find out is whether it can still provide adequate performance.
If you've ever looked at buying a gaming notebook, you have likely been very disappointed in the offerings that cost less than $2000. In fact, up until Gateway dropped the P-6831 FX on the mobile gaming market, we honestly haven't seen anything that would even qualify as a good midrange gaming notebook. Gateway didn't just break a $2000 price barrier, however. Available at locations like Best Buy for a mere $1350 (and currently with a $100 rebate), the P-6831 FX completely redefines the midrange gaming notebook. Let's look at how they managed to do this.