Introduction

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.

Gateway P-6831 FX Overview
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  • marsbound2024 - Tuesday, April 01, 2008 - link

    It looks as if at least Best Buy is also shipping models only with 7800mAh batteries now. So it could be that this whole 2600mAh thing was quickly changed. But basically if you buy one now, you are getting the bigger battery and it is certainly not an option to go smaller. Now for the display, I will let you know. I know for a fact it didn't have a battery jutting out, so that could be a 2600mAh or hey, none at all. If that's the case, it's an honest mistake. I will check the next time I work. But current research points at everyone getting a 7800mAh and no option now to go smaller. In fact, on Gateway's website, they removed the 2600mAh spec. Reply
  • KeithP - Friday, March 28, 2008 - link

    If you don't mind a little constructive criticism, the car analogy in final conclusion is way over done IMHO. After that first sentence, everything else could have been deleted. We got it, move on. It just seemed like filler to me.

    Regards,
    KeithP
    Reply
  • krwilsonn - Sunday, March 30, 2008 - link

    I actually really liked the car analogy! It could relate because a laptop "on the go", just like a car. The performance comparisons between laptops and cars are also very true, so I can't agree that it was filler as it did illustrate an important point about the performance characteristics of the laptop compared to others. Also, I think the idea that it is an "everyman" sort of laptop that is specifically capable for gaming at a great price makes it a perfect fit for alot of gamers who would probably be able to upgrade every couple years anyway. Obviously most people aren't going to spent $4000 on a laptop anyway. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 28, 2008 - link

    The latest Intel chipsets are able to run dual-channel with mismatched memory sizes, as the others above pointed out. There is a small performance penalty, but in truth RAM performance isn't the primary bottleneck, particularly on notebooks. Look at the WidowPC vs. AVADirect scores - the AVADirect uses faster RAM, but performance is still a tossup.

    Someone mentioned bloatware, and in the midst of testing and finishing things up, I neglected to cover that topic. The laptop does indeed come with a lot of crap software installed. However, it's not necessary to do a clean install - I just uninstalled all the extra stuff and that's what I tested. It took an hour or so all told (the internet security suite takes a while to remove), but the result is a much leaner setup. Highly recommended.

    If you want to upgrade the CPU, my recommendation would be to go for the T8300. eWiz http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=T8300BOX">has it for $240, and it would totally remove the CPU bottleneck in games. If you want to go for the T9300 to get the additional cache and 100MHz more, http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=T9300BOX">it costs around $320, so I'm not sure it's worth the money for most people.

    Folding@Home can run on the system - that leaves the CPU fan on max, which may reduce the life expectancy of the fan (okay, it *will* reduce the fan life), but it's not terribly loud. With the T5450, however, Folding@Home SMP needs to run pretty much 24/7 to complete work units within the alloted time.

    Regarding temperatures, a lot will depend on the operating environment. During the winter months when few houses or offices are much above 70F, I doubt many will complain. In the summer, I imagine it will be quite a bit warmer. This is at its heart a desktop replacement, like all other 17" notebooks. You can carry it around and use it on a bus/plane if you want, but that's not the primary intended role. At maximum load after 30 minutes the bottom of the laptop gets relatively warm... I'll run some tests quick and update the article in the next hour or so.

    Finally, a bunch of people complain about my mentioning the ASUS G2P. Here's the deal: the G2P was a $1900 laptop when it launched, and in my review at that time I loved the LCD but lambasted the weak GPU choice. Only laptops with a Go 7900 GS were adequate, but those cost well over $2000 at the time (not counting prices obtained via auction sites and short-term sales). The G2S is a decent notebook today, but NOT FOR GAMING! Look at the results from the Toshiba X205; that includes an 8700M GT, which is moderately faster than the 8600M GT in the G2S (higher clock speeds). The X205 had a T7200 (more cache and a 2.0GHz clock) and the P-6831 already outperforms it by up to 100%! The G2S is a great multimedia laptop, but gaming performance is still very weak. If ASUS had a laptop with an 8800M (GTS or GTX - I don't care) in it, I'd be all over it. If they could do it for $1500 or less, then the Gateway P-6831 would have some competition.
    Reply
  • VooDooAddict - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    Can anyone confirm that the T8300 or T9300 work in this laptop?

    I saw a post that someone fitted the laptop with a 65nm T7500 but I've seen no mention of the 45nm T8300.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 04, 2008 - link

    The higher end models of this same chassis ship with Penryn chips, so it *shouldn't* be a problem putting a T8300 in a lower-end FX system. Reply
  • Wolfpup - Saturday, March 29, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the Folding @ Home info! I hope it'll do okay. Wish laptops were like desktops where it just doesn't matter :-/

    I'm kind of baffled by this dual channel with mismatching DIMM sizes thing. I've never seen that covered in chipset reviews. I guess it's leaving SOME of the RAM in dual channel mode, and some (the left over 1GB)? Weird. So just randomly some memory accesses would have double the bandwidth of others.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 29, 2008 - link

    It's been around since the Intel P965/975X chipsets. It's called Intel Flex Memory Technology. All I can find on the subject says that it "Gives users a more flexible memory upgrade option by allowing different memory sizes to be installed while maintaining dual-channel mode/performance." There's no clear indication of what exactly they're doing (maybe in a white paper somewhere?), but I suspect the interleaving of data between the memory channels is modified in this arrangement. Performance may not be as high as a matched dual-channel config, but it's still better than single-channel.

    Of course, last I recall seeing this tested, dual-channel only improved actual system performance by 5-15% depending on the platform. Since notebook chipsets are already bottlenecked by a slower FSB, the improved memory bandwidth probably doesn't matter that much. The FSB is 133MHz base, quad-pumped. The RAM is 333MHz base, double-pumped. Both deliver the same bandwidth before dual-channel ever comes into play.
    Reply
  • jburgett - Saturday, March 29, 2008 - link

    Thank you for updating the article with temperature info! That is definitely something you can't infer from the spec sheet.
    Nice job!


    Reply
  • dtonnes - Friday, March 28, 2008 - link

    Back in October '06 I bought (via ebay) a new Dell Inspiron 9400, 100GB 7200HD, Geforce 7900gs, 2gb ram, T7200 processor, 1920 X 1200 screen for $1684. I've since updated it with a 200GB 7200HD and 4gb DDR667 RAM.

    It doesn't really seem like there's much more bang for the buck today than when I bought my machine a year and a half ago. Perhaps the most sensible upgrade right now would be to replace the 7900gs. Does anyone know if this is possible?
    Reply

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