Gateway EC5409u

The Gateway EC54 series bucks CULV convention and goes with a larger 15.6" chassis. Yes, it's bigger and heavier, but if you're already carrying a laptop bag around the difference is really quite small. I was recently at an NVIDIA technical presentation, and while everyone else was pulling out their stylish MacBooks and VAIOs, with some Dell and ASUS laptops thrown in for good measure, I was the only one with a Gateway system. Maybe no one else really paid much attention to what I had sitting in front of me, but afterwards I was speaking with one of the NVIDIA marketing folks. We were discussing netbooks and ION among other things, and I said, "Honestly, laptops like this have made me feel that Atom is almost totally irrelevant now. I'm sure we'll see millions of people still buying them, but that's only because they don't know any better." That naturally lead into a discussion of this Gateway laptop, and when I showed him current availability online for $600, he agreed that it was a very impressive offering. So what's so great about the EC5409u?


Gateway EC5409u Specifications
Processor Intel Pentium SU4100
(2x1.3GHz, 45nm, 2MB L2, 800FSB, 10W)
Chipset Intel GS45 + ICH9M
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD IGP
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8131 PCI-E)
Intel Wifi Link 1000 BGN
Audio 2-Channel Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
(2.0 speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 5600mAh, 63Wh
Front Side Flash Reader (MMC, MS, MS Pro, SD, xD)
Left Side Headphone/Microphone
1 x USB 2.0
HDMI
VGA
Heat Exhaust
Ethernet
Right Side 2 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive (DVDRW)
Power Adapter
Kensington Lock
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.85" x 10.0" x 1.01-1.08" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.29 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
99-Key Keyboard with 10-Key
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing Available Online starting at $600

First, it has a really attractive design. Glossy plastic is gone, other than around the LCD bezel. The keyboard and palm rest are a nice matte plastic, and the cover is blue brushed aluminum. (You can also get it with a silver brushed aluminum top if you prefer.) I wish Gateway had taken things a step further and eliminated the glossy LCD and the shiny plastic on the LCD bezel and above the keyboard, and I don't see a need for a mirror on the touchpad buttons, but the important surfaces are no longer as prone to collecting fingerprints. I do have to note that after using the laptop for a couple weeks the matte finish shows the wear in the form of "oily spots", with areas on the palm rest and keyboard (especially the space key) visibly marked. You'll have to decide whether you prefer clearly visible fingerprints on glossy finishes or wear spots on matte finishes, unless you can find a surface that's completely immune to marking.

The hinge feels solid and the metal backing of the LCD panel makes it less prone to flexing or twisting. You also get a full size keyboard with a dedicated number keypad, though we do have a few complaints in that area. On the number keypad, the decimal point is in the wrong place, as are the plus and minus keys, and the zero key should be twice as wide. What's more, Gateway doesn't provide any dedicated Home/End or Page Up/Down keys… unless you don't use the numlock function. Again, personal preference comes into play, but like the NV52 and NV58 I ended up leaving numlock off. There's still about an inch of horizontal real estate to the sides of the keyboard that could have been used to fit in a few more keys and alter the layout, but it goes unclaimed. This was at least partly to keep costs down, since this is the same layout Gateway uses on several 15.6" designs. While I wouldn't say it's "perfect", the keyboard is comfortable for regular use and it provided good feedback for my typing style. It was far more comfortable during extended use than either of the 11.6" keyboards.

When we look at the features a few corners have been cut, but there are no major omissions. You won't get a dedicated graphics card, for example, so you'll be stuck with the integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics. (Not surprisingly, that was the NVIDIA rep's one complaint.) The LCD is a glossy low resolution 1366x768 panel, and while we're okay with 1366x768 in 11.6" laptops, 15.6" designs would definitely benefit from 1600x900 or even 1080p LCDs. In other areas, the features weren't cut at all. You get 2x2GB of DDR3-1066 memory, which is plenty for this sort of system (and up to 8GB is supported if you're willing to shell out $380+). The LCD uses LED backlighting, helping to improve battery life by cutting power use. Other components worth mentioning include the Intel WiFi Link 1000 802.11n networking, Gigabit Ethernet, a 320GB 5400RPM HDD, webcam, DVDRW, and flash memory reader. The CPU is a Pentium SU4100, which isn't the fastest CULV offering but it provides a good blend of price and performance. (As we mentioned at the start, the SU9400 is about 15% faster for almost twice the cost.) Overall, the design and construction are very good, and at $600 this is a really great value.

In terms of day to day use, the EC5409u provides excellent battery life, just like the other CULV designs. You can easily run typical office tasks for an entire eight hour workday without ever plugging in, and even at its slowest the SU4100 can run circles around an Atom N280/N450. The only areas where the system falls a bit short are the usual suspects for Intel IGP laptops: gaming and video playback. The gaming is pretty much a complete failure, outside of undemanding games like Sims 3 and Spore where it can provide acceptable performance at minimum details. We've discussed this in the past, and the latest Intel HD Graphics in Arrandale are two to four times as fast, so newer laptops can hopefully avoid this problem. The 4500MHD's video support is actually quite good overall, and we were able to view 720p and 1080p H.264 videos without difficulty. The problem is if you place a heavy emphasis on Flash video content, as the current Intel drivers and Flash 10.1 Beta 2 don't always work properly. That may be addressed with future drivers or a final version of Flash 10.1, but right now we would still give the clear win for Flash video support to NVIDIA GPUs.

So where does the Gateway EC54 series rank in the pantheon of CULV laptops? For the pricing, design, and features, this is easily my favorite of the three offerings we're looking at today. I've also poked around at a few other options at local electronics stores, and if you're looking at CULV (i.e. battery life without killing performance) it's going to be hard to beat the EC54 package. The graphics situation is a drawback, but you have the same thing on any of the less expensive CULV offerings, and it really only creates problems if you want to play games or if you want to watch certain Flash videos. (Hopefully the Flash 10.1 Beta 3 - or final release - along with updated Intel drivers can address the playback concerns, though we're not holding our breath). The only remaining concern is the question of size: do you want something closer to netbook proportions, or are you more comfortable with a larger keyboard and an extra pound to carry around? If Gateway were to cut out the number keypad and shrink the EC54 down to a 13.3" chassis, that would be about as good as it gets for CULV designs in my book. The Acer Timeline 3810 and 4810 come close, but they don't have the nice brushed aluminum cover. The other 13.3" and 14.0" CULV laptops (e.g. the Lenovo IdeaPad U450 and Toshiba Satellite T135) continue to use glossy plastic surfaces. ASUS also offers the UL20A, a 12" CULV with a chassis that appears the same as the 1201N, or the UL30/50/80A in 13.3", 15.6", and 14" sizes respectively. All of those are viable options, but they don't change the fact that the EC54 is one of the better CULV designs, and at $600 it won't even cost an arm and a leg.

Dell Inspiron 11z Test Setup
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  • tno - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    Jarred,

    Again, I am not writing to instill any ill will. But technical content is only half of the product. Grammar and style are not mutually exclusive, and the proof of this is the use of style guides like the MLA, or Strunk and White, or even that of fellow online publication Engadget. These guides do more than just tell you where to use a comma; they seek to elevate and standardize the quality of writing for a publication.

    Now I am all for introducing personal style to an article. And I am always impressed with the technical fidelity and content of AT writing. AT articles are more than just spec sheets and test results; they are pieces of writing. Arguing that omission of the preposition connecting two nouns is a matter of style is ignoring proper grammar with no gain. It is inexcusable for the writing component of any AT articles to be neglected, even if the technical content is of a high caliber.

    Again, I am not trying to cause you any grief, nor imply that your writing is insufficient for inclusion on AT. I am simply pointing out that a small amount of editing and proofreading could go along way to improve all of AT's coverage.

    I believe that this discussion has probably moved beyond the scope of the comments section and invite you to look-up my email through the forums if you would like to continue discussing this.

    tno
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    Sadly (I suppose) I'm usually the one doing editing of other articles. It's much more difficult to edit your own content, especially after you've been over it ten times in the process of writing.

    But seriously, I find it astonishing that out of all the articles written on AnandTech and all the mistakes present in said articles, you would choose to complain about something so innocuous as "A couple years back" vs. "A couple of years back". We could also rephrase it "Just over two years ago" and it would be correct. I suppose http://www.thefreedictionary.com/couple">I'm in the minority when dropping the "of", though again I prefer to stick with informal styles for the most part.

    At least we're not having a discussion about my use of "everything but" vs. "everything except"... or was that you as well? LOL
    Reply
  • aapocketz - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Back when the macbook Air came out these CULV processor laptops were $2000+, now they have dropped in price and could cannibalize high end netbooks. They are even being confused with netbooks now; consider the new Alienware m11x keeps being called a netbook, even though it uses a CULV.

    I have had similar thoughts, and almost purchased a Thinkpad x301 recently for under $800. The only reason I held back was I know these CULV chips are a couple years old now, and there are new I5 and I7 chips coming out soon, forcing prices down even further. When the Core2 CULV ultralights are sub $500, why buy these (bloated) netbooks for similar price? Netbooks originally were supposed to be around $200 or less though.

    Also these ultralights have a few more little perks than the netbooks have, like backlit keys (or a "thinklight") - there is not a single netbook with a backlit keyboard.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Why dont you compare the $400 CULV notebooks with the netbooks, since that is the direct competition? Also there should be a Sempron M100 in here somewhere. Reply
  • macs - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    What about arrandale ULV? Asus UL30JT is coming soon and he brings core I7-620 ULV and NVIDIA 310M GPU. Should be great!

    I want something better than my atom netbook, maybe with a 11.6" screen but I want to wait those new Nehalem ULV...
    Reply
  • Visual - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I would love to see also the Acer 1420P / 1820P variants - no need to explore their tablet functionality in this comparison as it is off-topic, but do compare their keyboards, build quality and especially screen quality to the other non-touchscreen options. I've always wondered if touchscreen panels have a noticeably different visual quality.

    Also, if I understand correctly all these "current" CULVs are old Core 2/Penryn based, and as such are already old tech despite being launched in the products that you view only very recently. Shouldn't they get replaced with new Nehalem-generation 32nm processors any time soon? Or am I misunderstanding something?
    Intel's code names and roadmaps are making my head hurt right now, so I'd really like to know your say on the matter - is there something in the same segment that is worth waiting for on the horizon?
    Reply
  • QuietOC - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    The CULVs are all "old" 45nm Penyrn-3M/Wolfdale-3M 82 mm² dies--same core as the desktop E3x0 Celerons, E5x0/E6x0 Pentium Dual Cores, and E7x0 Core 2 Duos. The significant difference is that the CULV SpeedStep goes down to a 4x CPU multiplier during idle, my desktop Wolfdale-3Ms only go down to 6x. The Atom N270 also only goes down to a 6x multiplier. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Arrandale ULV parts have been announced, but nothing has shipped yet. I'm hoping to get one some time in the next month or two. One thing with the Arrandale ULVs is that they have a TDP of 18W compared to 10W. Obviously part of that is the integration of the new IGP, but there's definitely a question of how low their idle power draw can go. I suspect the initial Arrandale ULV parts will use slightly more power than the current Penryn parts.

    Performance is the other question we'll need to answer. Price wise, the newer Arrandale ULV chips run at a stock speed that's slightly lower than SU4100/SU7300 (1.06GHz and 1.20GHz for the http://www.anandtech.com/mobile/showdoc.aspx?i=370...">latest chips), and they also cost quite a bit more than SU4100. But yes, I am very interested to get some new ULV parts for review.
    Reply
  • GTaudiophile - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    Out of curiosity, why not compare with the AMD Turion / Neo / X2 processors by chance?
    Reply
  • OMG Snarf - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I've got to agree with this. For the price point of the systems being benched, you can pick up an Athlon Neo X2 for $500, or a Turion Neo X2 for $600, direct from Toshiba with no shipping. Obviously the battery life won't be as good compared to the Intel CULVs, but I would be curious to see how the 12cell stacks up too. With the added $150 cost of the battery, you hit the same costs as the Intel CULV systems ($650), but get a Radeon 3200 instead of the anemic Intel 4500.

    Reply

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