Gateway AMD and Intel Laptops, a Platform Analysisby Jarred Walton on August 12, 2009 2:00 AM EST
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Gateway NV5214u - AMD
Representing the AMD corner, Gateway sent us their NV5214u. There are four current NV52 models (NV5213u, NV5214u, NV5215u, and NV5216u), all of which are identical in terms of performance and features as far as we can tell. The difference is in the availability (certain models are only available through select retailers), color, and pricing. The NV5214u for example is a charcoal gray laptop sold through Best Buy, currently selling for $500. Here's a quick look at the laptop.
The NV52 is a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio laptop, going with the current trend to better support HDTV resolutions. We actually like the "taller" 16:10 aspect ratio displays (or even the old 4:3/5:4 standard aspect ratio displays), but this isn't a huge concern for most users. What does concern us - and this applies to the vast majority of laptops currently being sold - are all the shiny surfaces. They might look great in photos, and glossy LCDs help to improve contrast ratios, but both trends are far too prevalent for our tastes. While some users will like the current trends, we have received numerous emails from readers lamenting these marketing forces. What we would really like to see is balance - go ahead and offer glossy LCDs and shiny laptops, but provide an equal number of matte LCDs and laptops.
As an aside, one of the most attractive laptops I've seen personally is the Dell Precision M6400. It has a surface that doesn't immediately show every single fingerprint, and it caters to both sides of the fence by offering matte and glossy LCD options. Unfortunately, the M6400 starts at around $2000 and is in a completely different category from the Gateway laptops we are looking at today. Still, we would love to see manufacturers retreat from the glossy LCDs and shiny plastic casings and give us other alternatives.
Thankfully, Gateway does make one concession to those looking for better features: they use an LCD with LED backlighting. This should help shave power requirements relative to conventional CCFL backlighting, providing better battery life. As we will see later, however, the overall LCD quality is still lacking in terms of contrast and color accuracy.
All of the necessary features are present, but it is interesting to note some of the omissions. Gateway does not include an ExpressCard slot or FireWire on the NV52 (or the NV58). That might be a concern for anyone that wants to use a mobile broadband card, but most users won't miss the extra slot. I know that I have yet to use an ExpressCard in any of the laptops I've reviewed, but then I don't use mobile broadband. For an inexpensive entry-level notebook, we are perfectly content with the feature set.
Looking at the various parts and accessories, there's nothing particularly noteworthy. Gateway provides a 6-cell battery and parts suitable for an entry-level laptop. It is nice to see that you can get 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and a 64-bit OS for under $500.
Dissecting the NV52 follows a familiar pattern. After removing the bottom panel that provides access to the memory and hard drive, the next step if you want to proceed further is to remove the screws on the bottom that secure the multimedia panel and top casing. Next, carefully pry up the multimedia panel (the 1.5" strip above the keyboard) and then you can remove the keyboard. Unlike some laptops, you will need to remove the LCD panel if you want to pop the casing. After that, there are a couple more screws underneath the LCD panel hinges, and then you can (again carefully) pry apart the plastic shell. If you want to access the CPU socket, you'll have to remove the motherboard as well, since the CPU HSF/heatpipe is on the bottom side of the motherboard.
All told, it's a lengthy process if you want to try to swap CPUs, and there are better options if you want an "upgradeable" laptop. It took me more than 60 minutes the first time, but about 30 once I was more familiar with the chassis. Reassembly is slightly faster than disassembly, as you don't need to be as careful when snapping the shell back together. Given the 4GB RAM and 320GB hard drives, most users will never have any reason to think about upgrades before it's time to purchase a new laptop.