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
Heat Exhaust
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


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    There's not a ton of flex - nowhere near as bad as some older MSI laptops, for example - but it does have a bit of spring and it's a "soft touch" keyboard, which just feels mushy to me. I prefer a bit more click, and the spacing and shape of the keys on the 1810 wasn't as nice as the 11z. But, that's a lot of personal preference so if you like the 1810 keyboard there's nothing else I'd complain about with the design. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Maybe it is just me, but the graphs would be a lot clear if the processors were listed out.

    I assume the power draw graphs at the end of the battery page is based on the run time and battery capacity?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Power graphs are based on power draw from the outlet, at 100nits LCD brightness, with all power saving features enabled (balanced power profile).

    Adding the CPU to each line compresses the graphs in a way I don't like. Just to quickly list the various CPUs:

    Acer AO751h = Atom Z520
    Acer AS1810T = Core 2 Duo SU7300
    ASUS 1201N = Atom 330
    ASUS 1005HA = Atom N280
    ASUS UL80Vt = SU7300 (dark gold = OCed to 1.73GHz)
    Dell Inspiron 11z = Pentium SU4100
    Dell Studio 14z = P8600
    Gateway EC5409u = Pentium SU4100
    Gateway NV58 = Pentium T4300
    Gateway NV52 = Athlon X2 QL-64
    Gigabyte M1022 = Atom N280
    HP Mini 311 = ION with Atom N280
    MSI X610 = Athlon MV-40
  • Ralos - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    The title of the article suggest this is a CULV vs Atom showdown. When I look at the graphics, I don't see this, I see a bunch of Acer vs Asus vs HP vs Dell and from what I gather, performance seems to be similar whatever brand the same CPU is sold with, so it really should show the name/speed of the CPUs in there. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    Per request, I've updated the chart colors to highlight other important systems. Atom 330 (ASUS 1201N) is orange, MSI X610 (Athlon MV-40 with HD 4330) is red, ASUS 1005PE (Atom N450 Pine Trail) is dark green, and ASUS 1005HA (Atom N280 Diamondville) is black. Hopefully that will help read the charts. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Well, thanks for trying anyways :)

    I guess my question is where a Z550 would stack up. Its safe to say it's 50% faster than the Z520, but I don't see that laptop in the performance line up.

    I'd wager that it's marginally faster than the ASUS 1005HA with less power draw (but how much less?).

    Basically, I'm trying to figure out what is the possibility of a CULV Sony X laptop in the near future ;) It may be unlikely simply due to die size..
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I think Z550 gets paired up with the GMA 500 chipset, which is good for HD video decode but I'm not sure that it's actually worth using. I know Linux users don't like it because it's a new proprietary GPU with no driver support.

    My experience (which is limited to the Acer 751h) was that it frequently crashed; what I don't know is if that was the chipset, or just a poor sample laptop from Acer. I also know that I've heard from a few readers saying they have one that crashes all the time as well. Hopefully it's the 751h and not the chipset.

    As far as power draw, it should be about the same as the other Atom laptops - probably more than the 751h and 1005HA, given the 2.0GHz clock. Even then, look at the two N280 units (ASUS 1005HA and Gigabyte M1022) and you can see that not all netbooks are created equal. The Gigabyte seems to be a poor example of a netbook, though, with much worse battery life than the competition.

    At 2.0GHz Atom Z550 will still be much slower than any CULV, so I'd recommend sticking with CULV unless the pricing is very compelling.
  • OCedHrt - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    The Z550 actually has a slightly lower (0.1) TDP than the N280. It's not the pricing that's compelling, but the form factor: 1.6 lb 11.1" 10.95"(W) x 0.55"(H) x 7.29"(D) Reply
  • KaarlisK - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    Power consumption should be lower - the TDP of the entire Poulsbo chipset is only 2.3W. However... the damn GMA 500 is HORRIBLY slow. Even for Aero. And Intel still hasn't (and probably won't) released WDDM1.1/DX10 drivers, even though the hardware supports it. Also, the driver doesn't support 8bpp color at all. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    Best bet is probably to not run windows on this one ^^
    I really wish there was a CULV option, even a core solo would be much better.

    I saw in some forum that they got OS X running on it. *shudder*

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