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.

Index Gateway NV5807u - Intel
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  • nofumble62 - Friday, August 21, 2009 - link

    so he can play more games. LOL

    That student probably won't stay in school very long.
  • Smell This - Monday, August 17, 2009 - link

    The author makes the point of the importance of battery life and claims "Intel has the better mobile solution at pretty much all price points - i.e. better battery life ..."

    With the difference in price between the two "units" in your "comparison" you could purchase a second battery for the AMD laptop.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 17, 2009 - link

    Which doesn't change the fact that Intel will still offer better battery life to the tune of 28% more unplugged time. From the conclusion: "Using a higher capacity battery on an AMD platform could give you equivalent battery life, but then you're lugging around a heavier laptop and many high capacity batteries cost far more than $80." Carrying two batteries is fundamentally the same thing, except that you have to hibernate and swap batteries at some point.

    The point of this review: look at AMD and Intel platforms, apples to apples. Intel wins on CPU and battery performance. 16% more cost yields 25% better performance and power. They also win on heat and noise, though it's not a huge margin there.

    On the other hand, AMD/ATI wins the graphics competition and they cost less. They're somewhere in the realm of twice as fast at GPU intensive tasks, they can handle 1080p H.264 playback (where Intel would need something like PowerDVD Ultra to get the proper acceleration), and they cost 16% less.

    If price is the determinant of what you buy, go for the AMD unit. If gaming is your number one concern, get a discrete GPU in a ~$700+ laptop. If you want a cheap lappy that can play *most* games at low detail, then AMD's current lineup also works okay. For all other options, right now it looks like Intel wins.

    I've heard from many readers that feel battery life is very important; they're sick of the sub-three-hour options out there, and they're more than willing to give up gaming. If we look at the entire laptop market, I'd say such people are in a comfortable majority. If you're a college student on a shoestring budget, you'll probably be a lot happier with a somewhat slower office computer that can play more games.

    BOTH opinions and options are right. There is no dictating that you MUST have better battery life, or that you MUST have better integrated graphics. Buy what you really need, after you look at the market and truly understand what the options are. That's my conclusion. For me, my needs and wants make the NV58 the winner, but I know plenty of users that would prefer the NV52 (like yourself), and I know still others that prefer even more graphics power.
  • ALCX - Saturday, August 15, 2009 - link

    I don't post much, 'cause usually someone has said what I thought already. But after reading all the 'jibber-jabber' going back and forth, I thought I would just say thank you for the article, I'm looking at buying a laptop for my daughter for school and this hit the spot.

  • yehuda - Saturday, August 15, 2009 - link

    I agree, it's clear a lot of effort went into the making of this article.
  • evilspoons - Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - link

    Nice article. It confirmed my suspicions about AMD laptops. They're fine for the money but the Intel does pretty much everything better - if you can get an Intel with nVidia or ATi graphics, you're set.

    It's really just a stupid nitpick, but I'd like to point out you forgot to mention a car model for your little Kia vs Hyundai analogy. The Kia Spectra is a piece of crap, but a Hyundai Genesis Coupe with the V6 and Track Package will give Nissan 370Zs a run for their money (at $20,000 less!) so the analogy doesn't really work well given this fact.

    I'd compare the Kia Spectra to a Chevy Aveo, myself. Ugh.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, August 13, 2009 - link

    In the US at least, the MSRP for the Genesis Coupe with Track Package is higher than the base 370Z, and even the Nismo Z is only ~$9k higher. So unless Hyundai is already kicking in rebates or Nissan dealers are charging significantly more than MSRP, you have to drop all the way back to the base 2.0T coupe to get close to a $20k difference to a 370Z coupe.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - link

    I added the "Accent" part after Hyundai. My mom had an original Hyundai Excel hatchback... thing was horrible, but for some reason she loved it. I was so happy when it got totaled! :-)
  • RandomUsername3245 - Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - link

    Not to pick nits, but you say "Hopefully we will see some improvement with Windows 7, but so far Windows is still an order of magnitude behind OS X."

    An order of magnitude is defined as a factor of 10x. According to the three bar charts, the Macbook really doesn't beat the Windows laptops by 10x. (Sure it does beat the Clivo D901C by an order of magnitude on the last test, but that's hardly a basis for this type of general statement.) Realistically, the Macbook is beating the competition by no more than 2-3x.

    I'd say your statement is inaccurate by nearly an order of magnitude :)
  • blackshard - Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - link

    Take the "order of magnitude" as a "step further". MacOS X is a step further in power handling, expecially when the system is idling.

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