At a Glance
Looks can deceive: The Gateway NX860XL lacks flair, but it's fast and powerful.
Even Gateway's most expensive notebooks tend to be studies in plainness, with featureless wrist rests and fewer ports, connections, and card slots than their competitors. So how does Gateway manage to cream the competition anyway? By excelling in a few key areas. So it goes with the NX860XL, Gateway's new high-end workstation with Windows Vista Ultimate. Notebooks costing far less than the $2055 (as of April 11, 2007) NX860XL have bigger hard drives, more card slots, or nicer keyboards, but the NX860XL trumps them with a combination of top-shelf screen, speedy performance, and robust speakers. It's also relatively compact, taking up slightly less precious desk space than most other desktop replacements. This model would be a good choice for small but busy offices that need a fast, dependable desktop replacement to churn out work during the day and feed a gaming habit at night.
The nicely crafted NX860XL has a solid feel and weighs 8 pounds (not including its power adapter)--not the lightest desktop replacement we've seen recently, but quite reasonable for this class. The case measures 15.8 inches wide by 10.8 inches deep by 1.6 inches tall, so it occupies about 12 fewer square inches of desktop acreage than the other 8-pound notebook we looked at for our June 2007 issue's laptop roundup, the Acer Aspire 9300-5005.
The Gateway's 17-inch Ultrabright screen is bright but not excessively reflective, and its WSXGA+ resolution of 1680 by 1050 works equally well for highly graphical tasks and for mainstream work.
The NX860XL's keys clack a bit and don't feel entirely secure. In fact, by the end of our testing, the <Ctrl> key had come loose and fallen off, no doubt due to rough handling in transit. The keyboard layout, however, is excellent; and a touchpad of reasonable size, with a dedicated scroll area where you can slide a finger to move a page up or down, aids typing.
Connections are sparse for a notebook costing over $2000: four USB ports, network and modem jacks, VGA and S-Video ports for connecting external screens, a FireWire port and a dual-layer DVD writer. There's also a slot for PC Cards, but it doesn't accommodate next-generation ExpressCards. The shared card slot accepts only SD cards and Memory Sticks. Audio ports are basic as well, consisting of a microphone port and a headphones port.
Our test unit included an 80GB hard drive, which is disappointing when you consider that some sub-$1000 notebooks come with 120GB of storage. (You can bump up the NX860XL's hard-drive size to 100GB or 200GB when you order).
Battery life was even less impressive, at 1 hour, 56 minutes with the standard eight-cell. You should get better results from the twelve-cell battery for $44 more, though it extends the back of the notebook, too.
To its credit, Gateway offers a bigger selection of batteries than most other notebook vendors do. A third option, a six-cell battery priced at $130, reduces the overall weight by a few ounces. Both memory and the hard drive are user upgradable, but Gateway sells only a simple $180 port replicator, which attaches to the bottom of the notebook.
Where the NX860XL really shines is in its raw speed, whether for multitasking business applications or for outquicking enemies in the latest 3D shooter. Configured with a 2.16-GHz Core 2 Duo T7400 processor and 2GB of RAM, the Gateway earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 80, just two points behind the top score of 82 earned by the 2.33-GHz Core 2 Duo T7600-equipped Micro Express NP5760. And thanks to its powerful 256MB nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS video card, the NX860XL cleaned up in our gaming tests, finishing second only to the Micro Express in frame rates and running Doom and Far Cry without a stumble. In addition, the NX860XL's integrated 2-watt stereo speakers sounded fantastic. (Most notebook speakers max out at 1.5 watts or less.) Not even HP's Pavilion dv9000t, a better overall entertainment notebook, sounded as good. It's too bad that Gateway decided not to exploit the NX860XL's big sound, omitting dedicated media buttons and a Windows Media Center remote control.
But if you need to work like a dog during the day and crank up Doom 3 when the office empties out, Gateway's NX860XL has the muscle, screen, and audio to put most other notebooks to shame.
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