Gateway 200XL Notebook Review

By Eric Grevstad | Posted August 06, 2003

South Dakotans are fashion-conscious, too, you know. In May, we reviewed Gateway's first Intel Centrino notebook, the 450XL, and said it was a solid citizen of the wireless-networking nation — a good performer in a sort of generic-looking, 6.2-pound laptop slab, but not a conversation-starter like Sony's Centrino offering, the skinny and silvery Vaio Z1A.

Well, Gateway can be glamorous when it wants to. The direct vendor has introduced another Centrino-based portable, the 200 series, that no one could call a generic laptop: This slim (10.2 by 12.4 inches by just 1 inch thin) system is one of the most attractive notebooks we've seen, with modern-art control buttons above and below a stylish slate-blue instead of black or gray keyboard (plus matching side accents).

Between its low profile and light weight of 4.3 pounds (add 0.9 for the AC adapter), the 200XL is exceptionally easy to carry. And it's equally easy to work with, with above-average performance from a 1.6GHz Pentium M processor and a 14.1-inch screen that's bigger and brighter than many slimline systems'.

Its price is over the $2,000 psychological barrier, though only $200 over — and that includes Windows XP Professional instead of Home Edition and a still-rare-among-notebooks DVD-RW drive, so the Gateway's a better bargain than the Sony Z1A. (And wallet-watchers can configure a 200X model, with slightly slower 1.4GHz processor, starting at $1,600.)

In fact, the Gateway 200XL would rank as one of the most tempting notebooks we've ever tested, if not for one stumble: The standard, lightweight lithium-ion battery yields less juice than you'd expect any portable, let alone one of Intel's travel-touted Centrino configurations, to have.

We managed a tolerable one hour and 45 minutes in low-intensity word processing and spreadsheet sessions with the 802.11b radio switched off, but the battery often fell short of our unofficial mobile minimum of 90 minutes, and in our cruel-and-unusual "reformat and reinstall the factory software" test it lasted a shockingly short hour and five minutes. Gateway offers a larger battery as a $99 option; even though it boosts system weight to 4.7 pounds, we think it's a must-buy.

Check Site for Latest Specials
Strictly speaking, the 200XL received for our review loan isn't a 200XL anymore — it came with a Samsung DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, but during our testing Gateway upgraded the standard configuration to include DVD-RW. The 200X is available with either optical drive (the DVD-RW is $250 more than the combo), but only with the 1.4GHz instead of 1.6GHz Pentium M.

Actually, considering the Pentium M's impressive 1MB Level 2 cache, the slower CPU would likely be more than adequate for any office-suite work: Equipped with 512MB of DDR266 memory, our 1.6GHz system posted benchmark numbers in the ballpark of 2.0GHz Pentium 4(both desktop and mobile) PCs, such as 162 in BAPco's SysMark 2002 (185 in Internet Content Creation, 142 in Office Productivity). The FutureMark PCMark 2002 triathlon yielded scores of 5,187 (CPU), 4,187 (memory), and 574 (a thoroughly competitive showing for the 60GB Toshiba 5,400-rpm hard disk).

The Intel 855GM chipset — part of the Centrino-brand trio, along with the Pentium M processor and Pro/Wireless 2100 WiFi (802.11b) network adapter — provides integrated graphics that steal some 50MB of system memory.

These aren't competitive when it comes to 3D rendering or games, although the Gateway managed a not-unplayable 35 frames per second in Quake III Arena in High Quality 1,024 by 768 mode — the system could show only one of the four game simulations in FutureMark's 3DMark03, where it scored a lowly 93. But they're perfectly fine for everyday applications or even occasional image editing (touching up that PowerPoint presentation, say), and showed DVD movies without a stammer.

Not Too Big, Not Too Small
With the surge in 15.0-inch- and even 17.0-inch-screened notebooks and race to 1,400 by 1,050 or higher resolution, it's almost nostalgic to open the 200XL and see what used to be the laptop default — a trusty 14.1-inch diagonal, XGA-resolution (1,024 by 768 pixels) display. But our middle-aged eyes found it a pleasure to see readable instead of teeny-tiny icons and menu listings, and the screen is crisp and clear, with no bad pixels visible in our test unit.

Gateway confesses the LCD panel offers only 18-bit color depth (262,144 instead of 16-million-plus colors), but again, the 200XL is built for business travel instead of desktop publishing or preparing professional color separations. Realistically, our only gripe was that the screen defaulted to just half brightness when the notebook was on battery power; we had to use the Fn-arrow keyboard controls to turn it up a couple of notches (to the sixth of eight brightness levels) for white instead of dim gray backgrounds.

Its elegant color aside, the keyboard is one of the notebook's best features, with a no-surprises layout including dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys. Shiny buttons above the keyboard launch Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and My Computer; a fourth, with an eye-catching blue light, turns the WiFi radio on and off.

Below the keyboard is an above-average touchpad, which not only works smoothly but offers a mouse-style scroll wheel (also clickable as a third button) between its left and right buttons. The latter is a plus, although too small to be comfortable.

Connections and Compromises
The 200XL has two USB 2.0 ports, one on each side. VGA, modem, Ethernet, and FireWire ports are at the left, along with one PC Card slot; headphone and microphone jacks are in front of the DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive at the right; and S-Video TV-out and S/PDIF digital audio jacks are at the rear. The slim design leaves no room for either an old-fashioned parallel port nor newfangled memory-card slots.

Neither the hard disk nor optical drive is in a modular, swappable bay, though the former is user-removable and replaceable (as are the two memory modules stashed beneath a bottom panel, permitting a 1GB system maximum).

If you want a 1.44MB floppy drive, Gateway offers an Iomega external USB drive for $50 — it, along with a $30 upgrade from Microsoft Works to Works Suite with Word 2002, boosted our 200XL's bottom line to $2,280. If you'd like faster-than-WiFi wireless network connectivity, a Linksys combination 802.11a/b/g PC Card is a $99 supplement to Intel's built-in 802.11b adapter.

Gateway's software bundle includes Roxio's Easy CD Creator 5 and the 90-day trial version of Symantec's Norton AntiVirus 2003, as well as InterVideo's WinDVD and the computer vendor's Rhapsody online-music service.

As we said, we find ourselves liking the 200XL a great deal, but wishing it could match the battery life either of Gateway's other Centrino notebook, the chunky 450XL (which costs $200 less but weighs more), or Sony's Vaio Z1A (which is equally svelte but costs more and doesn't offer DVD-RW). Still, if you're looking for speedy performance and sleek style, it's an alluring package — and, after all, light enough so that you probably won't mind packing a spare battery.

Adapted from HardwareCentral.com.

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