Gateway M680XL: It's Not Heavy, It's Just Big

By Eric Grevstad | Posted May 06, 2005

If you close your eyes and lift the Gateway M680XL, you'll think it's an average, full-sized notebook — the PC weighs 8.4 pounds, not the 9.5 or 10 of many jumbo-screened desktop replacements.

Open your eyes, however, and you'll say it's enormously huge, colossally gargantuan, what industrial designers call really freakin' big: 10.9 by 16.1 by 1.4 inches, large enough for a 17-inch-diagonal, high-resolution display and desktop-class keyboard with separate numeric keypad. It'll fill a briefcase; it'll overflow most notebook PC carrying cases.

And it'll outrun many desktops. The M680XL combines Intel's fastest Pentium M processor with ATI's 128MB Mobility Radeon X700 graphics controller. While the M680XL won't blow away a top-of-the-line tower, it's substantially faster than the fine-for-e-mail-and-Excel, forget-any-games-except-Solitaire-and-The-Sims performance you usually find in lesser laptops.

Combine this solid performance with its relatively reasonable weight and surprisingly good battery life, and you've got a first-class performance portable — that doubles as a desktop replacement. As usual with Intel products, settling for the second-fastest CPU would make the price easier to take. Our loaded test unit came to $2,565; replacing the 2.13GHz Pentium M 770 with the 2.0GHz model 760 would give you 94 percent of its speed for $2,275.

Too Much for the Tray Table
Considering its bulk, the Gateway is quite comfortable in your lap, although too unwieldy for our habit of crossing our legs and balancing a notebook on one thigh. Try it on an airplane, however, and you'd better bribe the passenger in front of you to keep his or her seatback in the full upright position — that 17-inch screen needs lots of space.

The LCD offers 1,680 by 1,050 resolution — more than enough to put two application windows side by side. To our middle-aged eyes, the panoramic expanse made it occasionally hard to spot Windows' standard-size mouse cursor, but showed off DVD movies with style. It also turned 12-point Times New Roman into E-Z Read Large Type with Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org set to page-width zoom.

We didn't see any bad pixels on our M680XL's screen, though we often saw ourselves or the wall behind us — what Gateway calls an Ultrabright screen is the same glossy black when turned off as Sony's XBrite and similar LCD technologies, which sharpens contrast and makes colors pop at the expense of being rather reflective. The screen really shines when set to its highest backlight brightness, but we found the second- or third-brightest setting good enough for everyday work.

Indeed, our only real complaint with the display was an occasional, very faint, chipmunk-like chittering sound. After ruling out the hard drive and anything else we could think of, we eventually discovered it came from the screen or lid hinge when the plus-sized screen flexed or vibrated as we jolted or moved the laptop.

Once you get used to (a.) the Texas-sized wrist rest and (b.) keeping your hands slightly off center to the left the laptop, due to the numeric keypad at the right, the keyboard offers a responsive typing feel. The layout is a comfortable one, with just a bit of practice needed to learn the locations of keys such as PgUp, PgDn, and Delete (the latter not in the top right corner as notebook typists are used to).

The Synaptics touchpad works smoothly, although we found its right-edge scroll function a bit too quick or sensitive. Gateway doesn't follow the multimedia laptop fad for dedicated CD/DVD play, pause, volume, and other control buttons, although a special shift or Fn key works with other keys to deliver those functions.

Another Fn-key combination turns the Intel Pro/Wireless 802.11a/b/g network adapter on and off. Oddly enough for such a high-end laptop, Gateway doesn't offer a Bluetooth wireless option for the M680XL.

Full-Sized Performance
Microphone and headphone jacks are next to a MultiMediaCard/Secure Digital/Memory Stick flash-reader slot on the system's front edge. Two USB 2.0 ports join the DVD1RW drive at the right.

Two more USB 2.0 ports and one IEEE 1394 port are on the left side, along with one Type II PC Card slot and an S-Video out connector. VGA, V.92 modem, and Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet ports are at the rear. A not-too-noisy cooling fan kicks in during demanding CPU or 3D graphics applications, yielding a noticeable gust of hot air from a vent on the left side.

Our test unit came with Gateway's optional 12-cell lithium-ion battery, which protrudes handle-fashion from the back of the laptop; the standard 8-cell battery fits flush and presumably provides two-thirds the unplugged life.

After testing numerous desktop-replacement notebooks that last barely 60 or 80 minutes away from a wall socket, we think the larger battery is well worth its $20 surcharge: Even in strenuous software-installing and multimedia-playing sessions, the M680XL managed an impressive three hours and 25 minutes before running out of juice, and some less disk- and audio-intensive sessions lasted almost four hours. That's outstanding for such a big-screened, fast-components laptop. The not-too-bulky AC adapter adds 1.3 pounds to your luggage.

The Softer Side
Gateway equips the M680XL with Windows XP Professional SP2, Microsoft Works 8.0, and trial versions of Norton AntiVirus 2005 and McAfee AntiSpyware, along with PowerDVD for DVD viewing, and the Nero OEM suite for DVD and CD burning. Following the example of Gateway's 2004 acquisition eMachines, the system combines Windows' own Automatic Update with a system monitor and driver-update-fetcher called BigFix.

All in all, the M680XL easily earns a four — and flirts with a five-star review: It's a big, heavy, speedy desktop replacement, but a crucial pound or two less heavy than most of its competitors despite matching their super-deluxe 17-inch screens — too huge for a serious road warrior, but we could envision moving it between home and office or for out-of-the-office client presentations.

Pros:

  • Lighter weight and longer battery life than most 17-inch-screen super-jumbo laptops; above-average CPU and graphics performance

Cons:

  • Keyboard layout takes a little practice; no Bluetooth

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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