Gateway Goes Thin and Stylish

By Eric Grevstad | Posted August 30, 2006

Different computer owners value different numbers. One might pat his briefcase and say proudly, "Dual-core"; another might pop a DVD into her portable and smile, "Seventeen-inch widescreen." Fans of the Gateway E-100M will brag, "Three-point-two pounds." Or maybe "Five-and-a-half watts."

The E-100M is Gateway's slimmest and lightest business laptop — what nerds call a one-spindle design — with a built-in Serial ATA hard disk onboard and an external, USB, dual-layer DVD±RW drive module that detaches when you're not burning a disc or enjoying a CD or DVD. Removing the drive yields a 9- by 11.4- by 1-inch wedge that's supremely easy to tuck into a briefcase (or even some of the bigger Coach bags or other women's hand bags).

The E-100M is also Gateway's most attractive laptop, resembling a show-off Sony Vaio instead of a generic gray slate. The ultra-slim system combines a glossy black lid — prone, alas, to thumbprints and smudges — with a matte, rubberized finish below the keyboard that makes a comfortable palm rest as well as stylish contrast. It's easy to imagine the Gateway getting envious looks on a plane or commuter train.

Considering its size and weight, the notebook packs more than enough power for productivity applications, including Intel's Core Solo U1400 — a 1.2GHz processor whose above-mentioned 5.5-watt thermal design power makes for robust battery life — plus 512MB of memory; an 80GB, 5,400-rpm Fujitsu hard drive; 12.1-inch widescreen (1,280 by 800) display; and both 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth wireless.

Gateway also offers a choice of a small (three-cell), medium (six-cell), or large (nine-cell) battery pack. The first preserves the E-100M's sleek silhouette; the second, our favorite, protrudes a bit and props the keyboard at a slight, typist-friendly tilt on a desk or table. The third gives the longest battery life but is a little too bulky and tilts the notebook too steeply for our taste. System weight is 3.2, 3.6, or 3.9 pounds depending on which lithium-ion pack you install; the AC adapter and Lite-On DVD burner add 14 ounces apiece to your carry-on allowance.

Traveling Under an Assumed Name
Finding the best price for the E-100M obliges requires patience and rummaging through Gateway's Web site.

Our test configuration — as described above with the mid-sized battery and Windows XP Professional — came to $1,738 in the vendor's Mid & Large Business department but just $1,306 after a temporary discount deal in the Small Business section. (Part of the enterprise edition's price premium over the so-called E-100M SB is a TPM chip that helps IT managers with user authentication and security.)

Consumers can find the ultra-portable under another name — NX100X — in Gateway's Home & Home Office aisle, with a $1,400 price tag that includes 1GB of memory and Microsoft Office Basic Edition instead of the others' 512MB and Microsoft Works. Gateway also sent us three- and nine-cell battery packs as well as the six-pack, so you should add $250 to any of these prices to match our review bundle.

In our real-world clock-watching tests, the six-cell battery averaged three hours and 40 or 45 minutes of mixed disk-copying/multimedia and word-processing/Web-surfing work. The petite three-cell pack lasted a minimal, but not terrible, one hour and 40 minutes, while the nine-cell jumbo kept the E-100M humming for about five and a half hours.

Our only caveat with any of the batteries is that you'll want to unplug the DVD±RW drive, which gets its power from the USB port, before the power gets low. The external drive worked perfectly most times, but we experienced a few DVD playback stutters and file-copying errors when Windows' battery gauge dropped below 15 or 20 percent.

The Gateway's right side — so slim, we're tempted to say right edge — holds one FireWire and two USB 2.0 ports, along with Ethernet and modem ports plus headphone and microphone jacks. On the left you'll find a VGA port, a PC Card slot and a slot for MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, and Memory Stick/Pro flash cards, plus a connector for an optional port replicator ($180).


 Gateway E-100M notebook
Style and substance mark the Gateway E-100 as notebook any business traveler could love.

The Core Solo U1400 processor combines 1.2GHz speed with a 533MHz front-side bus. (Penny-pinching E-100M buyers can save $50 by choosing the 1.06GHz model U1300.) It's obviously not in the performance class of higher-clocked, dual-core, more battery-hungry CPUs, but its 2MB of Level 2 cache helps office applications feel relatively snappy.

More Than Minimal
Besides feeling noticeably nicer than slick-surfaced notebooks due to its rubberized front surface, the Gateway's keyboard offers precise typing response — a big help, since the system's small size means the keys are slightly petite.

On the minus side, while there are dedicated Home and End keys, PgUp and PgDn are a less comfortable combination of cursor arrows and a Fn key; the latter also usurps our preferred spot for the Ctrl key at the bottom left corner. The Synaptics touchpad's plastic buttons feel a little slick, but the pad works smoothly.

Except for the usual dim view in the first four or five of its eight battery-saving brightness settings, we could find no fault with the E-100M's wide-aspect-ratio screen. Colors were clear and text was sharp, with no bad pixels in sight.

Gateway preloads the notebook's hard disk with CyberLink's PowerDVD playback, Power2Go disc-mastering software and a 90-day version of Symantec's Client Security anti-virus and firewall bundle. If a virus gets by or a program trashes Windows' Registry, a supplied software utility reinstalls applications or drivers, while rebooting into a special partition lets you restore the whole hard drive to factory status.

We'd like to see a version of the E-100M with wireless WAN capability, to check e-mail and the Web over a cell-phone carrier's network as well as from a Wi-Fi hotspot. And status-symbol-seeking execs may hesitate to pick the 3.2-pound E-100M when under-3-pound slim-lines are available from the likes of Lenovo, Sony and Fujitsu.

But the glossy black Gateway looks every bit as classy as any of those notebooks, while costing less, especially if you consider its small-business and consumer as well as corporate configurations. With the medium or large battery pack, it's a satisfying productivity pal as well as a first-class fashion accessory.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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