Monday I borrowed a friends Gateway laptop they purchased this past summer in the US for school this fall. I was interested in giving it a test to see how well it runs and what’s included. The target audience is of course right, this is for a student in high school or someone who has basic needs, word processing, email, Internet and music. In fact the owner of this laptop seems to be in the middle of their School Based Assessment assignment for Information Technology which tests a student’s knowledge in three areas: Word Processing, Spreadsheet and Database Management System. I am going to be honest; I was not totally impressed by this system. Let’s check out the specs and find out why I am not in love:
Gateway ML3901 Notebook
Intel Celeron M Processor 520 1.6 GHz
80 GB PATA hard drive (5400 RPM) (3.6 GBs for Recovery)
512 of DDR2 667 MHz (1 x 512) memory upgradable to 2 GB
ATI Radeon Xpress 200M Graphics (64 MB)
14.1-inch Widescreen Ultra bright TFT
24x CDRW/DVD Optical drive
4-in-1 Digital Media Reader
Integrated 802.11g Wireless LAN
Windows Vista Home Basic x86 Edition
Office Home and Student Edition 2007 60-day Trial
Learn more at the following links:
Again, basic needs, but the first blunder is the performance, running Windows Vista Home Basic is excruciatingly groggy, the boot up did not take long, but reaching the desktop was a disappointing hurdle. The laptops graphics support AERO Standard which is a watered down version of the AERO Glass theme available in premium Vista SKU’s. But, it only downgraded the experience so I just reverted to the more performance friendly AERO Basic which provides a certain level of the Vista user experience. Still I had to do some tweaks to get more performance; I turned off some of the visual effects for instance from under the System Properties applet to achieve a more responsive system. Even then, there was still a bit of grogginess going on but remained acceptable throughout my usage. The system is certified Windows Vista Basic, but I don’t understand how Gateway could seriously ship a system with 512 MBs of RAM! 1 GB is the minimum to get by without feeling insulted when using this OS. I can’t believe that we are in 2007 and OEMs like these are making such bloopers. The Windows Sidebar which I have also noticed on other systems that slow or powerful takes an unusually long time to appear on screen (four Gadgets loaded, Clock, Slideshow, Weather and Notes). I still must give the system credit though, once it was fully booted, applications in addition to Windows Explorer windows opened responsively, but then it would not have if I didn’t make those necessary tweaks and I still experience the hints of performance frustrations when launching things like contextual menus.
Windows Vista Home Basic x86
I did a bunch of common task you would expect a system like this to do, launch Word, typed a few docs, played music, and checked email. The ML3109 does not give off a lot of heat and makes working with it from your lap a welcome. It’s a striking contrast to the Acer Ferrari 5000 I recently reviewed which is not lap friendly or battery friendly at all. I was able to get approximately 3 hours out of the ML3109 without it feeling like 3 minutes, kudos to the energy efficient Intel Celeron M. I am still worried about performance in particular when it comes to running Vista, which ends up getting a bad name as groggy or not optimized and could ultimately result in the user dissatisfied, choosing to format the system and down grade to Windows XP. It has happened and I can tell you from my own experiences, my sister-in-law purchased a Dell Inspiron this March and was disgusted by Vista so much that she immediately asked me to format the system and load XP. Another thing that worries me is that over time, how will this system keep up? I don’t see any benefits from the said to be always running Defragment tool and the possibility of a future Service Pack 1 might not bring any changes.
Back to everyday task, the system comes with applications the user can appreciate, some, not so spectacular. The popular Microsoft Office 2007 is included but is a trial and it’s the Home and Student Edition which lacks Office Access. An alternative suite, Microsoft Works 8.5 is included but is pretty much useless by my standards and others who depend on compatibility with Microsoft Office and its advance tools for document creation. A copy of Microsoft Money 2006 is included, which should come in handy for managing household finances. I like the look and feel of the application. Its interesting that its compatible, since I had issues running a higher Money 2006 SKU and even 2007 version on Vista earlier this year.
Some of the other applications that come bundled include MSN Encarta Plus, Napster, AOL, Cyber link DVD Suite, Gateway Games (which includes Bejewelled 2 Deluxe and some other lack lustre titles such as Polar Golfer, FATE amounting to a total of eleven), Google Desktop, McAfee Security Center version 7.2, Microsoft Digital Image Starter Edition 2006 (which doesn’t make much sense with Vista’s excellent built in Windows Photo Gallery application, but the added Microsoft Photo Story 3.1 makes up for it). It’s great for turning your photos into fun home movies, I used it for my cousins wedding pictures and the almost cinematic results left me highly impressed.
Display and Graphics
The ML3109 features a 14.1 inch wide screen glossy display that makes it really easy on the eyes. It’s very bright and detailed making it great for watching movies, reading text, viewing images and even enjoying screensavers surprisingly! I am typing this right now on my Dell c840 and it’s almost like night and day. Its one of the nice aspects of ML3109 notebook, but of course its not appropriate in every environment, if you are in lots of light it becomes a bit unbearable, but I rarely find myself using my notebook in broad daylight so I don’t think there is too much to worry about. The display features a max resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels with a minimum of 800 by 600. There is also support for External Displays and Projectors for those who want more screen real estate or are giving presentations. The built in ATI Radeon Xpress Series is as basic as it gets, the total Available Graphics Memory is 128 MBs with 64 MB dedicated to Video with Shared System memory totalling 64 MBs. This shared system memory stresses the precious 512 MBs bringing down the amount allocated to the Operating System and applications a meagre 456 MBs of RAM.
It’s kind of tacky, but does not bother me that much; I definitely would replace it in heart beat with my Dell 840c. Also, the layout of one key in particular is a drawback. The ‘Fn’ key located all the way down at the lower left hand corner results in numerous wrong hits when I’m issuing CTRL associated commands such enabling CTRL + B for bold in Microsoft Word. It’s not geared toward a Pro it seems, I had to readjust to using the right CTRL which kind of disrupts my user experience. There are quick access embedded keys for adjusting the displays brightness, for enabling Wi-Fi, Sleep and many other functions that will come in very handy when on the go.
Windows Vista Home Basic x86
This is Microsoft’s entry level consumer version of their latest desktop operating system. I noted some of the features and differences between this and the higher premium SKU’s. I am going to be honest, Vista Home Basic while satisfactory for most persons, is not enticing, it features all the common applications such as Windows Calendar, Photo Gallery, Sidebar, Media Player 11 and Movie Maker with out DVD burning support. Don’t get me wrong, when you compare Home Basic to say Ultimate, you begin to understand what I mean. In fact, if you have used either Home Premium or Ultimate, you appreciate some of the more finer elements such as richer visuals (AERO Glass is a darn good looking UI), Dreamscene (although it has been lacking of late) and Flip 3D for instance. Also, the stronger feature set such as Meeting Space for collaboration, Media Center/XBOX 360 support and Advanced Backup. Speaking of Backup, I find Vista Ultimate’s Complete PC Backup an amazing asset. It’s quick and easy and makes restoring your system to a working state a cinch. Its one of the things I would have hoped that Microsoft would have brought to all the SKUs. I think everybody’s data/computer, whether you are running Vista Ultimate or Home Basic is important. Still, the ability to backup copies of your files and folders is a welcome feature and improvement to Windows without the need for third party software, plus it’s very straightforward and simple too.
Of course, there is a case for an up sell here for the OEM to take advantage of, but for those who don’t want everything; I think more could have been added to Home Basic without Microsoft thinking that it would cannibalize sales of the other SKUs. If you do want more, the convenience is included for you through the provided Windows Anytime Upgrade link in the Control Panel. You can also acquire the Anytime Upgrade anywhere Computers and Software is sold if you believe you need to take your Vista experiences further. Overall, there were no problems with the operating system with exception of a glitch trying to network both Vista Home Basic and Ultimate in a Workgroup configuration, the Network Diagnostics was of no use, but networking with Windows XP went without a hitch.
If you want to learn more about Windows Vista, check out ActiveWin’s Windows Vista review.
Gateway Recovery Center
An awesome feature, it makes reinstalling your system and factory installed applications very easy. You can also do a Device Driver Recovery and create an Application/Driver recovery disc with a few clicks. But the lack of a separate operating disk makes me frown, that you have to do through the built in Factory System Recovery which includes a Recovery partition (3.6 GBs). Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is rumoured to include a Create an Operating System Recovery Disc feature, so that should come in handy for all the installations of OEM Vista that do not include the OS on a separate disc. This is a problem OEM’s just don’t seem to understand; people do not always want to reinstall all the junk and just want a clean system with their drivers.
The Gateway ML3901 although bare and basic in some areas is acceptable and appropriate for many users with ‘basic’ needs. Although, I find the amount of RAM highly unacceptable. I think a little sacrifice could have been made and even add a built in web cam, this is 2007, not 1997. The technology is there; let’s bring it down to more budget hardware without this need to make it seem like a luxury. Other features like the built in Media Card reader are nice, but I don’t even use mine. The system is slow and requires a fair amount of tweaking to get it to a point of responsiveness to make it really useable. Don’t think about hardcore gaming on the ML3109, Solitaire and Bejewelled is all the Quake a system like this needs. Hopefully future updates to this model and the Windows Vista operating system will provide a better experience. But, I still see Gateway still offering a newer model their website with a similar configuration. When will they ever learn?
|Nice Display||Tacky keyboard|
|Includes Windows Vista||System slow and groggy|
|Good Battery Life||Unacceptable amount of system memory|
|Light||Lack luster graphics|
|4-in-1 Media Reader||Intel “Celeron” M – Not even a Core Solo or Duo???|
|DVD/CD-RW Combo drive|
|Built in Wireless 802.11g|
|Good Recovery tools|
Ease of Use: 80%
System Cost: $499, comparable version Gateway NX570 S
Thanks Billian for the loaner!
Check out the Gateway ML3901 Gallery here