Recently I found myself in the market for a new laptop computer (pls see: looking for an excuse to buy a new piece of shiny electronic goodness). Also, I kept using my girlfriends laptop…and I assume it was only a matter of time before she wanted it back. 😉

Primarily I was looking for something that would be a great portable alternative to my desktop computer, which I use for the show and have tweaked out to the gills by upgrading just about every component from the power supply and the GPU, to adding cooling and enough RAM and processing power to hack into NORAD, all while simultaneously editing video and audio tracks. However, using my desktop requires me to sit upstairs in my home office, tethered to the system. Besides, my desktop gets a pretty hefty workout each week from the show, so I figured it was time to ‘go mobile’ for everyday web surfing, working on the website and social media…and let the desktop rest for a change. Enter the Gateway NV5378u.

Gateway NV5378u

My last laptop was a Toshiba Satellite Series, bought a number of years ago (when you had to insert a network card in order to gain wireless access…I know, right?!) and considered a ‘brick’ by today’s standards. It lived a good life, served me well (aka: surfed porn admirably), but it was time to retire the old girl.

Originally I had considered a Netbook, however I could not reconcile the loss of screen and keyboard real estate for the ease of smaller and lighter portability.

The Gateway NV53 Series boasts an astonishing amount of specs for the price tag ($429.99 at time of purchase, currently $479.99). I had always liked Gateway and thought that their displays are among some of the best available. In terms of computing power, they are on par with any other brand associated with laptops, but they tend to give you ‘more for less’ than their competitors. Here are the essentials:

The Specs

AMD Athlon™ II X2 (Dual Core) M300 Processor
4GB DDR2 RAM
500GB SATA (5400 rpm) Hard Drive
High-definition widescreen LED-backlit with Ultrabright technology
15.6 Screen
ATI Radeon HD 4200 Graphics
Built-in Wireless-B+G+N
Built-in Webcam
Full Keyboard, Including Number Pad
4 2.0 USB ports
HDMI Port
Multigesture Touchpad
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Operating System
4x DVD+R DL; 4x DVD-R DL; 8x8x8 DVD+RW; 8x6x8 DVD-RW; 5x DVD-RAM; 24x16x24 CD-RW

Along with memory card reader, monitor input, CAT-5 connection, Dolby sound and a host of the standard accoutrement.

In doing my usual research before buying a new electronic device (and I do a lot; another reason you should trust my advice, as I did all the homework prior to breaking out the wallet…you’re welcome), I found that in juxtaposition to similarly spec’d laptops, the Gateway NV53 Series was a steal in comparison to $600 – $700 devices. I looked at Toshiba, Sony, HP, ASUS, Dell, Samsung and other machines – only to find that they charged a lot more – but for less RAM, Hard Drive space, screen size, no web cam etc etc.

My original intent was to find a decent laptop for everyday use, with no intention of putting it through the usual burden of multi-tasking and processing that I expect my desktop to do…however this laptop is spec’d so well, that regardless of my original intent, it can handle all of that seamlessly (i.e. should I ever decide to use it as a remote studio to do a show on location, create screencast videos or edit large audio & video files for compression / use for the show)! It can handle gaming at a solid framerate, however I would have no need to do this (and adding additional strain on the system) when I built my desktop to more easily handle the most robust system requirements of today’s games. Therefore, as an ‘everyday’ laptop, this machine surpasses my expectations in every way.

An Attractive Machine To Boot

Alright, let’s cover some of the basics that matter to most people:

Performance

With the dual core 64-bit processor and plenty of RAM to boot, this notebook is fast. When it comes to web surfing, pages load in no time. In addition, load time at startup is extremely quick and you are surfing and/or opening programs within a minute of powering on. For extra speed measures, I also always run an ‘msconfig’ to shut down unnecessary programs at startup (I don’t need Adobe Reader or QuickTime launching and running in the background etc).

The computer does come with the standard free trials for Microsoft Office and Norton Antivirus (aka: Bloatware). I removed the anti-virus, as Norton is awful and succeeds in only slowing your system down. I opt for avast! antivirus instead, which is free, exceptional and already being offered through a Google Chrome distribution model. I also went ahead and removed most of the standard (aka: useless) crap that is installed before purchase. Beyond that, I kept all of the tools that came with Windows 7 (i.e. Windows Media Player and a host of other tools for blogging, video creation, word processing, accessories etc). I also uninstalled Internet Explorer – nasty little shit that slows computers down to a crawl when surfing multiple windows / tabs – immediately and replaced it with Google Chrome.

Speaking of Windows 7, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it (being an ‘XP boy’ myself and knowing that system inside and out), but I have grown to really like it. I won’t bore you with all of the features that can be found in 7, however suffice it to say that they took all of the best from XP and Vista and cut out all the crap that people complained about. What’s left is an exceptionally smooth operating system that is easy to use and attractive, with many handy features that I have already started using consistently – that XP never offered – but should have.

Beyond that, I have installed multiple programs that I use often (some pretty intensive when it comes to requirements) and have yet to be disappointed by it’s performance.

Display

The High-definition widescreen LED-backlit display is very crisp, clear and attractive. The screen has that hard clear plastic coating that helps to make images and webpages sharper, versus other displays that have a texture to them. I will say that the top resolution is a strangely uncommon one (1366 x 768) and took some getting used to…but that could be because the 27″ HD widescreen monitor on my desktop has spoiled me. But once I changed the setting for the bottom toolbar to ‘autohide’, it revealed more screen real estate and I quickly adjusted. The top resolution is not an issue simply because it is pretty high for a 15.6 screen (again, I am accustomed to my desktop monitor, which pushes true HD sized resolutions) and images / video / webpages are extraordinarily bright and clear.

I have not tried the HDMI inputs yet.

Other Things To Consider

The battery life is a minor complaint, as it lasts roughly 3.5 hours when on the power-saving setting. This is fine for most things people do with their notebooks (i.e. sitting pretentiously in a Starbucks, pretending to write a novel) and is actually quite standard for a notebook of this size and spec’s.

The Hard Drive (@ 500 GB) is a monster and if you are only planning to use this notebook the same way I will (as a secondary computer for convenience, travel etc), you would be hard-pressed to run out of space anytime in the near future. If this will be your primary computer – including to store music, movies, video, photos etc – I would recommend getting an external storage drive, if anything to keep the clutter to a minimum. Keep in mind, you may have a lot of storage space, but the more space you take up with static items like images (versus programs) the more your computer has to work to complete each task you require from it. Besides, you don’t need everyday access to photos of your Uncle Eddie’s release on parole, so why store it on your computer?

The multi-gesture touchpad is a nice touch. Essentially you can slide two fingers up and down to easily scroll, or pinch-spread fingers to zoom or make the screen smaller. It is a little sensitive, so even the lightest tap is enough to constitute a selection. The left / right click is actually a full bar (a little different to usual laptops in which they are separate buttons), but works exactly the same…I venture to guess that this was simply an aesthetic design decision and it looks nice.

The keyboard is full, which means to the far right is a full number keypad (as opposed to always using the numbers along the top) and is flush with the surface of the notebook. At first I thought this might take some getting used to, but I actually prefer it now over raised keys and the feedback from hitting a key is just right (doesn’t feel too soft or too hard…the Goldilocks of keyboard keys).

Weight is negligible. It’s not super light, nor is it super heavy (about 5.8 lbs) and the screen – when closed – does not have a locking mechanism at the top. It stays closed on it’s own (and does come with a built-in option for a laptop lock), but I can imagine for those who do not use a case, you will always be concerned about making sure it stays closed if you just grab and carry it under your arm.

Conclusion

For the money, you would be very hard pressed to find a better spec’d notebook on the market. Based upon my research, comparable units (in terms of specs) are selling for around the $600 – $700+ range. This would be a perfect laptop for college students, casual gamers, web surfers, bloggers, editing photos / videos etc. It easily handles programs with pretty tough requirements (I use a number of programs that require solid / stable RAM and processing) and have yet to have the system slow down as a result of using them. Like I said earlier in the review, as a secondary computer (i.e. you don’t plan to do EVERYTHING with this computer, including storing every photo, video and file you own), this is a top-notch machine. If it is your primary computer, I assume that you don’t plan to do extreme memory & RAM intensive processes / projects or you would probably be looking at a desktop or a high end laptop (XPS, Alienware etc).

But if you are planning to use it the way most of us do: getting online, playing some games, working within popular programs with ease and speed…then I highly recommend this machine. It is certainly spec’d to handle being your primary computer, but as I learned with my trusty old Toshiba laptop, asking it to do too much or everything at once will shorten it’s life.

Recommended Accessory

Logitech - M510 Wireless Laser Mouse

As much as I enjoy fiddling with a touchpad – for the amount of editing, writing and coding I do – I had to get an external wireless mouse. I am not a fan of tiny laptop mice, nor of wires getting in the way. Therefore, I also purchased the Logitech M510 Wireless Laser Mouse ($39.99 @ time of writing). It has:

Laser precision: Can be used on virtually any surface – other than glass – but I still use a pad

Scroll wheel: With side-to-side scrolling, plus zoom for easy forward and backward internet navigation. It also has nice ‘action’, meaning it doesn’t spin too quickly (or slowly) and provides enough haptic feedback to feel like you can easily control your scroll speed.

4-button design: Buttons can be programmed for customized use

Nano Receiver: Very small USB receiver that you can leave in and it does not get in the way like larger receivers. It also works with any Logitech wireless mouse you own

It feels great in the hand, can be used by Southpaws and Right handed folks and is very precise. If you are in the market for a new wireless mouse for your laptop, I recommend it. If you are looking for something for your desktop or to do some pretty heavy computer work (i.e. shortcuts, higher DPI for design work etc), I recommend the Logitech Performance Mouse. Currently I use the Logitech MX 1000 Laser Revolution mouse for my desktop computer.

I hope this review was helpful to anyone who is in the market for a new notebook computer. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or leave your question in the comment section.

– Dana