Personal Computers


New Gateway Ultra Notebook Is Ultra Fine

It’s always been a rule in the technology world that the smaller/lighter/thinner something is, the more you’re going to pay for it.

That’s especially true when it comes to “ultra”-portable notebook computers — mighty machines packed with power and weighing in at around three pounds.

With its latest ultraportable, the NX100X (US$1,500), however, Gateway is making this notebook category a little more attractive to rank-and-file consumers.

Big Cache

The sleek black NX100X — which is less than an inch thick and measures 11.4 inches wide and 8.9 inches deep — is offered in two flavors of Intel Core Solo processor: the U1300, which runs at 1.06 GHz and the U1400 at 1.2 GHz. Both have two megabytes of L2 cache.

The more cache memory a processor has, the faster it runs, especially when it comes to applications that perform a lot of disk access, such as Microsoft Outlook.

The unit also has one gigabyte of conventional memory, or DRAM, running at 533 MHz.

Although my review unit only had a 40 GB serial ATA hard drive running at 5400 rpm, the minimum configuration sold at Gateway’s online store is 80 GB, with an optional 100 GB drive available for an additional $50.

Internal Optical Drive Absent

The biggest gripe I have with the unit is its lack of an internal optical drive. An external DVD burner is packaged with the notebook, but that’s a setup I’ve always found inconvenient. When traveling, anexternal drive just becomes one more thing to pack, keep track of and eventually misplace.

No doubt an internal drive was omitted to save space and power. An optical drive, though, is about the only thing omitted from the laptop.

My review unit included both six- and 12-cell lithium ion batteries. The 12-cell battery adds an ungainly protrusion to the rear of the unit, but I found the nine-hour battery life worth the aesthetic trade-off.

Plenty of Inputs

It has two USB ports and, unlike some portables these days, a Firewire port.

It also has a modem, Ethernet and WiFi connections, headphones and microphone jacks, and a VGA monitor connector.

In addition, a PC Card slot is incorporated into the machine — new PC Express devices are not supported by the unit — and a six-in-one card reader that will handle SD, mini SD, MMC, xD, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro cards.

Small Display, High Resolution

If you’re accustomed to a 21-inch desktop display or use a notebook with a 17-inch screen, the NX100X’s 12.5-inch LCD will appear tiny to you. On the other hand, if you’ve worked with displays roughly this size before, it may seem more spacious to you because of its wide format.

And if you have good eyesight, or wear reading glasses as I do, you can keep the display in its native resolution of 1280-by-800 pixels and maintain as much data on it as you would on some bigger screens with lower resolutions.

In addition to the WXGA display, an optional “ultrabright” screen is available for the NX100X. My review unit had the WXGA display and it seemed completely satisfactory for most common productivity applications. Brightness and sharpness of the screen were good.

Wide Screen Advantage

A benefit of a laptop with a wide screen is that it can accommodate a larger keyboard.

I found the NX100X’s keyboard excellent for typing. Although I had misgivings about its truncated spacebar, it turned out to be less problematic than originally feared.

A nice design touch is the location of the warning LEDs under the touchpad’s left and right click buttons. The cluster of bright blue lights to signal various conditions — wireless on, disk access in progress, power on, battery low, embedded number pad on and caps lock on — were easy to see while looking at the computer’s display.

Patches Galore

It surprised me that this ultra comes with Windows XP Professional instead of XP Home.Typically, that’s an option added to the price tag of a PC.

Not so surprising was the number of security patches waiting to be installed when updating Windows: 47. Think about it. Here’s a brand new machine, right out of the box, and I’ve got to fiddle with almost 50 operating system patches. Has this reached the point of absurdity, or what?

If you want to compute on the go and travel light, this Gateway ultra-portable device will give you good performance at a reasonable price.

John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].

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