This first caught my eye when looking for an ultra portable laptop - I was looking at the MSI and the Acer Timeline models which had the "new" SU3500 processor. I was intrigued by the configuration - a large screen (13.3") version of a netbook. I was turned off by the price though - $700-850 Canadian. I thought if there was one with a smaller screen and under $500...and voila - I found one on the Future Shop site. The Gateway EC1803h had exactly the same specs as the Timeline 1810 but with an 11.6" high-resolution (1366x768) screen, an extra GB of RAM and on sale for $450! I couldn't believe it - I found some specs on it, realizing it was a Canadian model only but was essentially the same as the Acer 1410 with the smaller screen. The reviews raved about the improvements over the Atom processor (speed, 64-bit support, hardware virtualization support) and the HD capabilities of the 4500MHD graphics so I went directly to the store and picked one up.
I started the setup in the car while I drove home (don't try this at home!) and it loaded the image off the protected area of the hard drive, uncompressed and installed. Then it booted up into Vista (Home Premium 32-bit) and installed another 20 drivers and applications - total time about 2 hours!
I was impressed with the build quality as it seemed more like a business-level machine - no shiny plastic on the interior (though there is on the top cover), no glaring colors or gaudy lights (they're all very small but very functional and not distracting)...it seemed like more of a solid notebook than a toy netbook. I looked at the Acer as well, but found it to be more plastic-looking (especially around the screen) so I went with the Gateway instead.
After a few minutes of playing with Vista, I upgraded to a final release (MSDN copy) of Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit. That took another couple of hours but everything went well...everything was working (though a bit slow with all the extra software that had come installed) - until I rebooted. The hard drive was corrupted and I had to format the hard drive and start again. This time I installed 64-bit Windows 7 and a couple hours later it was all running perfectly. I did notice the slash key was not responding all the time and realized the key was faulty - tried blowing it out with air, but it still wouldn't work.
I took it back the next day, exchanged it for another one and started the whole process all over again (this time creating the recovery DVDs before I formatted the hard drive!) I installed Windows 7 (all drivers were automatically detected and installed - impressive) and then I installed the Gateway-specific DVD that held all the drivers and applications that came with the machine - which the Gateway utility allows you to create separately from the image DVD - a fantastic option!
No problems with keys on this one.
Approximate Battery LifeUp To 7 Hours
Hard Drive Speed/Capacity250GB (5400RPM)
LED Backlit DisplayYes
Optical DriveNot Applicable
Processor TypeIntel Core 2 Solo SU3500
Discrete Video MemoryNo
Expandable Video MemoryYes - Up to 1759MB
Graphics ChipsetIntel GMA 4500MHD
Integrated Video MemoryYes
Native Screen Resolution1366 x 768
Upgradable Video SystemNo
Audio ChipsetIntel GS45 Express
Hardware Volume ControlNo
Speaker Wattage2 Watts
Card Reader - Compatible Memory Types5-in-1 Card Reader
IEEE 1394 Input/OutputNo
Number of Touchpad Buttons2
PC Card InputNo
Type of Keyboard84/85/88-Keys
Type of ModemNot Applicable
Type of Pointing DeviceTouchpad
Integrated WiFiIntel 5100 a/b/g/n WLAN
Battery - Capacity4400 mAh
Battery - Number of Cells6
Processor Cache3MB L2
Loaded Software 1Adobe Reader
Loaded Software 2CyberLink DVD Solution
Loaded Software 3Power2Go
Loaded Software 4
Operating System LanguageBilingual
Pre-loaded Operating SystemWindows Vista Home Premium
Notebook Depth20.4 cm
Notebook Thickness (closed)3.0 cm
Notebook Weight (including Battery)1.35 kg
Notebook Width28.5 cm
Warranty Labour1 Year
Warranty Parts1 Year
What's in the Box:
There was very little included - the laptop, the battery, power cord and block, and some basic getting started instructions. No CD/DVD, no slip-cover, etc... Plain jane in a jersey cow box.
The design is solid as I mentioned - it has more of a professional look than most netbooks - including its Acer brother (1410). The keyboard looks huge but the keys are flat giving it a streamlined look (though harder for touch typists to use). There is a textured wrist rest at the bottom of the keyboard that looks good and doesn't collect fingerprints. The top shell is shiny, but a very dark charcoal metallic grey and a metal Gateway plate on the side...very classy in my opinion.
The screen is a good size for 1366x768 - when on full brightness, it looks amazingly smooth and bright. I compared it with an ASUS 1005HA and it's much brighter. The down-side is that the viewing angle is much narrower - the screen needs to be pushed back further than usual to get good contrast - which actually throws off the balance of the machine when it's on your lap - it leans back too far...but otherwise very good.
It has a glossy finish which a lot of people don't like - I actually do as it increases the contrast significantly - it's so bright it can overcome most reflections - even outside.
No dead pixels on either of the two I had.
I should mention that the keyboard looks great - it has full size keys, but they are flat and a bit awkward for touch typists (like myself) because you can't feel the edge of the keys. Also, like all Acer built machines, the keyboard is a bilingual configuration, meaning you don't have a full size left shift key and the backslash key is where the enter key should be, while the enter key is a large vertical key to the right of that...it took a while to get used to, but I have gotten used to it.
The keyboard does not get hot - even after hours of use - the touchpad also stays cool.
The function keys are a bit smaller than the rest of the keys and have alternate functions:
F1 - Power options - brings up the power plan in Windows (a bit unusual)
F2 - Brings up System Properties (also unusual)
F3 - Enable/disable BlueTooth (aargh - cut it out already!)
F4 - Sleep mode
F5 - Switch video to external/internal mode
F6 - Shut off screen (not the same as sleep mode)
F7 - Disable/enable touchpad
F8 - Mute sound
F9,10 - nothing
F11 - Num Lock
F12 - Scroll Lock
Other useful FN keys are the up and down cursor keys (double as volume up and down) and right and left cursor keys (increase and decrease screen brightness).
No multimedia keys (pause/play, FF, REW) at all...
The touchpad is slightly depressed (unlike the Acer which is flush with the wrist rest) and has two separate buttons - it supports gestures and works very well (though the finish rubs off after only a few days). I was surprised that the flat finish rubbed off - I thought it was just oil from my finger but after cleaning it several times I realized the finish rubbed off...kind of annoying but it still works fine.
The indicator lights for power, hard drive, wireless, power, battery charge indicator are all small, unobtrusive but still very visible.
It supports Wireless B/G/N and works with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz with my dual band router - it connects at close to 300 Mbps on 5 GHz if I'm very close to the router (10 feet) and if I go to another floor in the house, it reverts to the 2.4 GHz connection - typically connected at 130 Mbps. At 5 GHz, it copies from my server at about 8.5-9 MB/s and at 2.4 GHz, it's about 7.5 MB/s. It compares very well with the other laptops I've used with this router.
Basic speakers at the front - they're loud enough to hear a movie well in a relatively quiet room, but need headphones if there's any noise - they have more than enough volume.
Input and Output Ports
On the front, there's a switch for the wireless network card and another switch for BlueTooth - getting my hopes up I checked this out and realized there is not BT included - though obviously some of their other models must include it...tease!
On the right side, there are 2 more USB ports, a MIC and headphone jack and the SD card slot. There's also a cable lock hole and a 1 GB Ethernet port.
There is one USB port on the left side, an HDMI port beside that (very nice), the grill for the fan exhaust, power connector (which is beefy enough to not break off like some netbooks I've used) and a DSUB VGA port.
Battery lock and release switch. A plate with 4 screws covers the hard drive - easy to remove and another plate with 4 screws covers the two SODIMM slots - a 1 GB and a 2 GB memory stick.
Webcam is included - can't tell the MP count, but it runs at 640x480 nicely and is clear - pretty standard.
Insert Benchmark Scores and Pictures Here
Please read the benchmark section above to run common benchmarks.
Size and Weight
The weight is 3.2 lbs - it's great to carry as it's very, very slim - more than any other netbook/notebook I've used. The battery is completely flush with the case, which is unusual in notebooks this size.
Heat and Noise
You can run it on your lap without getting hot as long as you want. The fan is very small so it's a bit noisier than some - it has a very sight whine to it and may not be as quite as some netbooks, but only when you're in a completely quiet room. It's quite acceptable...
Battery life for me averages about 4.5 hours - that's with the screen about 4 levels below the brightest (out of about 10), WIFI enabled and a BlueTooth USB micro adapter plugged in (I have to get BT somehow!). I mainly surf and run Office apps, check e-mail, etc...but I'm pretty hard on it too. Some claim to get closer to 6 hours - I've never seen that neighborhood yet!
Gateway includes their power management software, the synaptics touchpad driver is good and can be configured for gestures features, and there is a webcam utility you can use to take pictures or video. Lots of trial software that is easy to remove...
- High resolution screen
- Much more powerful processor than Atom
- Good graphics for HD video (4500 MHD)
- Large keyboard
- Great price
- Generous RAM
- Professional look
Cons: In list form, summarize the cons
- Narrow viewing angle
- Bilingual keyboard (unless you're bilingual!)
- No Bluetooth!!
- Touchpad finish wearing off after only a few days
In summary, this is the link between a netbook and a notebook. It's as powerful as the lower end notebooks but as portable as a netbook - especially because it's so thin. The battery life is reasonable, the graphics power is appropriate and the screen resolution makes it much more usable than a standard 1024x600 netbook.
If I needed to, I'd buy a couple more!