We all know about the latest Sagers, and Alienware notebooks for gaming, but what about the powerful gaming notebooks that go unnoticed? The Gateway P-171XL FX is a good example of such a machine. The P-171XL FX comes packed with the latest in CPU and GPU technology, but costs a lot less than the equivalent competitors.
The Gateway P-171XL FX is a 17 inch notebook which plenty of power and a lot of neat features. One of the first impressions of the notebook is its light weight compared to other 17 inch notebooks like the Sager 5793 or 6793. The Gateway sports the fastest Core 2 Duo Extreme CPU I’ve reviewed as well as the powerful graphic card Nvidia GeForce 8800M GTS. Gateway has also taken $200 off the total price of this notebook due to the stock HD-DVD drive, as Toshiba last month announced they are discontinuing their HD-DVD technology. Gateway recognizes that consumers do not want to purchase dead technology and the cost is compensated.
Gateway P-171XL FX
Intel Core 2 Duo X7900 Processor
400GB 7200rpm hard drive
HD-DVD w/ DVD-RW and CD-RW Drive
NVIDIA GeForce Go 8800GTS with 512MB of GDDR3 Discrete Video Memory
17” WUXGA TFT Active Matrix (1920x1200)
1.3 Megapixel Webcam
Intel 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N Wireless
Bluetooth Networking Module
5-in-1 Media Reader
V.92 56K Modem
10/100 Ethernet Adapter
1 Year Warranty
Windows Vista Home Premium
Discounted HD-DVD Drive: -$200
What’s in the Box:
There is nothing out of the ordinary removing the Gateway from the box. The P-171XL FX is safely packaged in plastic wrapping and the typical Styrofoam protective cage. A box with the manuals, AC adapter and of course the notebook itself, is included.
Software & OS
The Gateway P-171XL FX comes with Windows Vista Home (32-bit) installed and ready to go. There is no custom settings walk through like the Sagers. Right away, it is apparent the Gateway P-171XL FX comes with a lot more software (bloatware if you will) than people need. Napster is installed, with AOL ads, and NetZero. This is definitely a turn off when ordering any new computer and the machine is littered with ads like this.
Another disadvantage to the preinstalled software is the slowly responding Microsoft Internet Explorer. Oddly, even doing simple searches on Google caused IE to hang up, close randomly and take forever to load. It wasn't until I installed Firefox 2.0 that these problems went away. At one point when I was using Internet Explorer, I had so many popups, it crashed the notebook. I tried closing them via Task Manger, realized i had over 50 instances of Internet Explorer open, and restarted the notebook. Here is a screenshot of the number of processes open upon boot up.
This is my first Gateway review and I was particularly impressed with the aesthetics of the notebook chassis and lid. The lid has a wonderful glossy finish with the letters FX printed on the center and a small gateway logo on the bottom right. It is very smooth to the touch but at the same time feels very sturdy as does the rest of the notebook. Although the notebook is very light the construction appears to be very solid, with good attention to details.
Regarding the industrial design, one of the most noticeable elements is the battery appendage at the rear of the unit. It protrudes from out behind the notebook like a tail instead of being flush with the chassis. This is neither a good or bad design feature, but it can be an eyesore if you are someone who takes particular interest in sleet notebook profiles.
Opening the lid is very pleasing to the eye for the keyboard is outlined with a flashy orange trim, an array of glowing orange LEDs and a colorful informative keyboard. What I really love about the Gateway P-171XL FX is the labels around the edge of the notebook. Looking straight down at the notebook there are small labels pointing out the input and output ports on the left, right and front of the notebook. You can clearly see where your USB ports, card readers and other functions are located without contorting your head to find them.
The Gateway P-171XL FX comes with a WUXGA LCD (Glossy 1920x1200) screen which is very sharp, bright and clear. This model shipped with no dead pixels and no screen leakage. Comparing the screen with an Alienware Area-51 m5750 (far left) and Sager NP9262 (middle) and the Gateway P-171XL FX (right).
And of course, like most laptops today, the Gateway P-171XL FX has eight levels of brightness settings that can be adjusted using the function key (FN) + the Arrow Down key to lower the brightness and Arrow Up key to raise it.
The Gateway P-171XL FX ships with a full size keyboard, which includes a numeric keypad and 19 function keys. The function keys are Pressing Fn + the F1 key will toggle the orange LEDs above and below the keyboard, F2 will toggle on and off the wifi (which is a strange function key to have because there is already an ON/OFF switch for the wifi on the front of the notebook), F3 will put the notebook into sleep mode, F4 will access the output ports on the notebook, F6 toggles on and off the bluetooth, F8 will adjust the brightness level, F9 toggles play and pause for DVDs and CDs, F10 is the stop button for DVDs and CDs, F11 and F2 act as rewind and fast-forward respectively for DVDs and CDs, pause is also the break key, Insert is also the Print Screen key, Delete is the sync req key (for bluetooth), page up and page down acts as the volume up an down keys, end is the mute key and the Arrow Up and Arrow Down keys also raise and lower the brightness up to 8 different levels.
Users who use a lot of shortcuts and hotfixes will find this keyboard particularly annoying. The left Control (Ctrl) key is not the furthermost left key like it is on most keyboards. Instead, the furthermost left key is the function (fn) key. This makes using shortcuts like, cut, copy and paste (Ctrl + x, Ctrl + c , Ctrl + v ) an inconvenience because your pinky is already trained to feel for the furthermost left key. Its an adjustment that will take some time getting used to. Another common, but not necessarily as important keyboard key, print screen, is also part of the blue function keys where it is normally the main function of a key on other 17 inch notebooks.
The comfort level on the keyboard is normal other than the misplaced function key and again, the frame is very strong. There is no flex noticeable when typing and the keys give off a soft click when pressed. The notebook is not too high off the ground for users wrists to be at a strange angle and the keyboard is not set back too far for users forearms to rest on the edge of the notebook. I found this to be a complaint on the Sager NP9262, because of the height of the notebook.
The keys of the Gateway P-171XL FX are printed white, while the function keys are blue and for some reason the numbers are dark orange. I'm guessing they are orange to match the orange theme of the notebook, but having them dark orange makes them a bit difficult to see.
The touchpad on the Gateway P-171XL FX is extremely easy to use and very likable tactile feel. The touchpad is not as smooth as the m15x, but does not have the definitive texture like all the Sager touchpads; it is a great mix of both. The stock acceleration is set to a very acceptable level. Also built into the touchpad like most notebooks is a scrollpad. Since it is built into the touchpad it has the same texture as the touchpad and has the same perfect level of acceleration for scrolling through documents and websites.
If you are someone who worries about unauthorized people accessing the data on your notebook, the Gateway P-171XL FX has a great security feature that will protect your data from people you do not want accessing it. The security feature is the fingerprint reader module. This allows users to scan their fingerprints into the computer so they are the only ones with access. This feature is perfect for college students who want to restrict use of their machine or corporate employees who need to limit access to sensitive data. This is an extremely solid security solution. You can also use the fingerprint reader to access your e-mail or other application based passwords.
To setup your fingerprint access, run your finger over the sensor and it will begin a series of prompts that are very simple to follow. After you enter your fingerprints in you will also be given the option to do more than one finger which is highly recommended.
Multimedia Keys –
Above the keyboard there are a series of orange buttons. The first from the left is the power button, naturally this turns the notebook ON and OFF. They key to the right of the power key, which is a bright arrow, is the Windows Media Center Key. Pressing this will take you into Windows Media Center which allows you to record TV if you have the TV tuner, watch DVDs or other media you have on your notebook.
The next two keys also take you into Windows Media Center, but they have a more specific function. The first key which has music notes on it, will take you to your music collection while the second key which says DVD will go directly to playing the DVD in your optical drive. The next five keys are the Play/Pause, Stop, Previous, Next Track and Mute keys.
To the right of the Media Keys is the volume control but these are not your typical column control keys. Like the Alienware m15x, the Gateway P-171XL FX has also incorporated touch sensitive keys which work much better than the Alienware touch sensitive keys. When raising or lowering the volume, an orange LED will light up under either the negative (-) or positive (+) ends and slowly fade out. What a great touch.
There are six other LEDs on the Gateway P-171XL FX. Four of them are directly below the touchpad and fingerprint reader and are all orange. From left to right are the, Caps Lock LED, Num Lock LED, CD/DVD activity LED and Hard Drive activity LED.
Below those LEDs on the front of the notebook are two Blue LEDs. The first is a power indication LED and the second is a blue LED that lets the user know they are operating under battery.
Wifi is a breeze on the Gateway P-171XL FX and Vista really does make connecting to available wireless networks much easier than Windows XP. Now that Wifi has become almost a standard feature on notebooks in today’s market for notebooks and have been integrated nicely to the point where even computer novices can turn a notebook on, search for a wireless connection and log on. There were no problems using the P-171XL FX wireless card. There is a 'connect to' icon in the start menu that will bring up all available wireless networks detected. I have two wireless networks in my house, so it asks me which one I want to log on to. It also sets it up so you can name them and have the notebook remember the settings the next time it detects it again. Very useful.
There are two speakers on the Gateway P-171XL FX that point directly at the user. They are located to the left and right of the multimedia keys and volume control respectively. They are decent sounding speakers when watching videos on youtube and gametrailers. Nothing extraordinary, but rather perfectly serviceable speakers.
Input and Output Ports
Front:The front of the notebook has no ports. Just the two LEDs, latch for the lid and the Wifi ON/OFF switch.
Strangely, I could not find software to access the built in 1.3 MP Webcam. I checked in the Device manager to confirm the camera was installed correctly and it indeed was, but there was no software to take pictures. There were also no camera drivers or software that were shipped with this notebook.
Right Side: The right side of the laptop contains a 4-1 card reader port, (SD/MMC/MS/XD) one USB 2.0 ports, RJ-45 LAN jack, a headphone jack and microphone audio jack, firewire port, HDMI port, eSATA port and a VGA output.
Left Side: Optical HD-DVD/CD/DVD drive; In some instances, pressing the open button on the optical drive did not work. I had to right click in the Windows icon and select ‘Eject’ to get the tray to pop out. Also when trying to eject the Optical drive I would get the error: "Is currently in use" (see screen shot below), even if there was nothing in the drive. The left side of the notebook also contains two USB 2.0 ports and the notebook security lock.
Rear: The back of the notebook has an RJ-11 phone jack, AC power connection, battery access and an exhaust fan.
Bottom: The bottom of the laptop is has two exhaust fans, an intake and an output, the battery release lock, and access for notebook upgrades.
Size and Weight
The size and weight of the notebook are very tolerable, especially when you are talking about a notebook with a 17 inch screen. The notebook clocked in at less than 8 pounds which makes traveling and moving it a lot easier than some of the more heavy notebooks on the market.
Rated: 17" WSXGA 15.6" (w) x 11.5" (d) x 1.8" (h) and 8.35 lbs
Actual: Weight: <8 pounds.
Heat and Noise
Playing games, running benchmarks and pushing the notebook hard did turn on the fans, but they were barely noticeable. This is a huge plus for 17 inch notebooks with powerful graphic cards and CPUs. Gateway did a fantastic job with the cooling system.
The two following battery tests were taken on the assigned brightness level. The test runs until the battery reaches 10%, which is the stock setting in which the notebook will notify a user with a low battery warning.
1/8 [Vista Power Saver Management]– 157 minutes (web surfing, trailer watching, youtube)
8/8 [Vista Balanced Power Management]– 95 minutes (web surfing, word document)
The battery life was exceptional on the Power Saver Mode which can be selected in Windows Vista. Over two hours of battery life while surfing the internet and watching media was very impressive! Even with Balanced Power Mode selected users can still get well over an hour over battery life on the highest brightness setting.
Here is a list of tested synthetic and gaming benchmarks. All results are with stock hardware settings.
The 3Dmark Benchmarks are the most common benchmarks used to determine if the notebook is configured to play the latest games. More specifically, it is used to determine the direct X performance of the graphics cards. The higher the score, the more suited your notebook is to playing games. The number behind the 3dMark Benchmark (3dmark2001, 3dmark03 etc) is related to the year the test relates to technology, which is why the 2001 scores are always significantly higher than the 06 scores. You can compare the scores of this notebook to other notebooks by going here.
Second Edition (Build 330)
Compare Benchmark Here
Compare Benchmark Here
Compare Benchmark Here
Compare Benchmark Here
Aquamark is an older graphics benchmark that was designed to see how well a graphics card is performing in DirectX 9 environments.
Compare Benchmark Here
Super Pi calculates Pi to a certain amount of digits you prescribe, and the faster it does it, the better your notebook performs. For all my tests using Super Pi I calculate to 2 million digits of accuracy.
Cinabench runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. This test is important to graphic designers and 3D editors. The higher the bench, the better the performance.
Windows Experience Index [/center]
|The Windows Experience Index is a new feature built into Windows Vista that is designed to help you better understand how well Windows Vista and other software will perform on your PC.
Your computer, running Windows Vista, is assigned a rating number called a "base score" that is achieved by measuring the capability of your computer's hardware configuration. This base score rating will help you to more confidently buy additional hardware, programs, and software that are matched to your computer's base score.
The scale of the Windows Experience Index ranges from 1.0 to 5.9. A higher base score generally means that your computer will perform better and faster than a computer with a lower base score, especially when performing more advanced and resource-intensive tasks.
This next benchmark I ran is called HD Tune which measures raw performance of transfer rates, access times, CPU usage, burst rate and the overall health of your hard drive setup. A couple of obvious notes; the burst rate should always be higher than the maximum transfer rate of your score. (according to the website) In this case it is not. This doesn't unnecessarily mean the test is a failure, it could mean HD-Tune has trouble running on Windows Vista or has trouble with RAID. The second number to look at is the Access Time. The bigger the number, the better the performance. With an access time of 16.1 ms, making it very close to the below notebook models.
The max write speed was 86.6 MB/sec, making it the highest transfer speed in notebooks I have reviewed. The Gateway P-171XL FX takes a bit of a hit with access time, but makes up for it in transfer speed. The 400 GB 7200 rpm drive puts up wonderful numbers against its competitors in RAID 0.
15.7ms ------ 14.7ms ------ 18.4ms ------ 18.4ms ------ 14.7ms ------
Every benchmark/screenshot in this section is run on the highest settings available, with AA off, unless otherwise noted. Every resolution is run at 1920x1200p (unless noted) on Vista with stock NVIDIA Graphics Driver 126.96.36.19944.
A lot of these benchmarks may not seem very impressive, but you must take into consideration that these settings are the highest possible, with AA on the highest setting (when tested), unless noted. All of these games play beautifully on the most recent graphically intensive games.
World in Conflict Stress Test
9 FPS @ 1920x1200 Resolution -
Compare Benchmark Here
Half Life 2: Lost Coast Stress Test
127.31 FPS @ 1920x1200 Resolution -
Compare Benchmark Here
Half Life 2 / Counterstrike Source Video Stress Test
214.51 FPS @ 1920x1200 Resolution
Compare Benchmark Here
63 FPS @ 1920x1200 High Resolution
Compare Benchmark Here
Performance – Scores great benchmarks and FPS for playing the latest games
Screen – No dead pixels, no light leakage, crisp and bright
Touchpad – easy to use, great texture and scrollpad
Weight – less than 8 pounds for a 17 inch notebook
Finger Print Reader - easy to use and useful security option
Battery Life – over two hours with the right power configuration is exceptional!
Bloatware - Comes with preinstalled programs you’ll never use
CD/DVD Drive - not very responsive when pressing button to open and close
When comparing the powerful components inside this notebook to the price, this notebook is one hell of a bargain. Yes HD-DVD is dead, but Gateway reimburses you with the $200 discount. For people with large HD-DVD collection this notebook makes perfect sense and for people with no HD-DVDs the discount looks nice. Gateways are not really considered gaming notebooks, but with the GeForce 8800M card, the latest games run great. Combine this feature with an ascetically good looking, lightweight, well thought out, quiet notebook, and the Gateway P-171XL FX is one of the best all-round notebooks I've ever reviewed. In fact, the only big downside to the notebook is the bloatware that comes pre-installed, which can be easily removed or a fresh copy of Windows Vista can be installed. An easy workaround.
If you have any questions about anything written here you can e-mail me: Dukefrukem[at]notebookforums.com