Pros: Intel's new Core i3 processor, 4 gigs RAM.
Cons: Abbreviated version of Microsoft Office 2010.
I recently purchased the $629 Gateway NV55C laptop from Radio Shack on special and they cut the price $130 dollars for the holiday season* (I will go over pricing at the end of this review).
I originally thought for this price I may get a budget basement laptop with modest stats but I was pleasantly surprised. Just six months ago, a laptop like this would have targeted the $1,000 laptop consumers.
Anyway, while this is not a gaming laptop, the stats were generous in the middle of the pack for a budget laptop:
Intel Core i3 processor
4 GB DDR3 RAM
8x DVD Super Multi DL Drive
320 or 500 GB hard drive
Wi-Fi certified 802.11 b/g/n
HDMI port for external monitor/large screen TV
Dual format card reader
128 MB dedicated HD graphics
1 year warranty, parts and labor
64 bit Windows 7 Home Premium Edition
Office 2010 Starter with smaller versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel
Differences from the standard Intel Core 2 Duo processor and the new Intel Core i3 processor:
By 2009, the Intel Core 2 Duo processor had pretty much become the default budget processor for most PC laptops. The more exclusive the laptop and the more it entered the mid to higher ranges, the more speed per core was utilized.
New to 2010, Intel had a new set of processors to replace and surpass the Core 2 Duo line with the Core i3, i5, and i7.
Starting with up to 15% percent more computing power than the Core 2 Duo, the Core i3 also draws less energy and gives better battery times due to a smaller wafer process.
While the Gateway NV55C is available in the older Core 2 Duo, there is also a slightly more expensive Core i3 version as this review covers, and yet a higher end Core i5 rendition of the Gateway NV55C laptop.
The Core i3 on this machine with 4 GB of RAM make it more than capable for Internet, e-mail, office, graphic design, and light computer gaming.
DVD Super Multi DL drive:
As standard equipment across the entire NV55C line is the DVD and CD burner and reader, dual layer and 8x speed. While the optical drive is very fast, it felt a little flimsy on this Gateway model. I would have preferred a slot-loading drive found in Apple laptop models.
Large hard drive capacity:
Today's low end hard drive spins at a respectable 5400 rpm which helps make the experience of navigating through Windows 7 more tolerable.
With an capacity starting at 320 GB of hard drive space, most users are not likely to fill up this laptops drive and thus slow down overall performance.
For an extra $20 dollars more, I would go for the 500 GB laptop which should be ample for the iTunes addict and amateur home movie maker.
In the context of a laptop, if one does need more than half a 500 gigabytes of space, they could buy external hard drives to store what is likely to be a lot of multimedia information.
But even with the dual 2.4 GHz Intel Core i3 and ample RAM, this machine seems to be very slow at booting up taking in the neighborhood of two minutes. I don't blame Gateway's choice of processors or amount of RAM as much as I would in the increasing complexity of Microsoft's newer 64-bit operating system which is Windows 7 Home Premium Edition on this model.
Once the computer is up and running, going through the motions of Internet, e-mail, and office tasks are very fast and noticeably snappier than running a laptop with a Core 2 Duo chip pushing Windows Vista (Microsoft's previous operating system which was burdened with being slow and complicated to navigate through).
Home computer user graphics:
For tasks from amateur home movie making to light gaming, 128 MB of dedicated graphics is enough for most users.
I would recommend a laptop with at least 256 MB of RAM in dedicated graphics power for the true computer gaming enthusiast but this model was clearly not designed for heavy use more commonly found on a laptop which would also include a Core i7 processor, or at least a Core i5 processor with Intel's Turbo Boost technology.
Office 2010 Starter Edition:
Bundled as the main software on this laptop is Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition, which is Microsoft's cureent answer to its popular Microsoft Works that graced many a computer for years. Most computer users are likely to find the simplified versions of Word and Excel useful, but barely adequate 2010 Starter Edition of Office is not as comprehensive as Microsoft Works once was as a bundled software found on many PCs sold in the past. If a person is new to computers, they will not miss what used to be a great starter package with what was Microsoft Works.
Along with the smaller version of Office comes a trial anti-virus setup, some games, and a lot of spam advertising software.
It is a good bet that one of the factors in keeping this laptop, and many other models, down in price is the advertising one is likely to encounter when booting up the computer for the first time.
With all the extras of software trials and advertising, the laptop does not come with restore disks and the user has to make their own utilizing at least 5 blank DVD disks sold separately. While this may be inconvenient to make ones own backup recovery disk set, it's better to be safe than sorry.
For anywhere between $499-$525 street price, I highly recommend this laptop to anybody who wants a budget computer with decent performance and features.
I am going to give the NV55C Core i3 model four stars but would otherwise have given this laptop five full stars configured as it is, but I was most put off by the Starter Edition of Microsoft Office 2010 and the obvious advertising bundled into this Gateway laptop.
If Microsoft had kept their Starter Edition of Office in the fuller range of a better Microsoft Works from previous years, it may have increased the price of all machines bundled with the software. The same goes with all the advertising spam of software trials found on this machine.
* - UPDATE: For Cyber Monday, the sources I looked at, including Radio Shack, kept the price of the Gateway NV55C right at the sale price it was at in the earlier part of this month (November, 2010).
Where Radio Shack had some extremely good deals on certain laptops on Black Friday, the much anticipated Cyber Monday was set at the regular sale prices for the holiday season. In other words, the NV55C with the smaller hard drive (320 GB) and the default black plastic casing was priced at a reasonable $499 dollars down from the MSRP of $629 dollars.