Citius, Altius, Fortius

The core of the P-7811 is largely the same as the P-6831, at least when looking at the outside. If you want a quick look at the laptop, the appearance is unchanged from the P-6831. Dig into the internals and we find a slew of changes. For one, this is one of the first Centrino 2 laptops that we've tested. While the Centrino name is largely marketing, there's no arguing with the success that Intel achieved with the brand. Centrino 2 essentially consists of an upgraded chipset, one of the latest Penryn processors with a 1066 FSB, and one of the two new Intel WiFi chipsets. Centrino 2 isn't inherently a major upgrade over Centrino, but the P-7811 does change virtually every internal component compared to the P-6831. Below are the feature lists for both laptops.

Gateway P-6831 FX Specifications
Processor Core 2 Duo T5450 (1.67GHz 2MB 667FSB)
Chipset Intel GM965 + ICH8-M
Memory 1x1024MB + 1x2048MB DDR2-667
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTS 512MB
Display 17" WXGA+ (1440x900) UltraBright
Hard Drive 250GB 5400RPM 8MB Cache
Optical Drive 8X SuperMulti DVD+/-RW
Networking Integrated Gigabit Ethernet
Intel 4965AGN WiFi
Bluetooth v2.0
Audio Intel 2-Channel HD Audio
Battery 9-Cell 86WHr
Front Side Front LCD Latch
WiFi On/Off switch
Left Side 2 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive (DVDRW)
Kensington Lock
GPU Cooling Exhaust
Right Side VGA
HDMI
eSATA
Gigabit Ethernet
1 x USB 2.0
Mini FireWire
Headphone/Mic Jacks
ExpressCard/54
5-in-1 Flash Reader (MS, MS Pro, MMC, SD, xD)
Back Side Power Connector
56K Modem
CPU Cooling Exhaust
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
Dimensions 15.75" x 11.75" x 1.3"-1.70" (WxDxH)
Weight 9.2 lbs (single HDD)
Extras 1.3MP webcam
1 x 2.5" HDD bay available
Warranty 1-year standard

Gateway P-171XL FX Specifications
(Only changes relative to P-6831 are listed)
Processor Core 2 Extreme X7900 (2.80GHz 4MB 667FSB)
Chipset Intel GM965 + ICH8-M
Memory 2x2048MB DDR2-667
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 8800M GTS 512MB
Display 17" WUXGA (1920x1200) Matte
Hard Drive 2x200GB Seagate Momentus 7200.2 in RAID 0
Optical Drive HD-DVD/8x DVDR SuperMulti
Extras Fingerprint scanner
1.3MP webcam

Gateway P-7811 FX Specifications
(Only changes relative to P-6831 are listed)
Processor Core 2 Duo P8400 (2.26GHz 3MB 1066FSB)
Chipset Intel PM45
Memory 2x2048MB DDR3-1066
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GTS 512MB
Display 17" WUXGA (1920x1200) Glossy
Hard Drive 200GB Seagate Momentus 7200.2
Optical Drive 8X SuperMulti DVD+/-RW
Networking Integrated Gigabit Ethernet
Intel WiFi Link 5100
Extras 1.3MP webcam

As mentioned, the new chipset and processor plus the updated wireless adapter are all part of the Centrino 2 branding, which on its own doesn't mean a lot. What's noteworthy is that instead of the T5450 or T5550 (1.67GHz or 1.83GHz respectively, both with 2MB cache and a 667MHz FSB), users now get a P8400. The letter at the front of the processor model number is an indication of the performance family. Right now, the "T" family is your standard Core 2 Duo mobile processors, "L" models are low power processors, the "U" family are the ultra low power chips, "E" processors are the normal desktop models, and "X" are Extreme Edition CPUs. With the launch of Centrino 2, Intel now introduces the "P" family of mobile processors. At first you might think the "P" in P8400 has more to do with the use of a 1066 FSB than anything else, but there are also 1066 FSB parts in the "T" family; the primary difference between "T" and "P" is the TDP (thermal design power). The P8400 comes clocked at 2.26GHz with 3MB shared cache, with a TDP of 25W compared to the 35W of the "T" series mobile Penryn chips. That means it should hopefully offer better battery life, as well as higher performance due to the faster front side bus (at least where clock speed is equal).

The next major upgrade is the use of the GeForce 9800M GTS instead of the now outdated 8800M. The 9800M comes in three flavors: GTS, GT, and GTX; these chips have 64, 96, and 112 SPs respectively. While there are slight differences in core and memory clock speeds, the net result is that the 9800M GTS is roughly equal to the 8800M GTS, and the 9800M GT is roughly equal to the 8800M GTX.  It's not entirely clear whether there was a process technology shift between 8800M and 9800M, or if the new parts are just rebranded 8800M chips.  Regardless, we do see quite a few performance changes with the 9800M GTS compared to the 8800M GTS, which we will get to in a moment.

Another interesting upgrade is the use of DDR3 memory instead of DDR2 memory. This may not actually improve performance much, but the lower operating voltage should help battery life. One of the major complaints we've had with DDR3 on the desktop is that prices were initially extremely high; desktop DDR3 is now at the point where it is starting to become reasonable for the high-end without breaking the bank, but what about on laptops? Since the P-7811 comes as a complete package, we don't have specific information on the price of DDR3 SO-DIMMs, but the total cost remains largely unchanged compared to the earlier P-6831/6860, so we have little reason to complain. Gateway also ships the systems with 2x2GB memory, so unless you're interested in finding 4GB SO-DIMMs you won't have to worry about memory upgrades.

Going along with the increased memory, the P-7811 also comes with Windows Vista 64-bit instead of 32-bit. There are still a few applications that may have difficulty on 64-bit operating systems (Ed: Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I'm talking about you!), and the difference between 3GB of memory on a 32-bit OS and 4GB of memory on a 64-bit OS is very small at best - the added memory space tends to be offset by the increased memory requirements of 64-bit code. Provided you don't intend to use an application that has difficulty in a 64-bit environment, however, we certainly approve of the move to 64-bit operating systems. Besides, how are we going to start getting 64-bit applications if no one runs 64-bit operating systems? (Ed: Yes, I'm feeling a bit bitter about certain 64-bit trends; Adobe, I would really like a 64-bit version of Photoshop!)

The only remaining change that is likely to be immediately noticeable is the upgrade to the LCD panel. If you're like me and you enjoy running a high resolution LCD, the WUXGA (1920x1200) panel will certainly be a welcome addition. If your eyesight isn't great you might have preferred Gateway stick with their WXGA+ (1440x900) panel, but in that case we'll just have to agree to disagree. Besides, you can always run the higher resolution panel at a lower resolution - albeit with some blurriness caused by not running at the native LCD resolution.

The other changes aren't as significant but are still worth a quick mention. There's a switch from a 250GB 5400 RPM drive to a 200GB 7200 RPM drive, and obviously we have the new chipset and wireless adapter that come as part of the Centrino 2 platform. Wrapping all of the changes up, we have a launch price change from $1350 to $1450. You could've convinced some of us (i.e. me for one) to spend the extra $100 just for the higher resolution LCD, so all of the other upgrades we mentioned are merely icing on the cake.

Index Test Setup
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  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    You know, I used to feel the same way, and I still prefer non-glossy desktop displays. On laptops, though, the glossy LCDs frequently look better in terms of color and contrast. I've had the P-171XL and P-7811 sitting next to each other, and the glossy 7811 looks better in pretty much every way. The reflections are annoying at times, but in the right environment I definitely prefer it over a dimmer matte display. Reply
  • rjc - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    Sorry if i missed it - but was there any temperature info about the different components in the review?

    Personally own a 8600gt based laptop and the gpu temperatures are terrible, quickly into the 90's celcius as soon as i try to play a game. According to other users(at the notebook-review forums) i can expect this to worsen over time exceeding 100C, the more i play games the quicker the part degrades till it fails.

    I didnt pay enough attention to the thermal perf of the laptop when buying, instead distracted way too much the performance graphs like the ones present in the above review. Certainly not going to make that mistake again.

    Would the stability issues mentioned in the last page possibly be temperature related rather than a driver issue?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, August 16, 2008 - link

    When the fan speeds kick up, temperatures are fine, but the P-7811 BIOS appears to need adjustment right now because the fan spins at lower RPMs most of the time. (The 171XL and 6831 didn't have this issue - it could just be a faulty unit as well, as this is prerelease hardware.)

    Exhaust temps are hitting the 50C range at load on the GPU, and the core is hitting even higher temps. Instability could be heat related, as I mentioned on the concluding page. I'm hoping Gateway can provide a BIOS update so that I can include more details on the final roundup next week. (If you have an 8600M GT hitting 90C, there's definitely a problem with the design or BIOS.)

    The roundup will also cover temps in more detail, as well as LCD quality, noise levels, and tests from other competing notebooks. Stay tuned.
    Reply
  • rjc - Sunday, August 17, 2008 - link

    If the fan speed is upped make sure you redo your battery tests. Both dell and hp have provided fan speed fixes that upped the fan to almost full all the time and users are complaining about the noise and adverse effect on battery life. Also running the fan at full was not the original design and may overheat the fan motor itself causing the fan to prematurely die, likely followed quickly by the whole notebook.

    The current rumor is something is wrong in the power plane design on the G84/G86 and possibly G92/G94 which causes excessive heating and eventually cracks the surrounding die. Honestly if you somehow can i really recommend investigating this a little, your readers will appreciate it.

    There are clues - the nvidia $200m charge, the halving of their share price, the dell and hp announcements. Dell discontinuing their xps line of gaming laptops, and except for quadros dont appear to be selling nvidia gpus at all in notebooks.

    Re exhaust temps. I have been measuring core temps with riva tuner. Have upped the fan but it doesnt make much difference 5C tops. The thermal performance is consistent with most other users i can see. Some people have faulty units which run at 10C higher ie over 100C during gaming.

    Sorry for going on so much...am just trying to give you the experience of a current "gaming" laptop owner. At the moment i honestly would advise other people to steer clear of these products entirely.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    "The current rumor is something is wrong in the power plane design on the G84/G86 and possibly G92/G94 which causes excessive heating and eventually cracks the surrounding die. Honestly if you somehow can i really recommend investigating this a little, your readers will appreciate it."


    As far as I can tell, the *rumors* being circulated by some very anti-NVIDIA groups are blowing things way out of proportion. NVIDIA couldn't provide any specific details (because of OEM relations and such), but failing mobile GPUs does not seem to be a rampant problem. I know that personally I have not had a single NVIDIA mobile GPU fail on me or anyone in my family during the past several years, and believe me the stress testing I put laptops through is quite intense.

    Yes, there have been failures, but what percent are we talking about? NVIDIA can't say, the OEMs won't say, and you've got a few crazies out there pretending that 90% of mobile NVIDIA GPUs are failing. The actual cause of failures appears to be rapid heating and cooling of the GPU substrate (according to NVIDIA). So a modified fan algorithm is really all that's needed so that temps don't flip back and forth between say 70C and 90C... a constant 80C would be better. (Just guessing on the numbers, though - I didn't get details on temps, again because of OEM concerns.)

    Anyway, from what I've heard, the $200M should be way more than is actually needed to address the failed GPUs... and it is only mobile GPUs. Don't put too much in stock prices, as a rumor can cause stock panic whether it is true or just malicious claims from a competitor.

    My personal advice is: don't expect desktop performance from a gaming laptop, but if you're willing to spend more for the mobility option there are some decent laptops out there. Right now, I'd take the P-173XL over the P-7811, just because of the stability problems I've experienced, but I think they can fix it easily enough.
    Reply
  • rjc - Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - link

    "As far as I can tell, the *rumors* being circulated by some very anti-NVIDIA groups are blowing things way out of proportion. NVIDIA couldn't provide any specific details (because of OEM relations and such), but failing mobile GPUs does not seem to be a rampant problem. I know that personally I have not had a single NVIDIA mobile GPU fail on me or anyone in my family during the past several years, and believe me the stress testing I put laptops through is quite intense. "

    There is an article in the WSJ today:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121910081640451139...">http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121910081640451139...
    As the article mentions HP and Dell have both extended their warranties specially to cover this. The analyst says that $200m might not be enough to cover it.

    Roughly doing the maths at $400 per repair $200m will cover 500k repairs...As nvidia sold around 30m units last year thats 1 in 60 replaced. Of course if the OEM is covering part of the cost the failure rate is likely higher.

    I realise when doing reviews the fun bit is all the performance figures, how many frames you get for your $....some time spent on less attractive things like how good the warranty is, ease of rma process and whether the system can run in a stable state for long periods would better help customers make a decision they are later happy with.

    As long as your sure you are not selling them a lemon ;-)
    Reply
  • disorder - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    For people that are interested in a bargain, I've seen the P-6831 at a little over $1000 at some Chicago area BBs. It has been discontinued because the P-7811 has shipped. Reply
  • Rekonn - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    Thanks for an excellent review! Reply
  • rvikul - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    Any comment on the overall build quality of these Gateway laptops? I am considering getting one of the gaming laptops and durability/build quality is my primary concern.

    I own an eMachines (later acquired by Gateway) laptop and it developed a crack within a few months on the back just under the screen.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 15, 2008 - link

    Overall build quality seems good but not great. It's still a plastic chassis, so if you drop it or something it could break. I do know some people with a 6831 that have used it for the past ~6 months with no problems. Reply

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