For a full week, we incorporated the Gateway P-6831FX into our daily routine, substituting it for our usual laptop of choice. We lugged the P-6831FX with us around town on a daily basis and attempted to get into as many usage scenarios as we could think of. From reading HotHardware while sipping lattés and typing up this article to gaming in the library (with headphones, of course) and watching movies on the subway, we tried it all and feel we're ready to report our findings.
Throughout our week of testing, we found the P-6831FX to be a a very sturdy notebook. While it's quite a bit bigger and heavier than we would have liked for commuting, it was fairly manageable and it didn't lead to any serious bouts of back pain. This definitely isn't the best choice for the frequent traveler, but if you must travel, the P-6831FX isn't the worst choice either. However, the P-Series FX notebooks are really built for gaming and we certainly did plenty of that during our testing. As you'll see in the benchmarks on the upcoming pages, the GeForce 8800M under the hood had no trouble with anything we threw at it.
We found the largely plastic chassis to be surprisingly tough. It survived the bumps and bruises of the public transportation system and in a week of commuting we didn't manage to put a single scratch on it. The P-6831FX also stayed planted on our desk during more intense gaming sessions, thanks to four grippy rubber feet that eagerly latched onto most flat surfaces.
The bottom of the P-Series chassis has two removable panels that cover all of the user serviceable internals. The top panel hides the CPU, chipset, RAM and network cards. A single large heat-pipe connects the CPU and chipset to a heatsink assembly at the back of the notebook which is cooled by a low-profile blower fan. The two DDR2 SO-DIMM slots are located right under the CPU and two mini-PCI slots are located to the left of the memory. The P-6831FX comes with a 802.11g network card, leaving the second mini-PCI slot open and up for expansion. We liked that the CPU is so easily accessible since perhaps some users may wish to upgrade the Core 2 Duo T5450 to a more powerful chip. It is worth noting that the graphics card is not accessible unless you completely disassemble the notebook.
The second panel hides the two 2.5" hard drive bays. Each hard drive bay is occupied by a thin, removable metal tray that the hard drives fit into. To install a drive, the metal tray must first be removed and installed on the hard drive. Then the assembled tray slides into the drive bay. The P-6831FX only comes with a single 250GB drive, leaving the second bay open and ready for upgrading.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The keyboard is surrounded by a thick orange band and features full-sized keys complete with a full numpad. Key layout is fairly typical for a notebook. Unfortunately Gateway has placed the Fn key on the edge of the keyboard where the Ctrl key normally would be. We much prefer that the Fn key be placed between the Ctrl key and the Windows key on notebooks. The rest of the layout is fairly good with a full-sized Enter and Backspace key. The keys themselves are coated in shiny black paint with bright white letters. The paint used for the letters reflects light very well and they are very visible, even when the only light source in the room is the notebook's screen. The effect isn't quite as good as a true backlit keyboard, but it's just as functional.
Overall we found the keyboard to be fairly good but the keys did exhibit a slightly "spongy" feel. However, this wasn't a problem during gaming and we found key response to be quite good. The touchpad on P-Series notebooks is fairly large, with two large buttons underneath. We found the touchpad to be a good size and easy to use. The buttons also gave good feedback and were easy to depress.
The P-6831FX is equipped with a 17" widescreen LCD with a native resolution of 1440x900. This isn't a very high resolution for a 17" notebook screen and we've certainly seen much higher resolutions on other gaming notebooks. We found that the lower resolution did limit the amount of desktop real-estate we had to work with, but the screen fared much better in games. A higher resolution screen would provide a crisper, more detailed image, but we didn't find the P-6831FX's screen to be lacking in that regard. One disadvantage of using a higher resolution is the performance penalty that is incurred since the video card needs to drive that many more pixels. The P-6831FX's rather modest resolution is quite easy on the GeForce 8800M GTS under the hood and we experienced excellent gaming performance, as you'll see in the benchmarks.
Unfortunately, the screen quality wasn't the best. While backlight bleed was minimal, the screen's useful viewing angle is very limited. Like most LCD screens based on TN panel technology, the P-6831FX's screen suffered from poor vertical viewing angles and the horizontal viewing angles aren't anything to write home about either. However, the screen is very quick and we never noticed any ghosting or streaking. Images and video remained crisp and clear even during was fast-moving action. Overall, the screen won't win any awards for image quality or color accuracy, but it is plenty capable of presenting a good gaming and multimedia experience for a single person siting directly in front of it, and for this type of notebook, that is all it really needs to do.
Speakers & Sound Quality
Gateway P-Series notebooks sport a pair of stereo speakers at the top corners of the notebook, near the lid hinges. Due to the limited space and poor acoustic properties of notebooks, most of them have poor audio playback capabilities and the P-Series is no exception, although it manages to come out significantly above average. The sound quality isn't good enough to entice serious audiophiles to forgo an external speaker setup completely, but it will provide relatively enjoyable playback while you're on the go.
During our testing, we listened to a lot of music and we found the P-6831FX's speaker sounded very hollow and there was a definite high-end bias. This is very common with notebook speakers. Bass was nowhere to be found and the mid-range was barely there. However, unlike most notebooks, the P-6831FX didn't sound small or "tinny" and the highs weren't as harsh as on other notebook speakers. The very noticeable lack of bass also made movies and some games less enjoyable, but once again, you're unlikely to find significantly better sound quality on any notebook.
Overall, you'll probably want to invest in a good pair of external speakers or a nice set of headphones for everyday use but the built-in speakers will work in a pinch for a quick YouTube video or two.
Heat & Noise
Surfing the web or performing other less demanding tasks, the notebook remained whisper quiet and cool to the touch. Under heavy load during gaming and benchmarking, the GPU fan on the left side of the notebook did eventually ramp up to a higher speed and produced noticeable noise, but it wasn't too loud unless you were specifically listening for it. After several hours of benchmarking the right side of the palm rest, to the right of the touchpad, did become fairly warm to the touch. However it wasn't so hot as to be uncomfortable.
The GPU cooling vent on the left side of the notebook produced a constant stream of warm air at all times. The area is hot enough to heat up a book we placed near the vent. After about half an hour, the entire book was warm to the touch, on all sides. When the system is under load, the stream of air exiting the notebook increases significantly in temperature and intensity, however the user is unlikely to notice unless they use their mouse left-handed, in which case it could become a problem. The CPU cooling vent at the back of the notebook also produced a stream of warm air, although it is much more subdued compared to the GPU vent. Overall, the P-6831FX is a fairly well behaved notebook, producing neither too much heat or noise.