05 August 2009

Gateway NV5214u Review

Reviewed by: Catharine Smith
Review Date: August 2009

Computer Shopper - Tired of paying for features you don’t need? Gateway has a notebook for you. At $499, the 6.8-pound NV5214u is priced like a netbook but functions like a mainstream laptop. Its sleek design, 15.6-inch wide-screen LCD, and 1,366x768 native resolution give the impression of a high-end notebook. But when you’re paying half the price of the average mainstream laptop, you should expect to sacrifice some on performance, and this model does demand this. The $499 price is the best thing the NV5214u has going for it, followed closely by its design. But those with undemanding computing needs and an eye for style should seriously consider this notebook.

The NV5214u's sleek design has the flair of a much pricier mdoel. This model is coffee-brown, with a honeycomb pattern. The metallic Gateway logo stands out against the neutral tones.

With a matte-black keyboard, a silver rim, and a subtle honeycomb pattern, the NV5214u keeps in step with current laptop design. Our model came in coffee brown, but cherry red, nightsky black, and midnight blue options are also available.

The extra-wide keyboard features a dedicated number pad; neither, thankfully, puts any of the major keys in odd places. The letter keys are broad and flat, which takes some getting used to but doesn’t affect typing ease. The space bar is small, compared with the other keys, though it's not reduced enough to be bothersome. The touch pad is roomy, and the long, thin button below it functions as both a right- and a left-click button, depending on which side of it you press.

Above the keyboard is a row of indicator lights. The four lights to the left are for hard drive activity, Caps Lock, Num Lock, and Bluetooth. To their right are seven LED indicators that double as touch buttons, glowing red when activated. These touch controls govern a power-save function, the MyBackup function, the Wi-Fi enabler, a touch-pad-lock feature, and volume levels. (The MyBackup button lets you copy and store important files with one press.) Above the screen are a built-in microphone and an integrated Webcam.

To test display and sound, we watched The Matrix via the NV5214u’s DVD drive. In dim light, picture quality was beautiful (and viewable even from off-axis). However, the glossy screen was prone to glare in bright light. Unless you’re sitting directly in front of the screen, don’t try to watch movies in a well-lit room. Volume levels were an issue, as well. The Dolby-quality sound was best appreciated with headphones on; without headphones, we found ourselves continually pressing the volume controls for more oomph, even when we knew volume was at 100 percent. Gunshots and musical swells were quite loud, but dialog-filled scenes sounded very soft. The NV5214u's cooling system runs quietly, however, so the internal fan noise doesn’t interfere with the sound, as it does on some laptops.

The keys are broad and flat. A number pad occupies the right side of the keyboard.

The NV5214u offers laptop-typical connectivity. On the left side are an AC adapter port, a Kensington-lock slot, VGA and HDMI connectors, two USB ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and a five-format memory-card reader. The front edge sports a power light, a battery light, and a ventilation grille for the fan inside. The right side sports the DVD drive, two more USB ports, and a modem jack. The power on/off button caps the right side of the hinge.

We noted a few out-of-the-box glitches when test-driving our review unit, namely overall sluggishness and an unruly touch pad. But, oddly, these problems began to smooth themselves out after a few hours. At the end of a full day of testing, the glitches had resolved themselves, likely because the NV5214u had automatically downloaded some Windows updates. By the time we had conditioned the battery, the NV5214u was running like normal. This isn't the kind of observed behavior we would say should prevent you from buying this system, but if you've already bought it and are experiencing the same thing, give it time to run Windows Update, and it should be fine.

Equipped with a 2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64 processor, a whopping 4GB of DDR2 RAM, and ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics with 256MB of dedicated video memory, the NV5214u returned decent benchmark-test scores for the price. We ran our iTunes encoding test first; the laptop converted our 11 iTunes test tracks from MP3 to AAC in 5 minutes and 50 seconds, which is on the slow side for a mainstream notebook (defined as those with 15.4- or 15.6-inch displays) but not far behind the score achieved by the average budget notebook. (We define budget models as $800 or less, and most of them we've tested have taken at least 5 minutes to complete this test.) Our Windows Media Encoder test, which, like the iTunes test, measures CPU performance, took 9 minutes and 53 seconds, 2 minutes slower than the average mainstream system, and about a minute longer than the $549 Acer Extensa 4630z, the Gateway laptop's closest price competitor in the mainstream-laptop category.

On the left, you'll find a Kensington lock slot, AC adapter port, VGA, HDMI, two USB ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and a five-in-one memory card reader.

On our PCMark Vantage test, which evaluates overall system performance, the NV5214u scored 800 points below the mainstream-notebook average, which is still fine for the typical Web surfer. It even managed to beat out the $999 Gateway MC7803u's score of 2,202. On our 3DMark06 test, which measures gaming performance, the NV5214u returned scores that were far below the mainstream-notebook average but about double what other budget systems deliver. Thanks to ATI’s integrated graphics, at 1,024x768, the NV5214u managed a decent score of 1,668 on 3DMark06; that score dropped to a still-respectable 1,452 at its native resolution of 1,366x768. The results of our Cinebench 10 (3,523) test, which measures how well the CPU and graphics work together, were right on target for its price and class.This means you could play some older titles or even some newer ones with the eye candy turned off —not bad for a budget notebook.

Battery life was disappointing. On our DVD rundown test, the system lasted just 1 hour and 44 minutes, about 30 minutes shorter than the laptop average, including budget systems. (To be fair, battery life is almost always a casualty of decent graphics performance.) At 6.8 pounds, however, the NV5214u likely won’t allow you to stray too far from an AC outlet.

Our NV5214u came with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium installed. Gateway also includes Adobe Flash Reader, Adobe Reader, Gateway's MyBackup Solution, Gateway's Recovery Management, Microsoft Works, and 60-day trial versions of Norton Internet Security, Microsoft Windows Live, and Microsoft Office Home & Student 2007. Gateway tops the bundle off with a one-year warranty and a free upgrade to Windows 7 for notebooks purchased between June 26, 2009 and January 31, 2010.

All told, the NV5214u is a remarkable deal at $499. Those looking for a notebook to check e-mail, surf the Web, and tote from the living room to the kitchen (and to Grandma’s once in a while) will be more than pleased with this model. It looks like it costs three times as much as it does; it performs decently; and it won’t break the bank. If your needs are simple and cash is tight, this is a great bargain buy.

Sleek design and robust specs for a budget price; dedicated number pad; free Windows 7 upgrade

Mediocre performance; some out-of-the-box performance quirks; glossy screen is glare-prone; low maximum speaker volume

Editors' Take
Looking at first glance nothing like a $499 laptop, the AMD-based NV5214u is a steal, though its performance is more telling.

Gateway NV5214u

Best Price

Best Buy

Key Specs
Processor: 2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-64
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 320GB hard drive
Optical Drive: DVD±RW
Screen: 15.6 inches (1,366x768 native resolution)
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 3200 (256MB)
Weight: 6.8 pounds
Dimensions (HWD): 1.5x14.6x9.8 inches
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)


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