by Jaffer Hasnain
Overview and Introduction
Gateway's M285-E is the successor to Gateway's previous model, the M275, and is also known as the CX210 if you are purchasing the laptop via Gateway Home's website. Gateway's other vendor sites are calling this the M-series laptop, even tough there are very few differences between them, mainly in the different upgrade options available. This laptop looks exactly the same as the previous generation M275, however, it's been freshened with the new Core Duo architecture and this update provides a significant upgrade in performance that is seen throughout various applications. This tablet amply provides a laptop that in essence is a laptop, but also provides tablet functionality without detracting from the overall notebook experience.
Gateway M285 Tablet PC convertible notebook (view large image)
Configuration of M285 as reviewed:
Reasons for Buying and the Buying Process
I recently was offered admission to Virginia Tech's engineering program, and was quite excited to go, and the prospect of buying a sweet new ThinkPad was all that was on my mind. Unfortunately, I had come to find out that Virgina Tech's requirement for a laptop for the entering class was to be a Tablet PC Convertible Notebook. This dampened my hopes some, because at that time, very few vendors offered a tablet pc that had a dedicated GPU. Fortunately, VT had forged several partnerships with manufacturers (Gateway, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and HP) that allowed us to have significant discounts on otherwise expensive equipment. Of these manufacturers, I had decided to go with Gateway, because at the time of my purchase, they were the only ones who had a dedicated GPU while also carrying the newer Core Duo chips. I could have waited for the Tecra M7, which also carries both Core Duo and a dedicated GPU, but I am quite impatient, and it ends up that the GPU included with the M7 is a workstation card, as opposed to a graphics card, which can affect performance. I ordered through Virginia Tech's Computer procurement plan, and 2 weeks later, I had it.
Build and Design
Gateway M285 convertible Tablet PC in notebook mode (view large image)
This is a Tablet PC Convertible, which basically means this is a standard laptop that can be converted into a tablet, so it can be used as both a tablet and a regular notebook. There are several advantages and disadvantages to this. The main downside for many people is the fact that the screen is connected to the rest of the laptop by usually one hinge, and thus this single hinged needs to be quite sturdy in order to withstand the daily grind of the constant changing between modes. Gateway did an excellent job at creating this hinge. While visually it may not look so durable, it is quite the opposite. It feels very solid and I don't have any fear of possibly damaging or breaking off the screen when I am switching between modes. The palm rests are also quite stiff, in the sense that they do not flex at all, even when considering that the modular bay is under the right palm rest and in many other laptops there is a flex present. Overall, the laptop feels well built and up to the task of the abuse that may be experienced by this laptop, both in regular and tablet mode.
Gateway M285 closed lid view (view large image)
Underside view of Gateway M285 (view large image)
Gateway M285 screen in use as a Tablet PC (view large image)
The screen for this laptop is very essential, as not only does it serve as the main way to view whatever the computer needs to display, but also that it has to hold up to the pen and make sure that it is not pliant which would degrade from the pen and pad feel of a tablet screen when using the stylus to write on it. As far as the screen is concerned, this 14" screen is very nice. It has a semi-glossy cover, which provides excellent visibility, and the brightness is very adjustable, and I find myself keeping it on the lowest setting because I like to save battery life (which later you will find out I really do not need to). The screen has no flex, and when pushing onto the screen, it does not produce any ripples. This can be attributed to the fact that this screen is manufactured differently as it has to adapt to the need to hold up to the requirements of a tablet screen.
The only complaint I would have with this screen, is that it does have a little grainy look to everything it displays. I popped in a DVD and while watching it, I noticed a significant grainy look, which I tried to remove by adjusting various setting both in the included DVD suite, as well as the ATI Catalyst Control Center driver package included with my ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 Card. When looking at a black screen, there is very little light leakage, and the backlight of the screen is very even. Overall, the screen is fairly nice, however, the graininess is something that those who prefer crystal clear quality may want to look into further, and possibly look elsewhere when looking for a tablet pc.
The speakers are probably better than other laptop speakers, and while they are not amazing, they can easily fill a small room with sound. They are positioned on the front lip of the laptop, and if on your lap, they will most likely be blocked, thus greatly reducing the noise. The headphone jack is also located in the front, and if the tip of your headphone plug is a little long, it may be a little uncomfortable as it may be prodding precious area. So, a nice set of headphones would be needed for a audiophile, but the speakers are easily up to the task for the occasional music listening and internet sound.
Processor and Performance
The Intel T2600 w/ the Dual 2.16Ghz Cores is very impressive in performance. Ever since I have used it, it has been blazing in performance, with almost no lag when switching between documents or opening up programs, and not once has there even been a slight delay. This is pretty astounding considering that I chose to get the slower 533mhz memory and not taking advantage of the faster 667 FSB that the processor has. This is definitely a pro of the computer, as it displays the power to do multiple tasks without any sign of strain.
The faster 7200rpm hard drive can also deserve some credit, as this makes available many of the things I need sooner, thus eliminating a bottleneck that may exist had I chosen to go with the slower 5400rpm hard drive. While I am not sure how much of a drain the faster HD is on battery life, it must not be that much, as I can still manage several hours on the 12 cell battery. Even as I am writing this review, I have 9 different windows open, both Firefox and Internet Explorer, as well as Microsoft Word, and this computer does not miss a beat. It hardly ever experiences lag, and this is definitely a positive attribute for this computer. I have also run Unreal Tournament 2004, and it easily runs on the higher settings and there is zero lag. Not too shabby for a laptop, and a tablet at that! Multi-tasking is a snoozefest for this computer because it can so easily switch from one program and window to another that you wouldn't notice at all that you are doing anything else.
These benchmarks were run in a normal tablet pc environment, meaning that all of the special tablet processes were running, which allows more of a "real-world" score and performance that is not higher due to a lack of processes because most of them have been turned off by the user, so technically these scores can be higher if more processes were turned off.
Here's how the M285 stacked up in PCMark05 results against other notebooks. This result considers system performance as a whole (processor, graphics card, hard drive).
|Gateway M285-E (2.16GHz Core Duo)||3,944 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300)||2,879 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz)||1,877 PCMarks|
Here are the results for calculating Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy
Gateway M285-E (2.16GHz Core Duo)
Compaq Presario V3000z (1.6GHz Turion64 X2)
Gateway M255 (2.0GHz Core Duo)
Lenovo Z61m (2.0GHz Core Duo)
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)
Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)
Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)
HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)
This benchmark primarily compares the performance of the graphics subsystem.
3DMark 05 Results
Gateway M285-E (2.16GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1400)
1,945 3D Marks
Averatec AV2150-EH1 (AMD Turion 64 1.6GHz, ATI Xpress 200M)
442 3D Marks
Gateway M255 (2.0 GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950 Graphics)
523 3D Marks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 nVidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)
1,791 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)
2,530 3D Marks
Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)
2,090 3D Marks
Acer Travel Mate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
HDTune Hard Drive Results
Heat and Noise
This is my first laptop, but even still, I have used several laptops over my life, and when comparing them, this one doesn't run as hot as one would think. The laptop definitely produces heat, and when in your lap, you can definitely feel it, however it is nothing that would cause any physical damage, or too uncomfortable, even when it has been on your lap for hours. The palmrests also get a bit warm to the touch, but that heat can also be attributed to the fact that your wrists have been there for a significant amount of time.
The fans on this machine work very well, and aren't constantly running like in some other laptops. They come on here and there, and are on for a short time before they turn off. This is pretty amazing considering the fact that this is running components that are at higher speeds, which result in more heat being produced. Even when on, the fans produce little noise, and do not detract from the laptop using experience. The only noise issue I have, is the amount of noise the hard drive makes. It makes a really high pitched hiss, which when there is no noise around you, can get extremely annoying. I will be contacting gateway to see if the drive may be defective, however, I believe that this just has to do with the 7200rpm speed of the drive rather than defects.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Gateway M285 keyboard and touchpad (view large image)
The keyboard for this computer is excellent. During my search for a latptop, and then tablet, I came across several different keyboards, and they all provided different feedback, and different response and thickness, however, I found this laptop keyboard to be above average and I definitely LOVE it. The response and feel of the keyboard is good, and the key press is even no matter which part of the key is pressed. This can't be said of some other keyboards. The touchpad is also in a good location. It does not get in the way of my palms and I don't accidentally hit it whilst I type. This is definitely quite an advantage because there isn't an option to turn off the touchpad while you are typing. This will prove to be quite useful when doing term papers in college, where I will be typing for an extended period of time.
Input and Output Ports
There are a plethora of Ports available on this laptop, and significantly more than other comparable tablet pc convertibles with similar specs. Along the left side of the computer are where you will find the more commonly used ports by the average user. The Express Card, Firewire, 3 USB 2.0 Ports, 10/100/1000 Ethernet Port, VGA Output, Gateway Port Replicator Connector, and the AC Power Port. There are no ports along the back, and the only jacks in the front are to attach an external mic, headphones, as well as a 7-in-1 Media Card Reader. On the right side, one can find the modular bay, which can house a variety of drives, as well as the modular battery, which adds a second battery to the system for even more battery life. There is also a vent, as well as the Kensington Security Lock, and the RJ-11 Jack for the modem.
Gateway M285 front side view (view large image)
Gateway M285 left side view (view large image)
Gateway M285 right side view (view large image)
Gateway M285 back side view (view large image)
One of the small gripes I have with this system, is the fact that all Three USB ports are on the left side, and that is a little annoying, because if I would need to use a wired mouse, I would have to have it run from left to right, as I prefer to use my mouse on the right side of the keyboard. Other than that, the only other missing port someone would have a complaint about would be S-Video, however, that can be solved using the Optional Port Replicator attachment that Gateway sells. However, when looking at this tablet comparatively, the numerous ports on this machine make it fairly competitive among its peers.
This computer has Intel's PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Wireless card. The antenna is cleverly wired through the screen of the tablet, as to provide a more clear and stronger connection to the wireless action point. From what I have seen, this works quite well. I have been throughout my house, and my router, which is located in my upstairs bedroom, gives me a excellent connection no matter if I'm 5 feet away, or I'm in the corner of the basement, where I don't even get service on my cell phone. I also chose to get the option of Bluetooth on this computer, because my printer (HP Photosmart 8250) is bluetooth enabled, and this allows me to connect to it via Bluetooth, giving me the option of eliminating wire clutter in my dorm room while I am in college. There is no infrared port for PDAs and Smartphones, however, many of those PDAs do have Bluetooth, so they can sync up that way.
One of the things that I was most worried about when I was choosing to buy a laptop computer, was how the battery life would be, as there were no definitive reviews for this or any other current generation tablet PC. While there were several reviews for other regular laptops that one could technically compare them to, it was more of an apples to oranges comparison, and thus was inconclusive at best. However, this Gateway did not disappoint. I chose to upgrade the battery to the optional 12-Cell, which would provide more battery life at the cost of more space taken up, however I did not mind this minor sacrifice because I did not want to end up without a laptop because of a battery that could not stay away from a desk for less than a few hours. This 12 cell lasts almost 5 hours under normal usage w/ wireless on, and internet browsing, with 40% tablet usage. When being miserly, and low brightness and no wireless, the laptop can almost hit 8 and a half hours. This is quite amazing and definitely surprised me as I was not expecting battery life this nice. Later on, I may decide to get the optional Modular Bay Battery, which will give me 50% more battery life, as it is a 6-cell battery, in addition to the 12 cell I currently have.
Operating System and Software
This Gateway arrived with Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 preloaded on it. This tablet version of Windows XP provides some essential Tablet PC programs that one would not find on other flavors of Windows XP. Gateway includes the Operating System disk, as well as another disk that contains the applications and drivers to the various devices that were found on the laptop. In order to recover your computer if something were to happen to it, you would need to press F11 during boot, and that will take you into Gateway's recovery application. From there, the application uses the recover partition on the HD, as well as the Recovery disks to restore the original image that came on the laptop. Surprisingly, there was not much bloatware included with the computer, however, I did end up uninstalling Symantec's Internet Security Client, as I did not want a security program hogging up a large chunk of my system's valuable resources, and instead installed alternative AV software that does not suck up as much RAM. Aside from that, there was not much else other uninstalling that I was doing. I did uninstall Intel's PRO/Wireless management software, and accidentally also uninstalled the drivers itself for the integrated Network card, so I tried to reinstall, but it asked to provide a source where Windows could get the drivers from, and so I inserted the Applications and Drivers disk included with the computer, and within a few seconds, I was back up and running on the internet, except now, there was no Intel software running and hogging more precious resources.
Also included was various software by Microsoft, which I assume can be found on various other Tablet PC's as it is Tablet PC specific software. One thing I did notice was that there was no Pen compatibility with Firefox. In most of Microsoft's programs, wherever you can input something with the keyboard, a little button also comes up so you can instead write it in with a pen, however, when using firefox, I noted that this little icon does not pop up, and thus forces you to use Microsoft Internet Explorer, which is not too much of a hassle for me, except that I lose the built in RSS feeds for some sites I visit. However, this is more directly a software problem rather than hardware, and thus can be addressed in later versions.
Customer Support was another one of my concerns when I was deciding on my purchase, however, I read some of the different experiences of several users in the Tablet PC forums, and it was very positive. I myself have not yet had the need to call tech support, and hopefully that need will not arise. I consider myself to be a fairly advanced user, and I can fix many problems by myself. I will definitely update the review if needed, If i were to encounter any trouble from Customer Service. The only "inquiry" that I can speak for, is that fact that my name was spelled wrong on my Order Confirmation, so I sent an email to Tech Support, and fortunately, the problem was resolved within a matter of a few hours, and that is not too shabby. The default warranty included with the system is for 1 year, however, through the Virginia Tech discount, this was upgraded to 3 years, with Accidental Damage Protection, which gives me repair no matter what type of damage the laptop may incur, and this was essential as this is a tablet pc, and with the screen resting on one hinge, I was a bit more thorough in finding out what type of warranty to get, that would cover any damage that may occur from the various abuses of college life.
As a tablet, there are various different things that this PC needs to be able to do. The main function of a tablet is the Pen and Pad functionality of the screen, and while one may not realize it, the feel of the tablet, as well as how well the pen responds to various inputs is critical for those who are trying to recreate a natural feeling of pen on paper. The Gateway does fairly well at recreating this feeling, however, I don't believe that this is as good as some of the other laptops on the market. The pen definitely needs to be calibrated the first time, and from then on, it needs to be recalibrated every time the view of the screen is changed from landscape to portrait and vice versa. In order to calibrate it, you need to goto the pen and tablet settings button on the taskbar, chose to calibrate, and hit the center of the crosshairs that appear in the four corners of the screen, all in all, the process takes about 15-20 seconds, and provides a more accurate pen when you go to write on the screen. The more accurately you mark the center of the crosshair, the more accurate the pen is on the tablet. Once you get used to the feel of the pen on the screen, it actually becomes easier to write, and once you get used to the fact that your screen will have some smudges on it from when your palm hits it, you will write even more comfortably. The screen also features several buttons along the bottom of it, so when you are in tablet mode, you can easily access some key features through the buttons such as task manager, and Windows Journal, which opens up a document with lined paper so it looks as if you are taking notes on an endless amount (well, as large as your hard drive) of notes that you can save and access at any point in time. The pen is held in a small little depository and is easily accessible. Overall, the tablet functionality works well, however, It does not quite deliver the feel of writing pen on paper, but once used to it, I don't think it will be too much of a significant problem. A recent update to the drivers make the pen feel a lot more comfortable and smooth when using it, and significantly improves the performance of the pen on the screen.
After spending some time on this laptop, and setting things up just the way I like them, I think overall, it's a great buy. The performance is top notch, and the quality is also surprisingly nice. There are few things wrong with the laptop, but for some those few things may be what ultimately may decide on whether or not they want to buy it. Size is one of the major concerns for some, and that is definitely something that will need to be determined when choosing this laptop. This is a 14" screen, and thus adds quite a bit of weight to whatever you may be carrying this in. With the additional 12-Cell battery, it adds even more weight, and protrudes out the bottom, which may be something that some users may not want. However, this for me is a small sacrifice as in return I am getting amazing battery life. Overall, I would definitely recommend this laptop to anyone who is looking for a replacement for a desktop, while still keeping all the functionality of a laptop, as well as having the added functionality of a tablet for whatever they may need it for (in my case, VT's Engineering Program).
Gateway M285 Product Page
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