Gateway vs. Gateway

Don't underestimate the video upgrade

In further evidence that Intel's integrated graphics controller'the one that comes in many of the latest entry-level notebooks'is, frankly, unimpressive, witness the Gateway M460 family of portables. In a March roundup of new notebooks, the Gateway M460X, with its Intel GMA 900 chip set, lagged other notebooks with a below-average Alterion benchmark score of 5,531. So we solicited another Gateway M460 notebook to further test how a third-party controller with dedicated video memory can make a significant difference in application performance. In fact, this is how it should be'better graphics chips, better performance. But we've been shocked at the gulf between Intel and non-Intel components.

The new notebook, the Gateway 460XL, was identical except for a slightly faster CPU (2.0 GHz versus 1.6 GHz) and an ATI Radeon X600 graphics accelerator with 128M of video RAM. But the performance difference was shocking. The Gateway 460XL scored 9,099 on the GCN Alterion benchmark tests'the highest notebook score we've ever seen. Considering both notebooks sport the same RAM and nearly the same CPU, with the same 533-MHz front-side bus, it was clear the video controller made the difference.

Will you notice the performance difference yourself? Not likely if all you do on a notebook is work with e-mail and Office documents. In that case, save about $100 and use the slower integrated Intel graphics. But if you're running geographic information systems software or anything video-intensive, you're likely to see a major difference between low-end and high-end graphics chips.

And here's another conclusion of our Gateway vs. Gateway experiment: A battery upgrade is a good call. The previous Gateway M460X we tested came with an upgraded 12-cell lithium ion battery and lasted over five hours. This latest M460XL came to us with Gateway's standard 6-cell version and, perhaps unsurprisingly, ran for less than two hours on our graphics-heavy rundown test. The better battery is a $40 add-on.

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