Best-performing netbooks

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Gateway LT2120u
LT2120u Review, by Jon L. Jacobi March 26, 2010

Rating:

rating_icon_3_stars.gif
 

Pros:
Excellent battery life
Styling is a step away from the norm

Cons:
Touchpad looks too much like the rest of the deck

Bottom Line: Gateway wrings great battery life out of this Atom N450-based, 10.1-inch netbook.

REVIEW:
Your cross-country flight will land long before the $350 (as of March 23, 2010) Gateway LT2120u netbook needs to sip from the AC again. Built around Intel's Atom N450 CPU and integrated 3150 GPU, as well as sporting 1GB of memory, a 250GB hard drive, and a 1024-by-600-pixel 10.1-inch display, the LT2120u lasted an impressive 9 hours, 40 minutes in our battery tests--no mean feat for a netbook that's also a good performer.

Gateway styled the LT2120u largely in white with silver detail and trim, including the keyboard deck (the area in front of the keyboard containing the touchpad). Three USB ports are included, two of them positioned on the left side of the unit with the AC jack and VGA port, and the last on the right with the audio in/out and 10/100 ethernet port. The netbook also has a Kensington lock port on the right edge, as well as an SD slot for loading and saving files.

At 2.76 pounds, the LT2120u is hardly a featherweight, though it's about average for this category of netbook with a battery capable of this kind of run time. You can access the hard drive and memory module via screw-secured access panels on the bottom of the unit. Since the netbook has only one accessible memory slot, upgrading to 2GB to improve multitasking will require replacing the existing 1GB module. You'll also find a vacant miniPCI Express slot underneath the hard drive panel; if you have the need to add a Bluetooth or other card later on, you should be able to do so easily.

The LT2120u is relatively skilled at handling video. The Webcam's resolution is 640 by 480, and the videos we recorded with it ran smoothly. A drop-down Webcam utility is invoked when you mouse to the top of the screen (you can reconfigure this behavior). The LT2120 also played 720p HD WMV, QuickTime, and MP4 videos effortlessly through VLC. Flash video and online Flash-based gaming stuttered noticeably, though.

Audio played through the LT2120u's speakers is strictly of the lacking-in-bass sort you find in nearly all portables. Over headphones, the sound quality was fine, and loud enough to be audible over airplane noise.

The keyboard on the LT2120u is large enough for most people to type on without having to scrunch their fingers. The majority of the keys are where you'd expect them, but the feel is a tad delicate. The design also has a ton of schmutz-trapping space surrounding them and even underneath them, so be careful with the crackers.

The touchpad, while stylish, is a bit difficult to locate visually, as it's distinguished from the rest of the keyboard deck only by a grid of slightly darker raised dots. The dots give the touchpad a slightly strange texture, but also make it easy to find by feel. Great idea, but darker dots would've gotten Gateway closer to the mark. The mouse "buttons" are actually a single rocker button on the front edge of the unit, a location that's quite comfortable and easy to find (again, by touch).

The only irritating aspect of the LT2120u experience is the amount of software junk on the machine's Windows 7 Starter desktop. Of course, one person's junk is another's treasure, but the effect here is much like billboards on a major urban byway: eBay icons, Google Desktop (which has been rendered unnecessary by Vista/Windows 7's search), a Norton Online Backup trial, an Office Student trial, and so on. Gateway does include a real version of Microsoft Works, which balances the scale somewhat.

While its score of 33 on WorldBench 6 is in line with that of most of its competitors, the LT2120u offers battery life that's substantially longer than most. Along with its smooth video playback, this netbook should easily take care of any light-duty computing you care to throw at it. Gateway doesn't pile on the extras here, but the LT2120u does give you basic netbook performance and exceptional battery life at a reasonable price.

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