The Gateway EC1803h has an 11.6″ 1366×768 display, a CULV Core 2 Solo 1.4GHz processor, GMA 4500MHD graphics, is only 1″ thick and weighs about 3.2lb. Is it a netbook, an ultra-portable, or something in-between? We explore the first of what appears to be a new class of notebooks.
September 9, 2009 by Lawrence Lee
With much attention lavished on netbooks, the fact remains that for many consumers,
netbooks like the Asus Eee
1005HA just aren’t an option. The screen and keyboard size along with
the lack of processing power are limiting factors for many. The alternative
that most netbook-haters suggest is a “regular” laptop, that is to
say a cheap 13-15″ screen model. However, these machines weigh much more
and have larger footprints, the opposite of what makes netbooks appealing in
the first place.
A perfect compromise between the two would be a CPU more powerful than
an Atom with a form factor just big enough for a high resolution
screen and a full-sized keyboard, but without the weight and girth of a traditional notebook.
Apple, Dell, Toshiba, Sony and Lenovo produce such products but they are marketed
as luxury items, priced at well over $1,000 in most cases.
More affordable solutions are just becoming available from Acer, MSI, and Asus in the form of their
Timeline, X-Slim, and UL series, respectively. They are thin, light, 13~15″ laptops that use CULV (Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage) single core processors based on Intel’s
Core 2 architecture. This cuts down the price and also the power draw, resulting
in much longer battery life. Aside from that there’s little to differentiate
these devices from an ordinary notebook. There is a still a gap
between the 10″ netbook and the 13″ ultra-portable.
Acer recently released its Timeline 1810T in Europe and Asia, an 11.6″
screen model. The unit sports a weight of about 3lb, a thickness of 1″
and a massive 8 hours of battery life. Like the rest of the Timeline series,
it offers a lot more power under the hood than your average netbook thanks to
its Core 2-based processor and Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics. The 1810T unfortunately
isn’t yet available in North America, but a slightly cut down version has appeared
on our shores that’s garnering a great deal of interest: The Aspire 1410. It
is equipped with all the same hardware only with a smaller battery (4400 mAh instead of 5600 mAh), no
Bluetooth, and an attractive netbook-like price of $450USD.
The Gateway EC1803h appeared recently in Canada at Future Shop, a major big
box store owned by Best Buy. The EC1803h shares the same specifications
and dimensions as the Aspire 1410. This is no accident as Acer owns Gateway.
Except for cosmetics, the two can be considered identical. Incidentally, the Canadian versions of these devices are
equipped with 3GB of RAM while the US variant only has 2GB, despite the price
being about the same after the exchange rate adjustment. This is
unusual as it is rare to find a better netbook/laptop deal on the northern side
of the border.
So is the EC1803h a netbook, an ultra-portable, or something in-between? Ultimately,
performance will determine which side of the line it falls on, or whether it
is truly a balanced compromise. It will be undoubted faster than an Atom netbook,
but the degree of difference and its effect on battery life will be key.
Gateway EC1803h Specifications
11.6″ LED Backlight Screen (1366×768)
Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500
(1.40GHz, 3MB L2, 5.5W)
|Chipset||Intel GS45 Express (ICH9M-E)|
Integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD
(VGA + HDMI out)
3GB DDR2 (dual channel)
250GB 5400RPM HDD
|Networking||Intel Wireless WiFi Link 5100 802.11n |
Atheros Gigabit Ethernet
0.3 megapixel (640×480)
5-in-1 (MS, MS Pro, MMC, SD, xD)
6-cell 4400 mAH
Physical Dimensions (measured)
285 x 203 x 23~28mm
(11.2 x 8.0 x 0.9~1.1″)
Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit
(Free Windows 7 Upgrade)
Except for its physical dimensions, the lack of an optical drive and the less than stellar processor, the specifications read like that of an average notebook
computer: The mobile version of Intel’s latest integrated graphics chipset,
3GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, 802.11n, gigabit ethernet, webcam, card reader
and a multi-gesture touchpad. Our sample was purchased directly at a Future Shop store in Vancouver.
With an average thickness of only one inch, a glossy black finish, and a battery
flush to the rest of the chassis, the EC1803h pulls off a sleek, classy look.
PHYSICAL DETAILS (Continued)
The EC1803h features a crisp 1366×768 display, a comfortable keyboard and trackpad,
and decent all-around build quality.
To give you a better indication of the EC1803h’s size, we assembled a
stack of notebooks including a 10″ netbook, a 13.3″ ultra-portable,
and a traditional 14″ laptop.
EC1803h keyboard, same scaling. The bulk of the keys are full-sized,
so users with fingers too fat or clumsy for 10″ netbooks should be
Asus 1005HA-P (High
Atom N280 processor – 1.66GHz, 512KB L2 cache, 45nm, 2.5W
- DDR2 memory – 1x1GB DDR2-667
945GSE Express chipset – GMA 950 graphics
Travelstar 7K320 notebook hard drive – 160GB, 5400RPM, 8MB
Dell Vostro 1400:
Core 2 Duo T5270 processor – 1.40GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 65nm, 35W
- DDR2 memory – 2x1GB DDR2-667
GM965 Express chipset – GMA X3100 graphics
MK1246GSX notebook hard drive – 120GB, 5400RPM, 8MB cache
Core 2 Solo SU3500 processor – 1.40GHz, 3MB L2 cache, 45nm,
- DDR2 memory – 2GB+1GB DDR2-667
GS45 Express chipset – GMA 4500MHD graphics
Travelstar 5K320 notebook hard drive – 250GB, 5400 RPM, 8MB
Measurement and Analysis Tools
to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
processor stress software.
processor stress software.
artifact scanner to stress the integrated GPU.
stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
Player Classic with CoreAVC
to play x264/MKV video (for GPUs lacking DXVA support)
- Media Player
Classic – Home Cinema to play x264/MKV video (for GPUs with DXVA support)
PowerDVD to play H264/VC1 video
Firefox and Adobe
Flash Player to play Flash video
- Eset NOD32 as
an anti-virus benchmark.
- WinRAR as an
an audio encoding benchmark.
Xpress as a video encoding benchmark.
as a general system benchmark.
as a general benchmark
as a general benchmark
Power Angel AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
of the system
Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress
CPUs we use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use ATITool
or FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility.
Our second test procedure is to run the system through a video test suite featuring
a variety of high definition clips. During playback, a CPU usage graph is created
by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the average CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability. If the video (and/or
audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the IGP (in conjunction with the processor)
is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.
Lastly, we run a short series of performance benchmarks — a few real-world
applications as well as synthetic tests.
WiFi and Bluetooth (if applicable) are left enabled and screen brightness is
set to a reasonable level (40% for the EC1803h, and 50% for the 1005HA and Vostro
1400). All nonessential pre-installed software is removed prior to testing.
Real-world Benchmark Test Details
- Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of
varying size, several of which are archives with many files within them..
- WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
size (less than 50MB).
- iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC (48KHz, 256kbps).
- TMPGEnc Xpress: Encoding a 1-minute long XVID AVI file to VC-1 (1280×720,
H.264/VC-1 Video Test Clips
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 2c is a 1080p clip encoded in H.264
inside an Apple Quicktime container.
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the “WMV-HD” moniker.
x264/MKV Video Test Clips
MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clips were taken from two longer videos —
the most demanding one minute portions were used. We use Media Player Classic
Home Cinema with DXVA hardware accleration if the system supports it. Otherwise
we use Media Player Classic with CoreAVC, a software decoder to help render
the clips using CPU power alone.
x264 720p: Undead Battle is a 720p x264 clip encoded from
x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from
Flash Video Test Clip
Many users watch media online in Adobe’s Flash format on sites
like Hulu. Unfortunately, Flash does not currently support GPU acceleration,
so it’s a pure CPU test. We chose a single clip, a HD movie trailer from
Youtube to be played in Firefox.
Flash HD: Iron
AC Power Draw
Test Results: System Power
CPU + GPU
Compared to the Atom powered 1005HA, the EC1803h uses about 2W more when idle.
Much of the extra energy is used to drive the screen though — the idle
power draw was within one watt of each other when the screen was disabled. On
heavy load, the Core 2 Solo eats up a lot more power, but the Gateway’s GMA
4500MHD graphics is more efficient than the ancient GMA 950, using only 2W when
stressed compared to 3W.
Strangely when the system was idling using the Balanced and Power Savings power
schemes, the CPU ran at 1.6GHz with a core voltage of 0.875V according to CPU-Z.
In High Performance mode it idled at 1.2GHz but with a higher voltage (0.925V).
The two states measured about the same according to our power meter, so we left
it at the default setting (Balanced).
Test Results: Video Playback
Grey boxes: watchable
Red boxes: unwatchable, failure
With a GPU supporting hardware acceleration, the EC1803h is much more capable
at playing HD video than the usual Atom/GMA950 based solutions. Our 1080p H.264
clip was easily rendered and with DXVA support, we were able to play both 720p
and 1080p x264-encoded files with only 52% CPU usage. The 1005HA was only able
to play our x264 720p clip with a software decoder (CoreAVC), and only when
using AC power (it underclocks when unplugged from the wall). The EC1803h played
the Iron Man HD trailer on Youtube fairly smoothly, but there were a few brief
moments of choppiness. The SU3500 processor isn’t quite enough for HD Flash
content, but it’s far from unwatchable.
So how fast is a Core 2 Solo anyway? We benchmarked the EC1803h against a Dell
Vostro 1400 with a Core 2 Duo with the same clock speed (1.4GHz) and an Asus Eee PC 1005HA.
Test Results: Benchmarks
Vostro 1400 (XP)
Asus 1005HA (XP)
In most of our timed benchmarks, the EC1803h trailed the Vostro by only a small
amount. Only video encoding with TMPGEnc was significantly slower, but then
again it is doubtful anyone would be using such a small device to encode video.
The 1005HA lagged far behind in all the tests — it would seem that a Core
2 Solo is much closer to a Core 2 Duo in terms of performance rather than an
Atom. The EC1803h beat the Vostro in 3DMark as it has a newer, faster IGP. The
Vostro is almost two years old and is equipped with X3100 graphics.
After removing all the pre-installed software that came with the system (a
slow process with a gratifying outcome), subjectively the overall responsiveness was surprisingly
good — the SU3500 processor acquits itself nicely. Booting up Vista and installing
programs were the only activities where it ran noticeably slower than a typical
dual core machine. Its performance was good enough that we didn’t feel the immediate
need to to try XP or Windows 7. Compared to Atom-based netbooks, it feels turbocharged on many functions. We suppose over time, the operating system will
eventually get bogged down, but even so Windows 7 is only a couple of months
away, and the one good thing about the EC1803h shipping with Vista is that it
qualifies for a free Windows 7 upgrade.
To test battery life in a semi-realistic way, we recreated two common uses
for a device of this type: web surfing and movie watching. The screensaver,
critical and low battery actions were disabled, so the system would simply shut
down once the battery was exhausted.
For the web browsing test we loaded three websites into Firefox
on separate tabs: Google News, Yahoo News, and CNN International. Using the
add-on, we set each tab to do a staggered reload every minute. This is essentially
one page reload every 20 seconds. Bluetooth (if applicable) and WiFi were left
on for obvious reasons.
For video playback we used an XVID encoded AVI (1324kbps video, 448kbps AC3
audio) played with VLC Player and a x264 encoded MKV (720p, 7mbps video, 640kbps
AC3 audio) played with Media Player Classic Home Cinema (DXVA enabled). WiFi
and Bluetooth were disabled during video playback.
Test Results: Battery Life
The EC1803h lasted about 6:09 during our web browsing test and 4:24 during
Xvid playback, about 2 hours and change less than the 1005HA. 6 hours is a lot
more than what a typical notebook delivers, and most netbooks aren’t equipped
with a 5600mAH battery like the 1005HA.
Noise & Heat
System Noise @ 0.6m*
Ambient temperature: 23°C.
*0.6m is the approximate distance of the ISO 7779 defined seated operator distance for SPL measurements. The usual 1m distance is not relevant for a notebook PC.
The noise level of the EC1803h was a tad high for our liking, especially when
running on AC. At 24 dBA idle, its overall noise level was about the same as
the 1005HA, but the fan had a harsher sound to it. It’s clearly audible in a
quiet room, especially at the typical distance one would sit from a laptop.
When running on battery power, it became a lot quieter, 20 dBA according to
our sound meter. It was inconspicuous at this level.
As temperatures rose, the fan ramped up more quickly when plugged into the
wall. During Xvid playback, even though the CPU temperature was still under
50°C, the fan sped up enough to generate 26 dBA. The fan speed topped out
during x264 playback and full load after the temperature past 55°C or so.
The measured noise level was a fairly loud 29 dBA. Using
Acer’s Smartfan utility, we managed to reduce the fan speed o the
same level it normally uses when idling on battery power (20 [email protected]), resulting
in a 10°C increase in CPU temperature.
The temperatures on the underside of the EC1803h were fairly low when we left
the fan control settings alone. Using a spot thermometer, it measured 25~30°C
on the edges, and 30~35°C near the center with the single hottest point
hitting 37°C during x264 playback. When the fan speed was cut to generate
20 [email protected], the temperatures increased by 5~10°C, which was warm, but not
Acer’s Smartfan utility has the ability to turn the fan completely off. At
room temperature, with the fan off, the CPU temperature did not exceed 50°C
when we performed only simple tasks like surfing the web.
an Acer utility, also works on the Gateway EC1803h, though it
is not officially supported. It was originally intended for the Aspire One netbook.
It provides some useful information, including a battery life indicator that
can be set to run down the side of the screen, as well as temperatures and SMART
None of the fan control options are properly configured for the EC1803h, however.
Every settings except Auto resulted in the fan turning off altogether.
Within Smartfan there is an application called “Fan modes finder”
which allows users to experiment with the fan register values. Play with it
long enough and you might stumble upon a few that work. They can
then be configured as a new Smartfan mode and made part of a fan control scheme
which varies the modes depending on the temperature. We were only able to find
one stable value in our short time with the EC1803h, “0x1A” which
resulted in a lower fan speed generating about 20 [email protected].
The EC1803h has a nice, bright screen — at 70% brightness it is approximately
equivalent to the 1005HA at maximum brightness. The colors don’t pop quite as
much, but the extra luminosity is appreciated. The amount of reflection produced
depends on the ambient lighting conditions. For the most part unless you have
direct lighting behind you, the reflections are only noticeable if the screen
is displaying mainly dark colors.
The vertical viewing angles are a poor. At 40% brightness with the screen at
eye level, a grey haze begins to permeate when the screen is pushed downward
past 70 degrees. When pushed outward, the screen begins to darken at 105 degrees.
When viewed from the sides, the lighting varies much less dramatically and the
entire display remains visible even from extreme angles.
The webcam integrated above the LCD is an afterthought, a low-end grainy model
with a maximum 640×480 resolution.
The bilingual keyboard can cause some difficulty for users used to US English
layouts. The Enter key is tall rather than long, and the Enter and left Shift
are split to accommodate two extra keys. Fortunately, with remapping software
such as KeyTweak,
one can easily give the extra keys their English functions; however, some time
is required to acclimate to the physical gap between the keys. On the downside,
there is no way to remap the backslash key to its properly place underneath
the backspace. A different, rarely used key such as the Caps Lock or Insert
key could be remapped to take its place. Users in the US will never have this
problem if/when the EC1803h begins to show up south of the border.
The layout aside, the keyboard is quite comfortable to use with just the right
amount of key resistance. Like the palm rest, the build quality of the keyboard
feels solid — it won’t bend unless that is your intention. However, the
gaps between the keys are too small to truly benefit from a chiclet style design.
It feels like one large, flat surface, and as a result, the hands of a touch-typist
may accidentally slide off to one side resulting in the typing of complete gibberish,
rather than simple typos. We would have preferred keys that slope downward at
their edges so our fingers could receive better tactile feedback with regard
to where one key ends and where the next one begins.
The touchpad is fairly unremarkable. It’s smooth but gets a little sticky after
some use. The left and right buttons have a moderate amount of resistance, but
pressing them at their very edges requires more force than at the center. Tapping
the pad is much easier.
The touchpad offers multi-gesture functionality, but the only useful gestures
we found were the “pinch” to zoom in/out of images and the “flick”
which lets you quickly flip to the next image/item with a swipe of two fingers.
Compared to the Asus Eee 1005HA, the speakers had a higher maximum volume,
better range, and sounded less tinny overall. They’re not as good as the
quality of typical notebook speakers, though. Using headphones or a proper set
of speakers, we encountered very little interference/noise from the rest of
Included with the EC1803h is Dolby Sound Room, which can increase the amount
of bass as well as mimic surround sound when using stereo headphones. Unfortunately
we found that Sound Room caused high CPU utilization when playing anything with
audio, even simple video files. We recommend disabling Sound Room enhancements
altogether, at least until they fix the problem.
Outputting the video signal via HDMI to our lab’s 24″ 1920×1200 monitor
was effortless, and audio was piped in successfully to its stereo
speakers. The image was clear without any distortion and looked fantastic when
streaming a 1080p movie. As battery life is good enough to play a 3~4
hour movie in high definition, it makes a decent impromptu media extender,
even without the AC power adapter.
The Intel WiFi Link 5100 AGN device worked very well with the Linksys wireless
G router at SPCR labs. Windows networking was used. It automatically connected
extremely quickly upon bootup or wake from sleep. The average speed was about
18mbps at 12’~30′ distance from the router, which is slightly slower than the
fastest wireless PC on this network in the past. It’s far greater than the fastest
web access speed, however.
The Atheros gigabit ethernet adapter functioned without issue as well. When
transferring large files over the network through a D-Link gigabit switch, we
saw transfer speeds of 40~45MB/s, though it sometimes peaked to just over 50MB/s,
about as fast as the 5400RPM hard drive would allow.
Like most notebooks Gateway does not provide a proper Vista install disc. In
fact, the EC1803h package was very bare with no discs and little support information.
The hard drive has a hidden 10GB EISA partition which houses a Vista install, the stock drivers and applications. When the system is initially turned
on, Vista deploys from this partition, and about an hour and a half goes by before
the machine is ready to use.
Gateway’s recovery software allows the creation of discs to restore the machine
to its factory defaults. If you do not have an external DVD burner, a restore
can be initiated through the software in Windows, or via a hotkey during the
POST screen. As we would rather not have to go through the long process of removing
all the bloatware after a restore, we opted instead to create an image of the
operating system partition with Acronis
True Image to be stored on a separate partition. To create the second
partition, we ended up using GParted
to shrink the original partition down to 40GB. Vista’s Disk Manager would only
let us resize it to a minimum of 150GB and we figured the extra space might
come in handy one day.
EC1803h running on AC at 0.6m
— fan off (18 [email protected])
— fan set to low (20 [email protected])
— idle (24 [email protected])
— during Xvid playback (26 [email protected])
— during x264 playback & full load (29 [email protected])
EC1803h running on battery at 0.6m
— fan off (18 [email protected])
— idle (20 [email protected])
— during Xvid playback (24 [email protected])
— during x264 playback (27 [email protected])
— full load (29 [email protected])
The Gateway EC1803h is thinner than many 10″ netbooks, though
it is about one inch longer on each side. The larger footprint allows
for a keyboard that’s close to full-sized, and a spacious 11.6″ 1366×768
screen. At almost 3.2lb, it weighs a touch more than the average netbook, but only
100 grams more than the Asus Eee PC 1005HA.
Most attractive is the EC1803h’s superior processing power and its ability
to play 1080p H.264 content smoothly and output it through HDMI. The extra performance doesn’t really affect battery life — if you’re only
browsing the web, you’ll easily get 6 hours out of the 4400mAH battery. The
1005HA by comparison lasts about 2 hours longer, but it sports a bigger
5600mAH battery, and it is the current netbook untethered run time champ. The only thing we truly disliked about the EC1803h was the
overly aggressive fan, which fortunately can be tamed with a little tweaking.
While many consumers may wait for ION netbooks to appear (it seems they will be
delayed until Windows 7 is released), Intel’s CULV solution is already available
and it works beautifully. Unless gaming ability is a requirement, a Core 2 Solo
+ GMA 4500MHD combination looks pretty darn good even if you could purchase
an ION netbook today. Our impressions of the 1.4GHz Core 2 Solo were positive.
It was surprisingly responsive even though we expected Vista to bog it down,
and its overall performance is not far off from a Core 2 Duo running at
the same clock speed. The underlying hardware is probably adequate to serve
the vast majority of notebook users. If you still scoff at the idea of using a single-core
processor in this day and age, dual core versions with the same form factor,
such as the Acer Timeline 1810TZ, are already available in Asia and should
appear across the rest of the globe before the year is out.
The Gateway EC1803h is apparently only available in Canada for the time being, but
those south of the border can pick up its cousin, the Acer Aspire 1410 for US$450
at various retailers. The aesthetics, build quality, and fan noise could be different,
but under the hood, the two models are identical. While budget 10″ netbooks seem to have carved out a stable niche in the marketplace, the more refined expensive models in the $350~$400USD
range have a lot to fear from this Gateway and similar CULV machines that are likely to appear soon. The small premium buys a whole lot of extra
functionality while hardly adding any size, weight or battery run time penalty. In fact, the sheer value of the Gateway EC1803h, at CDN$500, is downright amazing.
The Gateway EC1803h (and its close Acer relation) straddles the netbook
and ultra-portable laptop markets, and it will probably impact both significantly. Whether
you consider it a netbook or an ultra-portable, you can’t deny its compelling mix of performance and features in a thin, light package. For some, it’s the true fruition of netbooks; for others, it’s the road-warrior ultraportable on a super budget. For SPCR, it’s unquestionably an Editor’s Choice.
Editor’s Choice Award
* * *
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* * *