A low-cost laptop is the way to go if you want something just for very basic everyday tasks and a bit of entertainment. Some of the most affordable models available in the market today are those powered by an Intel Pentium B900 series processor along with the lowest capacity hard drive and 2 GB of RAM. The average market price of these laptops is around Rs. 23,000 (with Linux or FreeDOS).
A low-cost 15.6-inch laptop with Windows 7 Home Basic
The Intel Celeron B800 series processors launched in the first half of 2011, but we haven’t seen many laptops featuring them till now. The latest addition to the series is the Intel Celeron B815 processor. The Gateway NE56R02I is the first we’ve come across that uses it. Let’s find out what it has in store.
Design and Features
Before we get into the core specifications, let us shed some light on the Celeron B815 processor. Like the Intel Pentium B900 series, the processors from the Celeron B800 series are dual-core with 2 MB of L3 cache. Intel HD integrated graphics and support for Intel Virtualization Technology are also supported. The only difference is that Intel Pentium B900 processors have higher clock speeds. Clocked at 1.9 GHz, the Celeron B840 is the fastest and the Celeron B815 runs at 1.6 GHz. The Pentium B900 series processors are clocked higher than 2 GHz.
Acer has shed a few common features and compromised on others in order to keep the price low. What you don’t get are Bluetooth and USB 3.0. If you want to sync your phone data or use Bluetooth speakers, you’ll have to use a dongle. Also, you won’t be able to harness the speedy transfer rates of external USB 3.0 storage devices. At least one of the three USB ports on the sides could have been USB 3.0.
The amount of RAM and hard drive capacity have also been reduced. The NE56R02I comes with 2 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard disk. RAM being very cheap at the moment, Acer could have gone with a 4 GB module. The hard drive capacity should suffice for the basic applications that you use frequently. If you need to upgrade the RAM or hard drive, it’s possible to do it yourself as they reside behind a removable panel.
Large keys and a numeric keypad
The NE56R02I sports a 15.6-inch display because of which Acer has been able to provide a keyboard with a numeric keypad. The keyboard is the standard type, but with flat keys. Acer has followed a different approach to providing hotkeys for media player control, Wi-Fi, brightness, etc. These are mapped on the function keys but you don’t need to combine key presses with the [Fn] key by default. Hotkeys with one touch access do make things simpler, but if you extensively use keyboard shortcuts in applications, you’ll have to press three keys – for example, [Alt] + [Fn] + [F4] to close a window. This can be a bit annoying if you use shortcuts extensively.
The touchpad is standard type with two buttons and a vertical scroll zone to the right, demarcated by a thin line and tiny arrows. Above the keyboard is the speaker grille that runs across almost the entire length of the laptop. In addition to the USB ports, you have a DVD-writer, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a D-sub port and an HDMI port, all placed on the sides for easy access. The card reader is placed on the front left, just next to the indicators for charging status, hard drive activity and Wi-Fi. A webcam placed right at the centre of the screen frame rounds out the feature set. The NE56R02I comes with Windows 7 Home Basic preinstalled.
The black-and-silver colour scheme with glossy finish looks stylish
Acer has gone with a simplistic design, but the laptop looks very elegant. The lid is graphite black with a metallic, glossy finish and the rest of the exteriors are matte black. The touchpad area is silver and a black screen frame sports a glossy finish. The screen too is glossy, so it’s advisable to keep a lint free cloth handy to ward off fingerprints and stains.
Build quality and Ergonomics
For a budget laptop, the build quality is very good. The plastic used for the construction of the shell and input devices is of good make, and lends a good feel. The hinges are also nice and stiff, which prevents too much wobbling due to jerks. The touchpad is centralized to the spacebar so that it’s convenient to operate it with your thumb while the other fingers are placed on the keyboard. The left and right click buttons have a good tactile feel and they don’t make a loud click sound.
HDMI, USB 2.0, Ethernet, HDMI and D-sub
Now, for the biggest drawbacks: the layout of the keyboard is very good, but the keys feel a bit mushy. It would have been nice if the touchpad was slightly larger. Also, if you have big hands, you’ll frequently find yourself making mistakes while typing because of your palm touching the top corner of the touchpad. At times, it’s detected as a touch and the cursor moves anywhere. Acer should have used a mechanism to detect and prevent accidental clicks due to palms touching the touchpad.
Before we delve into the scores, note that this laptop is targetted at users who want something affordable for basic tasks. It wouldn’t be fair to expect high scores in benchmarks. It’s best at handling office suite, image viewing, full HD video playback, and social networking with, at the most, an Internet security suite running in the background. Even multitasking with these applications doesn’t cause any hiccups. This is exactly what all laptops in the under Rs 25,000 segment are built for.
Over to the scores: The Gateway NE56R02I scored 1499 points in PCMark 7. It’s half as much as a laptop with a Core i5 CPU would log and a couple of hundred points lower than a laptop with a Core i3 CPU. It took three minutes to compress 100 MB of assorted files to 7.zip format using the Ultra profile, and 88 seconds to ray trace an 800x600 pixel scene in POV-ray. Laptops priced between Rs 35,000 and 40,000 take half the time, but this score is acceptable for the configuration, this laptop features.
The stereo speakers are quite loud and the quality of sound is good. The built in speakers should suffice for listening to music and watching movies at low volume levels. The most notable bit about performance is the battery life. With light to moderate tasks, a full charge should easily last for around 3 hours. Battery Eater Pro logged 6 hours and 22 minutes in idle mode (document reading) and 1 hour and 45 minutes at full load (3D model rendering). We found the overall performance quite impressive for the applications this laptop is designed for.
Verdict and Price in India
This particular variant (B812G32Mnks) of the Gateway NE56R is priced at Rs. 22,999. It’s one of the best looking laptops in the segment, with its dual-tone colour scheme and glossy accents. The NE56R comes with a one year warranty and the service is taken care of by Acer India. If you’re planning to buy an entry-level laptop for a budget of up to Rs. 25,000, this model deserves serious consideration. The feature set is good and the price includes a Windows 7 Home Basic license.
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