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Hands-on with Gateway's LT32 premium Netbook - 04 August 2010

Hands-on with Gateway's LT32 premium Netbook




The Gateway LT3201u Netbook.

(Credit: Dan Ackerman/CNET)

Netbooks have settled into a comfortable set of stock components, offering basic PC functionality for prices unheard of even a few years ago. The typical setup of a 10-inch display, Intel Atom N450 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and Windows 7 Starter is easy to find for as little as $299, and more than adequate for many tasks, from e-mail to Web surfing.

But those low, low prices mean PC makers are eager to upsell, and a handful of Netbook-plus systems have turned up, with larger HD displays, more RAM, and even better CPUs and graphics capabilities, such as the Asus Eee PC 1201, which pairs a bigger screen with Nvidia's ION GPU for what some call a "Premium Netbook" experience.

The latest system to offer a little more Netbook for a little more money is the Gateway LT32. This 11.6-inch laptop skips the typical Intel Atom for an AMD Athlon Neo II K125 processor. While still a single core chip, AMD has always positioned the Neo as a better performer than the Atom, and during initial anecdotal hands-on use, that certainly seems to be the case. The LT32 also includes ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics--still not a discrete GPU, but a small step up from the integrated Intel graphics found in most Netbooks.

Almost as important to the end user experience is the 2GB of RAM (double what's in a typical Netbook) and Windows 7 Home Premium operating system instead of the more common Windows 7 Starter Edition.

The design of the LT32 is reminiscent of the Acer Ferrari One, an excellent 11-inch Premium Netbook from earlier in 2010. That system was even better, with a dual-core AMD CPU and 4GB of RAM, but it also cost nearly $600, putting it in solid mainstream laptop territory.

(Credit: Dan Ackerman/CNET)

The Gateway LT32 is more reasonably priced. Gateway is listing it for $449, but hopefully some adventurous retailer will sell it for $399 -- which would make it a great $100 upgrade from entry level Netbooks.

In our hands-on use, the LT32 felt like a definite step up from Atom-powered Netbooks. We spent less time staring the spinning Windows wait icon, and launching and switching between apps resulted in less hang time. Both the Neo processor and extra RAM likely play a part in this. The Radeon graphics weren't much for 3D games (although some more basic games are certainly playable -- see our list of great games for Netbooks for some examples), but HD video playback was great, including streaming Flash video in HD -- something that trips up even Netbooks using Broadcom's Crystal HD video accelerator.

The large keyboard is typical of 11-inch Netbooks, and certainly easier to type on, although its wide, flat, closely packed keys felt a little wobbly, especially around the center of the keyboard. The touch pad is undersized, and made of the same material as the rest of the wrist rest, demarcated only by a faint raised line. Like most current laptop touch pads, it includes some basic multi-touch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, but they were hard to use, failing to register much of the time. At least the left and right mouse buttons are actual separate buttons, skipping the unfortunate recent Gateway trend of using a single, thin rocker bar in place of mouse buttons.

One area where the Intel Atom still has a clear advantage is battery life, and while the LT32 lasted around four hours in anecdotal use, that's nowhere near the six-plus hours a highly efficient Atom Netbook can get.

Nonetheless, using a Netbook with just a bit more oomph makes a huge difference, and if priced reasonably by retailers, this could be a very attractive alternative. We're currently testing the Gateway LT32 in the CNET Labs, so stay tuned for a full review with benchmark scores.

By Dan Ackerman.

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30 Great Netbook Games - 04 August 2010

It's time to add a new selection of entries to our list of PC games well-suited for Netbooks. Especially as we expect to see many of these low-cost, low-power laptops in the hands of students during the back-to-school season, it's important to have a little action/RPG/adventure/puzzle break handy when one gets tired of taking lecture notes.

As usual, many of these entries are re-releases of classic games, originally available when even high-end computer hardware was at best comparable with today's entry-level systems. Online services such as Good Old Games and Steam are great resources for these.

One important exception is the new online gaming service OnLive, which takes current high-end PC games, renders the 3D graphics remotely, then streams you the video as you play. It sounds like a crazy idea, but it actually works pretty well, even on Netbooks. Check out our extensive hands-on look at OnLive here.

  

Since we put together our first Netbook-friendly PC game list, we've gotten many excellent suggestions from readers for new additions. We've also finally seen some long-awaited new entries from the classic Sierra/Activision library come to the popular GOG.com retro gaming Web site, which gives us even more to choose from.

The new 2010 crop of Netbooks offer systems with the latest Intel Atom N450 CPU have made big gains in battery life. That's always a plus, but it also means our standard admonitions about not expecting too much from your Netbook in terms of performance remain in effect. That said, this collection (which includes links to download or play the games themselves) should help make your Netbook a pretty decent mobile gaming machine.

Like just about everyone else on the planet, you broke down and purchased a Netbook. After all, these low-cost, low-power laptops are great for tossing in your bag for a trip, working at the coffee shop, or just taking to class.

You knew all along that these systems were not made for gaming, and obviously you planned to spend all your time doing Netbook-like things such as Web surfing and working on office docs. Still, somewhere along the way, the thought crept in--maybe I can find some games that'll run on an Intel Atom processor and integrated graphics...

In the name of science, we loaded up a wide variety of games and asked friends and associates what games they had successfully played, all to help us compile this list of Netbook-friendly titles. They range from free to around $20; some are re-released PC classics, some are Web-based casual games, and a few are even from that fast-growing social-gaming genre found on Facebook (such as FarmVille).

Browse through the slideshow below to see our current favorites (and links to where you can download or play them). Bookmark this page for periodic updates as we find new games, or suggest your own Netbook favorites in the comments section below. Most of these will run on any Netbook with Windows 7 or XP, 1GB of RAM, and an Intel Atom processor. A handful are recommended only for Netbooks with Nvidia's Ion graphics.

Note: If you dig into your old dusty CD and DVD binders, there's no doubt you can find a ton of great classic PC games to try (we just found our original discs for both Grim Fandango and System Shock 2), but since your Netbook doesn't have an internal optical drive, we're restricting this list to games one can download from legit online sources, such as Steam or GOG.com.

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