15.6-inch ultra-slim Gateway review (2022)


One of this writer’s first computer memories was booting up the Gateway family PC to play 3D Pinball Space Cadet. It was an incredibly tall and heavy tower PC with that instantly recognizable cow logo on the front. It was before, it is now; Gateway computers (a sub-brand of Acer) are still around, but are now relegated to mostly low-end configurations sold at Walmart. The 15.6-inch Gateway Ultra Slim (model GWNC21524, $229) reviewed here still has that iconic polka-dot logo proudly printed on its top cover. With such a low price, this laptop might seem like a good option for a kid’s first computer, or as an alternative to a similarly priced Chromebook. It might be enough for that, but be warned, it feels as cheap as the price suggests, with the main culprit being a poor, washed-out display.


A wobbly, low-resolution display

This model of the Ultra Slim shares the same 15.6-inch screen size as its older brother, the GWTN156-1 that we tested a few years ago. The current 15.6-inch Ultra Slim comes in three colors: our review unit’s blue, green and red. The red color is everywhere, interrupted only by the logo and foot pegs along the bottom.

When the laptop is open, the screen is bordered by a very thick black frame (by modern standards) and a regular keyboard. The hinge doubles as a kickstand, which elevates the keyboard at a slight angle for a more comfortable typing experience. This layout results in a significant amount of screen shake when opening the panel, and a small amount when typing, however.

The top cover of the Gateway Ultra-Slim Laptop

(Credit: Molly Flores)

The Gateway Ultra Slim laptop is available in several screen sizes, from 11.6 inches to 15.6 inches reviewed here. The 15.6-inch version is available in a single configuration, with an Intel Celeron N4020 mobile processor, 128 GB of eMMC storage and 4 GB of RAM. In a world where you can buy a 128GB USB flash drive for $15, I would have liked more storage or a faster format than eMMC, but eMMC is common in most Chromebooks and the least Windows laptops. Dear.

The laptop has an IPS HD LCD display (1366 x 768 pixels), which is lower than the minimum Full HD resolution (usually 1920 x 1080 pixels) that we recommend for budget laptops. There is a 1 megapixel webcam above the screen. The webcam has a physical privacy slider, but it’s a bit finicky. I found using it that the slider gets caught the most, and it also lacks any visual indication that it’s closed other than you’re looking for the plastic on the lens.

The black keyboard of the Gateway Ultra-Slim laptop

(Credit: Molly Flores)

The keyboard is a nice 79-key layout with Chiclet-style plastic keys. The touchpad is made of a similar plastic, with a noticeably loud click along the bottom. To the left of the pad, the laptop proudly displays the words “Tuned by THX” engraved in white. The set of stereo speakers were, in fact, tuned by THX, according to Gateway, and they sound pretty good, at least until you max out the volume. The speakers are so shrill at higher levels that they rattle the entire bottom of the chassis, causing unwanted distortion.


Connectivity: you can’t see USB-C

On the right side of the laptop, there’s a dedicated headphone jack, two USB Type-A ports, and a microSD card reader. The left side has a third USB Type-A port, an HDMI port for using a second screen, and a barrel-style port for charging. There are no USB-C ports, a surprising omission for a modern laptop.

The left side of the Gateway laptop, showing the ports

(Credit: Molly Flores)

For wireless peripheral connections, the laptop has Bluetooth 4.0, and it paired quickly with my wireless headphones. While listening to music, I noticed a delay between pausing the track and stopping the music on my headphones. There’s still a slight lag when using wireless headphones over Bluetooth, but it was long enough to be noticeable here.

The right side of the Gateway laptop, showing the ports

(Credit: Molly Flores)

The laptop comes with bloatware, including an ad-strewn Solitaire game. There are also website shortcuts to Walmart and Forge of Empires, the latter being a free online strategy game. The laptop documentation includes a 50% discount code for one year from Kidomi, an educational multimedia content subscription service for children.


2022 15.6-inch ultra-thin Gateway review: Into the depths of the budget

When pitted against similarly priced laptops on specs alone, the Gateway Ultra Slim starts to show some of its best qualities. The Celeron chip is about the best you can get in this price range, although many competing laptops use it as well. The Gateway also has more storage than its closest recent competitor we tested, the Asus Laptop L410. The $450 MSI Modern 14 has a wider variety of ports and much better build quality, but it costs almost twice as much. The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (3501) and the Lenovo IdeaPad 1 14 round out the list of comparable laptops for our benchmark tests.

Productivity tests

We ran the Gateway through the full range of tests we put all of our laptops through, although it’s clearly not intended for the kinds of tasks that some of the benchmarks measure. It failed to complete PCMark 10, which measures performance on real-world productivity tasks like running Microsoft Word. That’s not to say the gateway can’t handle everyday programs, just that a software glitch or memory limitation prevented the test suite from completing.

Tests like Cinebench and Geekbench focus on your computer’s processor to gauge how well it would handle particularly demanding programs that scale with available cores or computing power. The Gateway worked as expected in Cinebench, about the same as the Asus L410, but losing in Geekbench.

Handbrake is a tool used to convert videos from one format to another. Our test converts a 12-minute 4K video to 1080p. The Gateway had the longest render time of the laptops we pitted it against, behind the Asus L410 laptop and taking twice as long as the Core i3-equipped leader, the Dell Inspiron 15 3000.

Graphic tests

For graphics processing, the Gateway Ultra Slim relies on Intel’s UHD 600 integrated GPU. Although the Solitaire app might be fun for some users, others might be inclined to play more demanding games. Since the laptop is capable of running DirectX 12, we can compare it to its competitors using the 3DMark Night Raid test.

The UHD 600 might be able to run some older DirectX 12 titles, but ignores the performance of processors that include more robust flavors of integrated graphics. It’s also a far cry from the Dell Inspiron 15 3000, with its 11th-gen processor and faster SSD.

We normally run additional tests, including a Photoshop image editing test, 3DMark’s more demanding Fire Strike benchmark, and a second graphics test suite called GFXBench. The Gateway Ultra Slim couldn’t complete any of these. Photoshop benchmarks typically fail on machines with less than 8GB of memory, and 3DMark and GFXBench require minimal graphics memory to run many of their subtests.

Battery and display tests

The Gateway’s screen leaves a lot to be desired, even at this price. While its results on our color gamut test matched those of its competitors across the board, it failed our brightness test. Even at 100% brightness, the Gateway couldn’t stand up to the competition, clocking in at almost 70 nits less than the Asus Laptop L410. And it’s clear just from a glance at it; the panel looks washed out and dark, sometimes almost looking like you’re seeing it through a thin sheet of gauze.

On the plus side, the dim screen and its more conservative power consumption likely account for some of the Gateway’s stellar battery performance. (We set our test screens to 50% during battery testing, a grim prospect indeed for this machine, but a battery saver.) In testing, we found that the Gateway’s battery outperformed even that of the MSI Modern 14, lasting at least a third longer. If you’re the type of person who constantly forgets to charge your laptop, you won’t need a charger for a while.


A Rich History Meets Diminished Expectations

There are some concessions to be made when buying a budget laptop. You won’t play Elden Ring very well for less than $800, and you might even struggle to run multiple programs on something in this price range. The Celeron N4020 was never designed for heavy workloads, and the 4GB of RAM is a tough limitation. Pair them with a mostly plastic chassis and lackluster display, and the Gateway Ultra Slim looks like a machine that delivers what you pay for, and no more.

The once-mighty Gateway may no longer be a juggernaut in the PC industry, but you’re not spending that kind of money to get powerful specs, and if you’re shopping for someone who will only use a computer minimally (say, for basic browsing and email), you can certainly do worse for $230. If you are looking for a machine with better performance, you should increase your budget slightly. A $400-$500 limit will get you a great Chromebook like the Acer Chromebook 514, or maybe a configuration of our Editors’ Choice for budget laptops, the Lenovo Ideapad 3 14.

Ultra Slim 15.6″ Gateway (2022)

Advantages

  • Cheap for an all-Windows 15-inch laptop

  • Lightweight for its size

  • The webcam has a privacy slider

  • Surprisingly long battery life

See more

The inconvenients

  • Soft and fragile body

  • Dark and washed out screen

  • No USB-C ports

  • Slow performance

See more

The essential

The low, low price of the Gateway Ultra Slim GWNC21524 might seem too good for, say, your child’s first laptop, but lackluster build quality and a mediocre screen underscore its budget roots.

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