WHAT'S HOT: The Solo 9550xl is a large, powerful desktop replacement equipped with a roomy 40GB hard drive and a vast 15.7-inch screen. Its impressive set of multimedia connections includes an IEEE 1394 port, a composite TV-out connection, and a Toslink optical S/PDIF connection that provides 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. The 9550xl's removable optical drive, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination unit in our test machine, can be swapped out for a second battery or a second hard drive. Controls on the front of the case, including a dedicated power button, let you use the 9550xl as a stand-alone CD player. Gateway even provides two sets of volume control buttons: one on the front that you can use with the lid closed and another above the keyboard.
WHAT'S NOT: The 9550xl is big and heavy. It measures an inch deeper and wider than most laptops, and weighs 9.3 pounds with the AC adapter and phone cord. Ironically, the mouse buttons are small and easy to overshoot.
WHAT ELSE: All of the notebook's upgradable components are fairly easy to access, though to reach the hard drive you must remove the floppy-drive module first. Four dedicated shortcut buttons make launching applications, files, and Web sites easy.
Using a 1.2-GHz/800-MHz Pentium III-M processor and loaded with 512MB of RAM, the 9550xl earned a PC WorldBench 4 score of 111. That places it just behind another big notebook, the IBM ThinkPad A30p, which earned a score of 113 with the same processor but only half as much memory. The 9550xl's 3.5-hour battery life is above average. Bundled are Gateway's attractive and thorough user and troubleshooting manuals, including electronic versions on CD-ROM.
UPSHOT: Presenters, graphic artists, and others who need a portable with a huge screen should take a look at the 9550xl. By Carla Thornton