Gateways first machines were based around the Intel 286 CPU, initially they used off shelf components like many other early “PC Clone” vendors, but soon subtle changes such as a branded Gateway “G” logo on the cases and the use of quality internal components started to differentiate the Gateway PCs from the competition.  Pricing was also a key factor, but it was the quality and the unique friendly style that was winning customers to Gateway 2000.

Competition in the PC market wasn’t for the faint hearted, and companies came and went, but Gateway continued to stay one step ahead with top industry awards and clever industry firsts.  Gateways quirky advertising and its commitment to bringing the latest technology to market before anybody else ensured its phenomenal growth.

We’ll take a look at a new Gateway product here every once in a while, and although the tech looks a little antiquated by today’s standards, these machines were once at the cutting edge of Personal Computing…

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Gateway announced the Destination in late 1995, and for a while it was just a name doing the PDG (Product Development Group) rounds.  Some products get talked up at meetings and then they fade away into the ether just as quickly, Destination was sitting on the roadmap's for a while, but when the product got some concrete details, it caused quite a bit of a stir.

The main feature was a huge (and heavy) 31” Mitsubishi CRT, and in 1995 this was a BIG TV. Gateway was going to adapt a PC with TV functions and a wireless control system for the home or office, and at a price point nobody could beat.

Destination was only ever sold in the U.S., the logistics and shipping combined with the consumer price would have killed the product in Europe.  There was also an issue with the IR receiver, which operated on a channel not available for consumer use in Europe and could, so the rumour goes, interfere with aircraft approach beacons (pinch of salt required here). I do remember a small number of units which were shipped via special order through EMEA to “special” customers in the middle east.

The Destination was reconfigured a few times, and the case changed to accommodate front port connections.  A 36” CRT was also launched in ‘97, as well as software upgrades and options.  It got varied reviews, and the consumer market wasn’t entirely ready for the concept.  Needless to say, it was quietly pushed as an educational tool and for corporate board rooms probably to

A major upgrade to the concept was launched in 2003 with a Gateway 42” Plasma screen.

C O L O R B O O K™ Click images to expand C O L O R B O O K 2™

Gateway announced the ColorBook in September 1993.  This was a time when portable computers were leaving the monochrome age and entering the colour era.  Gateway was able to lower the costs of its colour portable by using a technology called “dual scan”, which was basically 2 LCD screens tied together, thus reducing the expense of the larger single LCD of the same size.  Colour was pretty new at this time, and colour LCD panels still had some technical limitations such as depth of colour, ghosting and luminosity in real world conditions.  We are so spoilt today with life like screens that it is hard to believe how impressive these first colour portables were.

Another innovation on the ColorBook was the little trackball controller.  It came out underneath the keyboard on a littler drawer and was quite responsive in the Windows environment.  Overall the ColorBook was a successful foray into the portable 486 colour world.

The ColorBook 2 was an update to the original machine launched in 1995.  It addressed some of the missing features users wanted in the original ColorBook, such as Sound, more RAM and a faster CPU.  The machine also adopted a more corporate design scheme.  Unusually, this machine didn’t get a worldwide launch, and was confined to the North American market.  The ColorBook 2 had a short shelf life, and was soon outclassed by Gateway’s Liberty and Solo ranges.

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The Gateway Connected TouchPad was built in collaboration with AOL as a vehicle to push AOL into more homes via Gateway hardware.  During this time, the buzz words were “Connected PCs” that connected to the Internet for services, spurning another offspring, the “Net PC”.  Both concepts were “light” PCs which required the Internet to power the local software features. A number of manufacturers got burnt with these Net PC concepts during the early 2000s and clearly the market wasn’t there for these early connected devices.

Gateway won best product at CES in 2000, but the total sales were just over 20,000 units and the machine was discontinued less than a year after its launch.  Gateway also cancelled a “Connected” Tablet which had been readied for launch in 2001.

The Gateway “Pizza” box was the first box you would see when you opened your famous outer Spotty Box!  It was filled with all those acres of forest manuals and leaflets before CD’s and DVD’s replaced them.

It also came packed with your driver and backup disks, mouse, keyboard, copy of your personalised invoice, “quick” set-up guide and any other 3rd Party cables, promotions etc.

Eventually, cost reductions, environmental concerns and smarter overall packaging design relegated the pizza boxes to history.  Today you get virtually zero paper manual/guides with your tech purchases.

“Pizza Box” Click images to expand

The Gateway “Handbook 486” was introduced in mid 1993.  Not to be mistaken for the original Gateway Handbook launched in 1992 which sported a Chips and Technologies (C&T) 286 clone, the updated Handbook 486 used a genuine Intel CPU and had the addition of a Integrated Pointing Device (IPD) which Gateway patented.  Its dimensions were 9.75” x 5.9” x 1.6” and weighed in at 2.9lbs (1.3Kg).  The original machine had been sourced in the far east by Ted Waitt and Gateway purchased exclusivity on it and began updating the original specification, which became the 486 model launched in 1993.

It really was a neat little PC, and it sold like proverbial hot cakes.  The LCD was good for the time, and the 486 models ran Windows 3.1 well enough for everyday use.  It had all the usual accessories, including a nice leather carry bag.  

Unfortunately for the Handbook, it wasn’t updated any further than the 486 50Mhz models, which is a shame, because if Gateway has been able to keep the same overall package with a colour LCD screen and faster CPU option, it would have given Gateway a unique product offering in addition to its other standard portable offerings.  The Handbook was quietly phased out by 1995 (even though customers continued to request them).

H A N D B O O K 486 Click images to expand boxes

Seeing as Apple had reinvented the home computer with its new iMac range, many PC makers hurried to grab a piece of the pie with their own versions.  With Apple’s lawyers already talking to some of their competitors, citing similarities with their own designs, Gateway decided to stay as far away from the iMac comparison as they could, but it was an obvious PC-iMac, just like the other wannabe's, minus the nice transparent colour options.

The Astro didn’t last long, and was killed off by Q4 2000.  It had a few teething problems, and apart from being heavy (nearly 20kg / 44lbs), it was practically obsolete when it came out.  A sku with either a “Rug Rats” or “Blues Clues” bundle was also made available for just under $900 to clear inventory.  It had meant to come with an AMD CPU, but the powers that be were “persuaded” that an Intel CPU would be better!  It was a good effort, but like many of the PC makers of the era, they were too slow to react to the iMac and lost out to simply great PR and advertising from the guys in Cupertino.

Click images to expand The Boxes

Gateway launched a new PC offering centered around a 15” XGA LCD colour screen.  Take a colour panel normally associated with portable PCs and house it in a basic all-in-one desktop concept with everything ready to go out of the box.  This was Gateways first LCD inspired all-in-one effort, and it looks a little clunky by today's standards, but at the time it looked quite good, and a futuristic glimpse at the demise of the CRT.  Gateway would continue the “Profile” range for years to come, and the all-in-one desktop PC is still popular today, just like the iMac concept.  

This first version wasn’t met with universal praise however.  Consumers and journalists alike loved the space saving design and the colour LCD screen, but Gateway launched the Profile with an underpowered AMD K6-2 400Mhz CPU which wasn’t very well received, considering the price you were being asked to pay.  Gateway was still a little nervous using AMD kit in their systems, with such a close “frenemy” that was Intel as their long term partner in crime, but sometimes this was just a way of getting Intel to move on price rather than any long term commitment to AMD. Within months the Profile AMD CPU was replaced with an Intel Celeron 400Mhz, which was a fairly like for like replacement, but this clearly showed a roadmap pricing war had been fought internally.   The Profile was soon retired for a new version 2.0 edition which not only looked a lot more refined, it was a much better product.

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This one’s a doosey!  The machine that was a “Thank You” for 10 years of Gateway growth and success in the industry, ended up being a configuration from hell!  Court cases, bad publicity and a list of complaints made this system possibly one of the best examples of lacklustre design, poor implementation and as much as I hate to say it, sloppy product management. Apart from the anniversary mouse mat that came with this computer there was really little else of any merit for a special 10th anniversary computer built to showcase Gateways ability to supply the best PCs in the industry and celebrate its own birthday.

From the “Surround Sound” system that was anything but (it even had a lovely hissing sound generated from the sound card connection), to the 6X CD-ROM drive that liked to work at only 4X, and not forgetting the “special” tower case that most customers never actually received… all this and Gateway Premier Support that wasn’t very premier led to this anniversary fiasco.  Launched in Q4 1995 for a limited time (last orders were taken in December), the system cost a whopping $3999.00 (base configuration and excluding shipping) and in today’s money w/inflation we’re talking close to $7000.00 folks, ordered directly over the phone with your credit card!  Sales were less than 1000 units, which is just as well considering the fuss it caused.  

The first signs of any problems were simple enough, as some tower cases shipped with the normal gold “G” logo and not the special 10th anniversary logo, easily fixed.  Then reports of the hissing speakers; these were two large Altec Lansing ACS-450 speakers (with subwoofer) which create a “theatre-type surround sound” coupled with a Gateway OEM “Ensoniq” sound card.  These 18 inch towers of sound could be returned (FOC via UPS pick-up) and repaired, or downgraded to the ACS-400 units with a small refund (you could keep the subwoofer), or return the entire speaker system for a full refund of ~$200.  The Wearnes Technology CD-ROM unit was causing problems too, this super speed (6X, fast at the time) was causing a number of reported issues from high CPU utilisation to slow DTR’s, again, Gateway replaced units but due to part changes couldn’t ever guarantee a specific model to the end user.  The video card was a Matrox “MGA Millenium”, but as was usual practice, it did differ slightly from retail versions, and Gateway offered refunds and/or returns.  Other problems reported sound like typical system issues (with compatibility or software) which Gateway were probably aware of (but shipped anyway), these are flagged and identified during product and configuration testing and fixed as quickly as possible but can surface after shipping when third party products/software are introduced causing conflicts once in the customers hands.

To be fair to Gateway, most of the above can (and did) happen with plenty of other PC configurations, and that is why Gateway had a support system for their customers.  The reason this particular system has been highlighted is because it not only cost a premium and included Gateways “Gold Premium Service” offering, it failed to deliver on two important fronts; the first is from a PR perspective, it is a special configuration that Gateway decided to advertise specifically to shout about its 10 years in the PC business and offer the customer a product “designed with the computer connoisseur in mind” (direct quote from the “Born in a Barn” Ad - see it in the Ad Gallery), so if you can’t actually deliver that in a professional manner it sort of defeats the purpose.  The second problem is that the PC offered wasn’t really the best it could have been. I’m sure the team involved did their very best to put this together, but knowing how these things work, I’d lay a bet the time given for this to go from “somewhere the idea was born” to product marketing and then through all the various processes and hurdles for a Q4 rollout was very short. Look at the Apple Mac Anniversary system (TAM) released in 1997, now that is the way to celebrate an anniversary!  

In hindsight, this should have been done a lot better by Gateway for its customers.  Incidentally, a lot of the issues mentioned above were only finally resolved when a group calling itself the “Tenth Anniversary Club” which consisted of about 300 customers, met with Gateway to work things out (strength in numbers).  I did note there were a lot more “disclaimers” with respect to OEM vs Retail and ensuring full specifications were provided in future print ads and catalogues from 1996 onwards, so kudos to the customers if this was some of the collateral from their campaign.

So to wrap up, a great idea poorly executed, most probably rushed into the roadmap schedules without any real clarity, time or respect for what this machine should really have been.  A fail on Gateway’s usually clean record…

places home boxes history people spots barn Choose your box: “A little place online to commemorate the spotty PC company”