It turns out that Dell (DELL) isn't the only longtime commodity PC vendor looking to make build a new name for itself among high-end PCs users and the gaming set.
Gateway (GTW), the vendor once known for its folksy ads featuring its midwestern employees and boxes with cow-inspired prints, is facing stiff competitive pressure and undergoing a management shakeup (see BW Online, 2/10/06, "Troubled Times At Gateway").
None of that, however, is stopping Gateway from pursuing those gaming and digital-media enthusiasts with high demands and thick wallets.
As part of our series looking at high-end specialty PCs, I recently took Gateways FX510XL machine for a test run, and did my best to push it to its limits. It acquitted itself well.
For the review unit, Gateway really pulled out all the stops. The microprocessor was an Intel (INTC) Pentium Extreme Edition 955, which runs at 3.46 GHz, combined with an Intel 975X chipset that supports DDR2 memory.
It came packed with two gigabytes of memory (it supports up to four), a one-terabyte hard drive (that's 1,000 gigabytes), and about as many external media connections as you can count. Handling the graphics is an Nvidia (NVDA) GeForce 7800GTX.
The unit also comes installed with Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Media Center. There's an ATI (ATYT) TV-tuner card for connecting to your TV set-top box and recording shows a la TiVo (TIVO), however I didn't get a chance to try this feature.
On this machine I installed the most demanding game I could get my hands on -- FEAR -- a frightening and extremely violent title from Sierra, a unit of Vivendi (V). I pushed all the settings to max and had at it for about 90 minutes.
The immersive experience proved a little too immersive for me. After working my way through a few scenes I realized I was getting a little queasy, but I'm not sure if it was motion sickness, the bloody scenes playing out with such realism before me, or some combination of both.
The computer generally handled the action well, but faltered only twice. During a particularly graphics-heavy sequence, the game suddenly froze for a few seconds, then resumed more or less normally. It happened only twice in the span of about five minutes. After reducing the in-game graphics settings from Maximum to High, I did not see the behavior again.
The front of the machine is a veritable dashboard of ports and connections. There is a 9-in-1 media-card reader for pretty much any type of flash memory card that works with digital video, still cameras, and some music players. Two of the machine's six USB ports are on the front. There are two optical drives, one a 16x double-layer multiformat DVD writer, the other a 48x DVD-ROM drive. Nestled between that and the flash media slots is a floppy drive. (This made me scour my memory for the last time I used a floppy disk. It has been a while.)
The standard configuration of the machine starts at $2,999, but the faster processor adds another $799. Throwing in the media drive with the floppy, the wireless keyboard and mouse brings the total on the machine I had to $3,847.
By comparison, Dell's XPS 600, with roughly the same specifications -- the fast Intel chip, the same memory, and the same graphics card, same hard-drive capacity, priced out much higher at $4,699. One key difference is that the Dell machine uses an Nvidia nForce4 SLI X16 chipset instead of the Intel chipset. (The chipset is a group a chips that sits between the computer's main microprocessor and other parts of the computer.) And the Dell machine does come in a much fancier case!
Gateway also sent a $600 21-inch display, the FPD2185W. It was a real stunner, and right now Gateway will include it in with the purchase of the computer. Gateway also included one-more add-on -- a set of Logitech (LOGI) Z-5300e speakers which sounded terrific, although a little too loud for my office environment. The explosions and gunfire will sound great at home, however. They go for $199, bringing the total cost of the package to $4,046.
PERFECT FOR THE IMPATIENT.
At that price, you walk away with an excellent machine that is up to the challenge of most gaming environments and digital media. Its machines like this that are beginning helping companies like Gateway make a case that if you want to do a lot with your computer, the lowest-price machine that seems "good enough" probably isn't.
New versions of Windows -- Windows Vista -- and ever-more impressive games are coming in the next year or two, all of which will place more strain on lower-cost hardware. It's no fun buying an inexpensive computer only to have to replace it within 18 months.It seems to me that spending more on high end hardware up front will save you aggravation up upgrading sooner than you'd like. If you can't wait for the newer machines that will run Vista, then this Gateway is a good choice.