Gateway FX530XT (Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX)
With this newest reiteration of its high-end FX530XT, Gateway finally brings it flagship desktop in line with the other enthusiast PCs in its class. And all it took was a graphics card. Our $4,449 build comes with an overclocked GeForce 8800 GTX. Combine that with the system's familiar overclocked Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 processor, and this desktop has all the makings of a typical gaming powerhouse. If that's not enough, Gateway loads it up with features, including an HD DVD optical drive. We wish the inside was tidier and that it left room for an SLI setup, but on balance, any gamer dropping $4,450 on this system will get his or her money's worth.
Gateway offers many variations of its FX530 series of desktops, but the FX530XT is the most expensive and the only model with an option for quad-core CPUs. Ours came with the 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 overclocked to 3.2GHz, although Gateway also offers a stock-clocked version, as well as stock and overclocked QX6800 options as well. Gateway also impresses with the memory, offering 4GB of 667MHz memory in this system for less than the 2GB-equipped Maingear X-Cube we reviewed a few weeks ago.
The Maingear makes a strong graphics comparison to this Gateway FX530XT as well, because the X-Cube has a GeForce 8800 Ultra, Nvidia's near-$1,000 highest-end single graphics card, with a core clock speed of 612MHz and a 2.16GHz memory clock. In comparison, the Gateway's overclocked GeForce 8800 GTX has a 600MHz core and a 1.85GHz memory, up from the GTX's stock 575MHz and 1.8GHz settings. That speed difference, as with the different CPU settings and the different system memory allotments, ends up with some fairly interesting benchmark test results.
On every application test, Gateway's FX530XT beat the more expensive X-Cube. It also took the prize on the two higher-end Quake 4 tests. Maingear has the edge on only one benchmark, our F.E.A.R. 3D-gaming test (although on the Gateway it's still imminently playable, even at high resolutions). What those results tell us are that the Gateway's combination of lots of memory with an aggressively overclocked CPU and graphics card makes for a stronger system overall than a similarly priced competitor with less memory and higher-end stock components. All of the PCs in this price range will perform admirably on games and day-to-day applications, but compared to each other, the Gateway looks like the best deal on a single 3D card high-end PC we've seen this year.
We like the Gateway for more than just its performance, however. Your $4,450 also gets you an HD DVD optical drive, making the more expensive Maingear and its standard-definition dual-layer burner look especially outmoded. Maingear does have a larger 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive, but then Gateway's 300GB comes by way of two 150GB 10,000rpm drives, which we imagine most gamers would prefer for their quicker access speed, which means shorter load times.
We don't want to give the impression that we find the FX530XT flawless. Gateway still hasn't found a way to clean up the cabling in the interior of its high-end PCs. We suspect the antiquated BTX case layout has something to do with this issue. One of the drawbacks of that design is that it typically requires you to string the power cables from the power supply to the motherboard across a much longer distance, which makes it tougher to route them neatly. The airflow inside the case is clean enough, so that's not a concern, but the sloppy cables make it irritating to swap parts in and out.
We also have a hunch that the BTX design has Gateway tied down to the motherboard as well, which hasn't changed since we first looked at an FX530XT last November. The Intel 975XBX2 (aka BadAxe II) board is a fine foundation for a PC, but the problem, in addition to this particular model's design, is that it only supports ATI's CrossFire dual graphics card technology, not Nvidia's SLI. That worked well for Gateway pre-Vista, when it offered two ATI Radeon X1950 XT cards (which you can still configure, and which we would highly recommend against), but once Nvidia's DirectX 10-capable GeForce 8000 cards came out, the Radeon X1900 series became out of date. We're glad that Gateway has finally embraced Nvidia's improved graphics cards, but with no support for SLI, you can't meaningfully expand this system's 3D capabilities any further. That's too bad, because these days even $1,500 PCs generally give you room to add a second graphics card.
Finally, Gateway's support is about average for the industry, which is to say good enough, if not outstanding. It's single year of parts-and-labor coverage for this system is not impressive, especially compared to Maingear, which gives you three years by default. You at least get 24-7 phone coverage and relatively comprehensive online support resources, many of which are specific to this PC. That assumes you can actually purchase one of these PCs to your liking. We noticed that if you configure the HD DVD drive and no monitor, Gateway's Web site informs you that you can't check out until you add an HDCP-compatible Gateway LCD monitor to your order. We imagine if you already own an HDCP display, you might not be interested in purchasing another.
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(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)