Gateway's FX541XT occupies a strange gaming PC middle ground. At $3,500, it's not in the same price category as high-end PCs such as Dell's XPS 730 H2C, but it's also about $2,000 more than the emergent $1,500 gaming desktop we've seen this year, most recently in the Maingear Prelude. Those higher-end systems tend to offer lots of well-thought-out extras, and the lower-end models pride themselves on bang for the buck. Stuck in between, the FX541XT ends up being well rounded, and its price is actually reasonable, considering what you get. We might trade a few of its features for faster performance, but if you're looking for a decent, higher-end desktop PC that can do almost everything well enough, the FX541XT might be the best deal going.
As Gateway has moved away from customizable PCs, the FX541XT is a fixed-configuration, available online only. The $3,500 price tag is a baseline, and at the time of this writing Gateway offered an instant $300 discount, knocking the price to $3,200 with the standard options. We can't say for how long that rebate will be in place.
|Gateway FX541XT||Maingear Prelude|
|Motherboard chipset||NForce 680i LT||AMD 790X|
|CPU||3.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650||2.5GHz AMD Phenom X4 9850|
|Memory||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(2) 512MB GeForce 8800 GT||(2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870|
|Hard drives||(2) 750GB 10,000rpm||500GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray/HD-DVD combo drive, dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit||Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit|
We compare the Gateway here with the Maingear Prelude, a midrange gaming PC we reviewed last month. Among the Gateway's Core 2 Extreme quad-core processor, its extra memory, more spacious hard drive capacity, and multiformat HD optical drive, you can see that the extra money you spend on the FX541XT will indeed go toward extra features. There's also a TV tuner, although with so much TV content online now, we find PC TV tuners cards less and less valuable each time we see a new one.
We certainly can't fault a $3,500 PC for trailing the XPS 730 H2C that costs $6,750. At the same time, we might expect this Gateway to wipe the floor with systems that cost $1,500, such as the Maingear Prelude. It's definitely heartening, however, that the Gateway outperformed the Puget system, which costs $1,000 more. In all, we suspect you'll be happy with this system's ability to multitask and process multimedia file.
The only glaring fault is the Gateway's higher resolution gaming test scores. They trail the Maingear, and likely because the Maingear has twice the graphics memory. The pair of 512MB GeForce 8800 GT 3D cards will definitely get you through the bulk of today's PC games, but advanced titles such as Crysis may give it a hard time, which doesn't bode well for new games coming out later this year. At the very least, Gateway could have opted for a pair of cards with 1GB of RAM apiece. The FX541XT will definitely play most current games with smooth frame rates, just bear in mind that you may have to dial down the resolution if you have a particularly large monitor.
We've already mentioned the TV tuner and the Blu-ray/HD-DVD player, and thanks to those features, the Gateway can handle some advanced multimedia tasks. Its standard midtower chassis likely limits your ability to integrate it into your living room. Gateway also includes a Creative X-Fi Xtreme Gamer sound card, as well as a set of Logitech X-240 2.1 PC speakers, which aren't pictured.
We'd gladly lose all or some of that extra hardware, though, for higher-end graphics cards. We'd also love to see Gateway finally move to 64-bit Windows Vista to take advantage of all 4GB of included RAM. Both of those trades (and 64-bit Vista should be free) would make this system a true performance powerhouse. On the flip side, no other major vendor offers so many features for the same price.
We're also happy to report that Gateway has made some strides in its internal cabling. For a while, Gateway refused to invest in proper routing and binding of the internal power and data connections, which helps maximize airflow and simplifies upgrading. The inside design of the FX541XT isn't perfect, but Gateway tied down some of the cables, and shortened others. It's a great improvement over older Gateway desktops.
Because the FX541XT has so many features, though, your upgrade options are fairly limited. You get a single 1x PCI-Express slot for adding expansion cards, and one free hard-drive bay. The memory slots are all occupied.
Gateway's service and support for the FX541XT is down-the-line average for desktops. You get one year of parts and labor warranty coverage, 24-7, toll-free phone support, and an array of useful resources online. The BigFix software, as always, also lets a Gateway technician fix your system remotely, with your permission.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)