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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Culture

What's wrong with living room PCs?

Would it be impossible for a desktop vendor to design a striking living room case that would remain relatively affordable, but also generate enough consumer enthusiasm to succeed sans badge?

Gaudy logo badges mar the otherwise inoffensive design of the Gateway SX2851-41.
Gaudy logo badges mar the otherwise inoffensive design of the Gateway SX2851-41. Sarah Tew/CNET

We posted a review of Gateway's latest slim tower PC this morning, the SX2851-41. As with older models in the SX line, we like this system for its versatility. Its fast Core i3 CPU and 4GB of RAM make it a capable workaday desktop. That processing power, combined with its small size, its HDMI video output, and its 1TB hard drive, also lets this PC shine as a living room box. It doesn't have a Blu-ray drive, and with integrated graphics it's not much of a gaming PC, but it can play streamed or downloaded 1080p content without a hitch. We just wish it, and other Windows-based living room PCs, didn't look so cheap.

Almost every desktop vendor has a small, capable, affordable PC that can serve as a living room system. Gateway's SX line is arguably the strongest, as it has consistently offered the best value in speed and features from model to model. Considering both the apparent popularity of this category, as well as the SX line's success, Gateway was poised with the redesigned SX2851-41 to ignore the temptation of Intel and Microsoft marketing dollars and opt out of their respective badge programs. Instead, it let the opportunity pass, leaving the world with yet another aesthetically compromised Windows system.

Gateway is not the only culprit guilty of failing to adjust its design for the living room. HP's Slimline is a badged PC. So is Dell's Inspiron Zino HD, although Dell at least left off the AMD imprint.

Apple's Mac Mini, on the other hand, cuts a clean, almost logo-free profile.
Apple's Mac Mini, on the other hand, cuts a clean, almost logo-free profile. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple, of course, stayed true to its design roots when it made the switch to Intel CPUs in 2005, and left its Macs badge free. That decision helps keep the Mac Mini looking like a device you might willingly invite into your living room, despite the fact that its comparatively underpowered with only a Core 2 Duo chip.

In a way, the Windows PC ecosystem is caught in a vicious antidesign cycle. Despite repeated attempts to compete with Apple at the high-end, high-margin market segment, mainstream Windows vendors still rely heavily on high-volume sales for their revenues. That means competing on price, and if your competition can undercut you with the subsidy it gets from sticking a 1x1-inch Microsoft logo on its systems, you run a risk if you don't take the same handout.

Still, Windows vendors have shipped unbadged PCs before. Dell's recently discontinued Adamo was admirably unadorned. HP also left the logos off of its old Blackbird 002 gaming desktop. Those systems both traded on a certain design and mystique, and commanded high enough prices for Dell and HP to risk forgoing the badge marketing income. Would it be impossible for a desktop vendor to design a similarly striking living room case that would remain relatively affordable, but also generate enough consumer enthusiasm to succeed sans badge? We'd love to see someone try.