Buying your computer from a retail store often means you can't configure it with all the perfect options, but in the case of the $1,300 fixed-configuration Gateway 832GM, you can find yourself with quite a deal. A Media Center PC, the 832GM makes an excellent, affordable choice for those who want a home-entertainment PC. If you were to configure a 9310-series system on Gateway's Web site with the exact same components and display (you can purchase the 832GM only in stores), you'd spend close to $300 more.
The 832GM comes in Gateway's new BTX case, which we recently saw in the high-end 9310XL. A BTX chassis provides cool, whisper-quiet operation, which particularly benefits Media Center PCs such as the 832GM (who wants to watch a TV or a movie over the hum of a PC?). Gateway also employs its traditional black-and-silver color scheme in the 832GM, extending it across all of the included peripherals as well, which is always appreciated. On the front side of the case, you'll find a double-layer DVD burner, a fast CD-ROM drive, and an 8-in-1 flash reader, along with a single USB 2.0 jack and dual FireWire ports. Around back sit plenty of connectors, including five more USB 2.0 inputs and five surround-sound jacks linked to the motherboard's integrated Intel audio chip.
Inside, you'll find the new 64-bit 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 630 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR TV tuner card. There's also enough room for an upgrade or three, thanks to a pair of free memory slots, two free hard drive slots, and empty PCI-Express x16 and standard PCI slots.
Because the Gateway 832GM features Microsoft'sOS, you get channel-guide and TV-recording functionality. Setting up the signal for the first time and creating a schedule of recordings is very easy to do, although the 832GM can't decipher an encrypted cable television signal (an issue common to all current media PCs). So for many of you, the channel guide and the DVR features will be largely useless. With a DirecTV satellite signal pumped in, the TV picture also looked grainy and unfocused, as is common to virtually all Media Center PCs. Conversely, DVD playback, which has nothing to do with the tuner card, looked smooth and sharp. The same went for the included 17-inch Gateway FPD1760 LCD in general. The screen looked great during all other tasks (and also comes with easy-to-use side-mounted picture controls).
The Gateway 832GM's performance on our benchmark tests was solid for a Media Center PC. With the help of its 3.0GHz Pentium 4 630 CPU and 512MB of system memory, the 832GM finished second out of five media PCs in our SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation test, coming behind only theand its 3.4GHz P4 550. General media tasks such as watching TV and movies and listening to music aren't that demanding, but it's helpful to know that the 832GM can work well as a day-to-day computer when called upon to do so.