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Editors' note: This review is part of our , which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
Similar to the Dell Inspiron i545-1125NBK, the $509 Asus Essentio CM5571-BR003's low price isn't compelling enough to offset it from a slightly more expensive Gateway that offers much more computer for only a few extra dollars. The Asus fares better than the Dell, thanks to a larger hard drive and a more up-to-date set of connection options. If your budget is stuck at $500 or so, we'd pick this Asus over the Dell. For those with a modicum of financial leeway, it's worth spending the $40 extra for the Gateway, which has better features and faster performance.
The Essentio CM5571-BR003 is the more modest of Asus' two retail desktop designs. This standard midtower and its glossy black plastic front panel fits side-by-side with other midtowers in its price range, and like its competition, this Asus is neither offensive nor particularly distinctive in its appearance. It features the standard complement of front-panel accessible hardware, including a DVD burner, a spare optical drive slot, and, behind a flip-down door, a media card reader, along with a few USB 2.0 and analog audio ports.
We won't waste time comparing the Asus with the disappointing $509 Dell Inspiron i545-1125NBK, which brings us straight to the Gateway DX4831-01e. The Gateway costs $40 more, but in exchange you get a faster, more up-to-date CPU, as well as a larger hard drive than what you'll find in the Asus. The Asus actually competes fairly well with the Gateway as far as its connectivity. Both provide HDMI and digital audio outputs, among others, which separates them from the VGA-only equipped Dell. And while we could justify sacrificing the Gateway's larger hard drive to save $40, we'd need a larger discount for the Asus to settle for its slower performance.
|Asus Essentio CM5571-BR003||Gateway DX4831-01e|
|CPU||2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400||2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530|
|Memory||6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||6GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip||32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||750GB, 7,200rpm||1TB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
The Asus' test results weren't entirely unexpected given its dated Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400 processor. That chip's 2.7GHz clock speed helps keep its general speed tolerable in day-to-day tasks, but the Gateway's 2.93GHz Core i3 530 CPU helps that system outperform the Asus on every benchmark. No system on this chart is Netbook-slow, but with more speed and more data storage available from the Gateway for just $40 more than the Asus system, we see little reason to settle.
We mentioned the Asus' connectivity options earlier, and indeed the HDMI and optical S/PDIF audio jack are the highlights. The Gateway is superior in this regard, offering HDMI and S/PDIF, as well as eSATA and FireWire 400, among others. The Asus provides only USB 2.0 for external storage connections. Those ports and the 7.1 analog audio jacks should be enough to satisfy the needs of most consumers, but the Gateway's extra features only strengthen our argument for that system.
The Asus and the Gateway have similar upgrade paths as well. The Gateway skews toward more modern expansion cards, as it relies exclusively on PCI Express slots for card upgrades. The Asus has slots for a PCI Express graphics card and a single 1X PCI Express card, while two standard PCI card slots accommodate legacy hardware. Whether the Asus array of slots is good or bad depends on your dependence on older card upgrades. Each system also has four RAM slots, and a pair of hard-drive bays for expanding the memory and hard drive storage, respectively.
|Asus Essentio CM5571-BR003||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||2.14|
|Sleep (10 percent)||2.99|
|Idle (25 percent)||44.94|
|Load (5 percent)||71.42|
|Annual energy cost||$20.51|
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
If we found its performance lacking, the Essentio CM5571-BR003 posted impressive power efficiency results. You might expect a slow PC to consume less power than a fast one, of course, so it's not exactly surprising that the Asus isn't a power hog. We'll give Asus credit, though, as it came in more efficient than the Dell Inspiron i545-1125NBK, which has the same CPU and similar application performance.
Asus's service and support is perhaps the most troubling of all the mainstream desktop vendors selling at retail. You get a yearlong warranty out of the box, as well as 24-7 toll-free phone help, but searching on "Essentio" and "CM5571-BR003" turned up no relevant results on the Asus Web site. We found no product information by following its product menus, either. We don't love this PC to begin with, but we definitely don't recommend it to computing novices or those who expect to rely on vendor support.
Asus Essentio CM5571-BR003
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip, 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate shard drive
Dell Inspiron i545 1125-NBK
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel GMA HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion p6310y
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 630; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia Geforce 9100; 1TB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive