Although it still uses the ATX form factor (unlike the BTX-based ), the 5200XL is a futuristic silver jewel, with remarkably clean lines and stylishly distributed black accents. Behind this sleek veneer lies all the horsepower most home and business users are likely to need, be it for running office applications, playing games, or editing video. We particularly like the 5200XL's $999 base price, though the strategic upgrades Gateway added nudged the grand total of our test system to $1,330--still a great deal for such a well-rounded mainstream PC. Despite a few minor hiccups, Gateway's dazzling midrange PC has the substance to support its style.
Though it roars like a jet engine when you first power it up, after a few seconds the noise gives way to near silence. Indeed, the Gateway 5200XL is an admirably quiet system overall. A tool-free side panel provides access to the interior, where you'll find limited room for expansion. The PCI slots and the external drive bays are full, though there is space for more RAM and a second hard drive. External expansion options, fortunately, are plentiful, with three USB 2.0 and two FireWire ports in front, plus four USB 2.0 and two more FireWire ports in back.
For mainstream users, itÂ’s hard to argue with GatewayÂ’s component choices for the 5200XL. The system comes standard with a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 530 processor, 512MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, a 200GB Serial ATA hard drive, and an 8-in-1 media reader. Any disc-creation tasks you may have are ably handled by the 5200XL's DVD/CD-RW combo drive and double-layer DVD burner.
Although the base model comes with a 17-inch CRT, Gateway sent us its $150 FPD1750 17-inch analog LCD monitor. With its 12ms response time, itÂ’s outstanding for games and movies alike. Text and static images, however, werenÂ’t particularly crisp in our tests, probably owing to the monitorÂ’s analog interface. If you want a sharper display, consider GatewayÂ’s 19-inch LCD, which includes both VGA and DVI interfaces. The 19-inch monitor adds $300 to the 5200XLÂ’s base price.
Gateway also replaced the stock ATI Radeon X300 SE graphics card with ATI's Radeon X600 XT Pro ($99). The latter offers much better performance for games: it ran Unreal Tournament 2003 with a blazing 98.8 frames per second, which bodes well for the 5200XL's ability to play 3D games with at least moderate frame rates. As for application performance, the 5200XL turned in solid scores--about what we'd expect for a machine in this class.
We didnÂ’t expect much from GatewayÂ’s GMAX 2100 speakers, an admittedly attractive three-piece system with ball-shaped satellites and a sturdy, freestanding control module. The latter includes both volume and bass dials, plus headphone and microphone jacks (a potential source of confusion, given the presence of identical jacks on the front of the tower). Paired with a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS card (a $50 upgrade), the 2100s cranked out deep, detailed music and boisterous game and movie audio.
GatewayÂ’s multimedia keyboard features a host of handy, clearly labeled buttons for everything from document editing to browser navigation to CD/DVD playback. Too bad both the keyboard and the mouse are wired--weÂ’d greatly prefer wireless components in a system like this.
Gateway keeps the software to a minimum: Microsoft Works Suite 2005, Nero Express 6.0 (the "lite" version of the Nero suite), and a 90-day subscription to. You also get a stack of blank CDs and the annoying, time-consuming task of burning your own recovery discs. Thankfully, you can burn a recovery DVD, although Gateway doesnÂ’t supply any blank media for that.
Given the price of the system, we were hoping for a somewhat better warranty than one year on parts, labor, and technical support (which is 24/7 but not toll-free). Gateway does offer various support upgrades, such as extending the policy to three years for $140. The company also deserves kudos for pasting Web and phone contact info and the 5200XLÂ’s serial number on the front of the tower, where theyÂ’re easy to find, and for offering real-time support via online chat. Novices would probably appreciate more printed documentation, however, than the included setup poster.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).