Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
We loved Gateway's budget-priced SX2800-01 slim tower, but the $750 Gateway DX4300-03 has a much less enticing bargain. There's a respectable PC here, and we're fans of Gateway's new compact system design, but a tower PC from Asus, the Essentio CM5570-AP006, has much faster performance for the same price. You can look to the Gateway's TV tuner and larger hard drive and perhaps consider it a digital media hub, but TV tuners lost their appeal for us a while ago, and we'd gladly trade the tuner for either a lower price, a Blu-ray drive, or a faster graphics card. If you still cling to the notion of using your PC as a poor man's DVR, you might find the Gateway DX4300-03 worthwhile. We'd rather have speedier computing overall via the $750 Asus.
It's too bad that Gateway couldn't muster up a more compelling feature-set for this desktop, because its design makes a ton of sense. The glossy black plastic exterior keeps the Gateway in the same unobtrusive uniform of its mainstream PC competition, but a unique twist on the front panel layout helps set the DX4300-03 apart. Gateway's design has more or less pinched the upper, outward-facing edge of the system, creating a sort of lip that puts all of the media card slots in a highly accessible position. It has also taken the eject buttons for the two optical drive bays (only one is occupied here), and placed them on the top of the system. These little tweaks make interfacing with the system that much easier, especially if you typically keep your PC on the floor next to a desk.
|Gateway DX4300-03||Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006|
|CPU||2.4GHz AMD Phenom X4 9750||2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300|
|Memory||8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB ATI Radeon HD 4650||1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 220|
|Hard drives||1TB 7,200rpm||750GB 7,200rpm|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11b/g wireless||Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11b/g/n wireless|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
Side-by-side the Gateway and the Asus systems seem fairly comparable. The Gateway's 1TB hard drive is larger than the Asus' 750GB model, and the Gateway's TV tuner perhaps offsets the Asus' 802.11n wireless networking advantage. If we were to look no further than these spec sheets, we might suggest that these PCs offer equivalent value. Our performance testing shows quite clearly that this in not the case.
|Rendering multi-CPU||Rendering single CPU|
Head to head, the Asus outperformed the Gateway on every benchmark. Without a single test on which the two are even close, the Gateway DX4300-03 proves itself unequivocally slower than its direct price competition. Perhaps worse for Gateway, it's also left behind by its own brand partner, the budget-priced Gateway SX2800-01. We wish we could find some mitigating factor for the DX4300-03, but we can barely muster the enthusiasm to say that, even though it's slow, it will at least perform well enough. That may be true, but especially compared with the Asus system, in the absence of few other benefits the Gateway falls totally flat.
None of the PCs in this price range would claim to be an outright gaming system, but with lower midrange 3D cards you can expect at least acceptable lower resolution PC game performance. If you're a World of Warcraft fan, a Sims 2 or 3 aficionado, or if you're willing to settle for the more scalable first-person shooters out there, you should be able to enjoy most PC gaming titles on the Gateway, provided you stay realistic with the image quality and resolution settings. Of course, as with nongaming applications, the Asus is faster here as well.
Packed as it is with wireless networking and TV tuning capabilities, the DX4300-03 offers only a second hard-drive bay for internal upgrading room. You can always ditch the modem to free up a standard PCI card slot, and you'll likely be satisfied with the 8GB of RAM occupying all four memory slots for the foreseeable future, anyway. Unless you're willing to sacrifice some of the parts you'll have already paid for, you get relatively little flexibility to expand this system. The aforementioned graphics card does plug into a PCI Express graphics card slot, of course, but the lower-end 300-watt power supply really won't accommodate much beyond an only slightly faster midrange 3D card.
We do, however, commend Gateway for keeping the graphics card's video outputs consistent with those built into the motherboard. You can't use the embedded ports if you have a discrete video card, but Gateway wisely chose a 3D card with HDMI, DVI, and VGA outs. That means you won't have to look longingly at the disabled ports on the motherboard that the vendor neglected to replicate on the 3D card. The HDMI port in particular will be useful as more and more LCD monitors incorporate that input, and the DX4300-03, while still a midtower, scales toward the smaller end of the desktop spectrum, and you might even consider dragging it into your living room to connect to an HDTV.
The Gateway's remaining outputs are surprisingly spare. You get a FireWire jack on the back panel, but there's no eSATA output for even faster external data transfers. And while you can piggyback a digital audio signal over the HDMI video output, there's no standalone digital audio output. Instead you get only the traditional array of 7.1 analog audio jacks.
|Raw (annual kWh)||389.56596|
|Energy Star compliant||No|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$44.22|
You might think the Gateway DX4300-03 should at least offset its slow performance by drawing less power, but as you can see from our results it comes in second to last in annual power costs, behind only HP's also-slow Pavilion Elite e9120y. We're hesitant to say outright that this has to do with an AMD-Intel contrast, since our testing doesn't isolate CPUs, and the motherboard and the power supply in particular could also affect power draw. But it's certainly noticeable that the two PCs on the bottom of this list, as well as the HP Pavilion Slimline s5120y at the bottom our budget back-to-school desktops power efficiency chart, are all AMD-based.
The competing Asus desktop might have made this Gateway look bad from a hardware value perspective, but Gateway can at least hold its head up when we compare online support offerings. Asus' are basically nonexistent for its desktops. Gateway, on the other hand, has all of the usual support features we expect, including system-specific features and other help online. Gateway also boasts 24-7 toll-free phone support, and a one-year parts and labor warranty with this PC.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.4GHz AMD Phenom X4 9750; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4650; 1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive
Acer Aspire M5800-U5802A
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT 230; 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Asus Essentio CG5270-BP003
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 220; 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200 rpm hard drive
HP Pavilion e9120y
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.6GHz AMD Phenom II X4 910; 8GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4350; 1TB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive