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As a standard $999 performance PC, the Gateway FX6850-51u and its fast Intel Core i7 2600 CPU is a fair deal. The problem is that the stylized case suggests that this is a gaming PC, but despite its fast chip, an anemic graphics card holds back its 3D performance. This PC will provide a speedy nongaming experience, or serve as a respectable upgrade platform. We just wish it didn't feel like such a cynical, unbalanced take on a budget gaming desktop.
Functionally speaking, the FX6850-51u's case has some useful features. We like the removable hard-drive bays that slide out through the front panel. The media card reader juts out conveniently from the front-facing upper corner, and the gadget tray on the top of the system is always welcome.
On a store shelf, though, this PC, with its red case lights and its molded plastic "armor" plating, clearly has the gaming demographic in mind. Unfortunately, it lacks the components to offer compelling PC gaming performance.
|Gateway FX6850-51u||Velocity Micro Z40|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel P67||Intel P67|
|CPU||3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600||4.0GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked)|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT 440||1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti|
|Hard drives||1TB, 7,200 rpm||1TB 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
It's possible that Gateway has designed itself into a corner with its FX-line. Vendors typically use the same case for at least a few CPU generations, and with a less stylized design, the FX6850-51u would make a reasonable system for home productivity or consumer-level digital media editing. Its Core i7 2600 CPU is the current flagship processor in Intel's second-generation Core family (aka Sandy Bridge), and with 8GB of RAM and a lower-end GPU with plenty of video memory, this system is competitively priced at $999. As you can see on our application performance tests below, it will handle Photoshop, video rendering, and other media tasks better than some of its more expensive competition.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
Our primary problem with this system is that despite its up-to-date CPU, its low-end GeForce GT 440 graphics card can't muster enough 3D power to post even 60 frames per second on Far Cry 2, our least demanding gaming test.
|1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x,1,536 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
|Extreme (1,920x1,080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry level (1,680x1,050)|
We've made similar complaints about such imbalanced performance from older iterations of Gateway's FX line, but the FX6850-51u is arguably the worst offender. As an alternative, Gateway might have considered saving $100 by trading down from a 3.4GHz Core i7 2600 to 3.3GHz Intel Core i5 2500 chip, and then applying that savings to a faster graphics card like the GeForce GTX 460, or an AMD Radeon HD 6850. Such a configuration would post slower application performance than this model, but not by an unbearable amount for typical consumer purposes. It would also offer significantly improved 3D performance, likely surpassing that of the Acer Predator system.
It's ironic, actually, that the Predator is made by Acer, which is Gateway's parent company. It underscores a bit the murky logic behind the Acer-Gateway brand split. If Acer left its gaming efforts to the Predator line, for example, and gave the Gateway FX line a more mainstream look-and-feel, we would be praising this PC for providing remarkably low-cost access to one of Intel's fastest consumer CPUs.
We could, we suppose, cast this system as a diamond in the rough for upgraders. In addition to the fast CPU and ample system memory, this PC also boasts a beefy 450-watt power supply, which would be more than enough to match with a fast graphics card post-purchase. You'd need to discard the GeForce GT 440 card, but this system would still provide easy means to a strong performance foundation. The power supply even has an unused pair of GPU power connectors. We'll credit Gateway for giving this PC upgrade potential, but that's small consolation for those that may purchase this PC with the doomed expectation of capable 3D performance out of its gaming-oriented box.
You can make other upgrades to this PC, if you're so inclined, to the tune of three additional hard drives, and a pair of 1x PCI Express cards. Another PCI-E 1x slot has a Wi-Fi card in it. The RAM slots all come occupied as well. External connectivity is less flexible. You get no discrete digital audio output, and only support for only 5.1-channel audio from the analog jacks. Data connections are worse, with USB 2.0 ports only. Every other Sandy Bridge-equipped PC we've seen from other vendors has included at least one USB 3.0 port.
|Gateway FX6850-51u||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.23|
|Sleep (10 percent)||1.61|
|Idle (25 percent)||38.21|
|Load (5 percent)||97.96|
|Annual energy cost||$21.34|
Due to its slower graphics card, the Gateway FX6850-51u doesn't consume much power. That's not a trade-off we're very excited about, but at least we can say that its power use falls in line with our expectations given its hardware.
Gateway's service and support policies also meet expectations. You get one year of parts-and-labor coverage with the FX650-51u, along with 24-7 toll-free phone service, and a variety of help resources available online. The system also comes with a few diagnostic apps to help you monitor the status of various components yourself.
Don't let the exterior of the Gateway FX6850-51u fool you: this PC's configuration is not meant for gaming. It will serve well, though, as an upgrade platform, or as a well-priced, rather gaudy-looking system for mainstream home productivity.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Acer Aspire Predator
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card; 1.5TB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Dell XPS 8300
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Gateway FX6850-51u Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Velocity Micro Z40
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (overclocked); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive