Unlike Dell's recent XPS 700 and the XPS 710 announced today, Gateway hasn't reinvented its high-end case with the FX530XT. The only real difference between this and the FX510XL is the newer model's gunmetal finish and the addition of some color. But the changes make a striking visual improvement to the chassis compared to the staid gray-and-black, plastic-looking FX510XL. It now looks much more like a serious PC.
It may look the part from the outside, but the interior design lags behind that of the high-end competition. Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Velocity Micro, and Voodoo PC have led the charge with impeccable case interiors wherein the cabling is routed, tucked, and otherwise tied down out of the way. If you ever want to replace a hard drive or swap out a graphics card, it's remarkably easy to do so with those systems. Further, that clean layout means clear airflow, which is essential for keeping a hot-running performance PC happy. Dell finally got aboard the clean cabling bandwagon with its XPS 700 desktop. Even lesser-known Cyberpower gives you clean wiring as a $20 option, so it can't be expensive to do. The question then is why doesn't Gateway tidy up the FX530XT's interior?
We asked Gateway this very question and were told, "The main goal was to maximize system performance for digital enthusiasts and PC gamers while still delivering an exceptional value. Origami cabling significantly increases manufacturing costs and has little impact on performance, so we elected to invest in other areas and ultimately reduce the cost of a high-performance, leading-edge PC for the customer." We're not buying it. If a volume producer such as Dell can make its cables look good and if a smaller company such as Cyberpower can do it for only $20, there's no reason why Gateway shouldn't be able to do it, either. That lack of polish doesn't mean we think the FX530XT is a bad computer--far from it. We just want to see Gateway take the now nearly universal measure of making a multithousand-dollar PC look like a quality machine inside and out.
Gateway may have missed a step on the FX530XT's design, but this system's high-end features and performance will inspire awe when you consider the price. For $3,650, you get Intel's new Core 2 Extreme QX6700 quad-core processor, 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a pair of 512MB ATI Radeon X1950 XT graphics cards in CrossFire mode, and two fast 150GB 10,000rpm hard drives in speedy RAID 0 mode. Even at stock speeds, we'd expect those parts to make for a great gaming or digital-design PC. But here's where Gateway goes above and beyond: The CPU on this system is overclocked by 20 percent, bumping its clock speed to 3.2GHz from the standard 2.66GHz. Gateway will not only be selling the FX530XT with an overclocking option, but it also puts the performance boost under warrantee--all for no extra charge. We expect that because Intel's new Core 2 CPUs are so easy to overclock there's no reason not to jack up the CPU performance. Most of the traditional boutique PC vendors overclock their parts for free, too. The notable exception here is Dell. For some reason, Dell will not overclock its CPU for you, even when Intel makes it so easy. As our performance charts will show, Gateway's willingness to overclock gives a major boost to its scores.
One test we should take some time on is our single core CineBench test. You can see on that chart that the ABS Ultimate X9 III won the test, but then on the multithreaded version of CineBench, the ABS places last. The reason it won on the single-core test is because its dual-core Core 2 Extreme X6800 was overclocked to 3.38GHz, where every other CPU on there has a slower clock speed. That indicates that on the many applications out there that don't take advantage of a multicore chip, raw clock speed will matter more. But for multitasking and multithreaded applications that do check for multiple CPU cores, CineBench's multicore results make it plain that, while clock speed still matters, the more cores the better.
The Gateway FX530XT loses on only two of our benchmark tests. On iTunes, both the ABS Ultimate X9 III and the Apple Mac Pro were faster, but both of the CPUs in those PCs have faster core CPU clock speeds, and that test in particular likes a fast chip. And on our F.E.A.R. 3D testing, the Dell XPS 710 takes the prize, but that system also comes with an Nvidia Quad SLI graphics card configuration, which is more powerful than the Gateway's ATI Radeon X1950 XT CrossFire setup. In short, we found a few scenarios in which the Gateway FX530XT was not the fastest system we've ever seen. But it remains so close to that ideal--and on many tests achieves it--that we have no hesitation recommending this Gateway as a high-end gamer or a multimedia-editing powerhouse.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
|F.E.A.R. 1,600x1,200||F.E.A.R. 1,280x1,024||Quake 4 1,600x1,200||Quake 4 1,280x1,024|
Dell hasn't determined pricing on the XPS 710 it sent us, so we can't say right now whether its price-performance ratio is comparable to the Gateway FX530XT's. We do have to give Dell the edge for flexibility, but that comes at the cost of the XPS 710's size. It takes up a ton of space. The FX530XT is a much more compact system. Some of you will appreciate that fact because you won't be as limited in where you can put the FX530XT; it's no bigger than a traditional midsize tower. The downside, especially with its two dual-slot 3D graphics cards, is that you have only so much room to upgrade. Free space includes a single spare x8 PCI Express slot, one free hard drive bay, and two free memory slots. But considering that the only free expansion slot in a CrossFire 3D-based system lies in the narrow gap between the graphics cards, any upgrades you make had better be thin.
Our FX530XT came with the requisite pair of optical drives--a double-layer DVD burner and a standard DVD-ROM drive, as well as a 9-in-1 media card reader. That's all great stuff, and at this point, it's expected in a high-end PC. We also like the keyboard that Gateway sent: It's attractive and sleek but also feels substantial. The mouse, on the other hand, looks nice, but lacks the extra thumb-side buttons many gamers appreciate.
Gateway's support for the FX530XT is not outstanding, but then we've been disappointed in desktop coverage for high-end PCs for a while. You're covered for only one year of parts and labor with this system. We have fond memories of when a system such as this would have three years of coverage. Perhaps we should let them go. At least the overclocking on the Gateway's chip is under warrantee, and the company doesn't skimp on the phone support, which has your back 24/7. You can also get help via e-mail, but we're surprised that there's no service similar to Dell's DirectConnect. With that, you can let a technician take control of your PC remotely to simply fix your problems for you. Gateway offers such a service even on its budget eMachines PCs. Gateway's Web site has a helpful, system-specific resource for downloading drivers and looking up FAQs.
Find out more about how we test desktops.
ABS Ultimate X9 III
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.38GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 920MHz; (2) 512MB ATI X1900 CrossFire; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm SATA/150; Intel 8201GR/GH SATA RAID controller (RAID 0)
Apple Mac Pro (custom configuration differs from review)
OS X 10.4.8; 2x 3.0GHz Xeon 5160; 1,024MB DDR2 FB-SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon X1900; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm SATA/150
Dell XPS 710
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X6800; Nforce 590 SLI (D) chipset; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 (Quad SLI); (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0); 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; Intel 975X chipset; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon X1900 XT (CrossFire mode); (2) 500GB Hitachi 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drives; Intel 82801GR/GH SATA RAID controller (RAID 0)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 overclocked to 3.2GHz; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon X1950 XT (CrossFire Mode); (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0)
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 test bed
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X1900; 74GB Western Digital 10,000rpm SATA/150