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Gateway SX desktop review: Gateway SX desktop

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It's been almost a year since I've reviewed a traditional budget Windows desktop. As evidenced by the $499 Gateway SX2870-UR10P, the segment seems to have grown stagnant. That not necessarily a bad thing for those who simply want a cheap, familiar PC. You need to spend more if you want newer features, including Intel's Ivy Bridge CPUs, but I can recommend this Gateway if all you need is a low-cost workhorse desktop.

Gateway SX Series SX2870-UR10P
7.5

Gateway SX desktop

The Good

The <b>Gateway SX2870-UR10P</b> offers competent workhorse PC capabilities in a compact, versatile chassis.

The Bad

Gateway's online service is in a state of disarray.

The Bottom Line

Budget desktops might not be all that exciting, but the Gateway SX2870-UR10P slim tower shows you can still find a worthwhile day-to-day PC for under $500.

Gateway's SX line is one of the most compact and polished-looking slim-tower PC lines out there. Parent company Acer has an Aspire X1 line that offers similar slim towers in the same price range, and as much as Acer has put its own brand before its Gateway subsidiary, for whatever reason the SX line still seems to benefit from a more pleasing fit and finish.

Gateway SX2870-UR10P Dell Inspiron 620 HP Pavilion P7 1070T
Price $499 $803 (at time of review) $729 (at time of review)
CPU 3.3GHz Intel Core i3-2120 3.1GHz Intel Core i3-2100 3.1GHz Intel Core i3-2100
Memory 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (integrated) 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card 64MB Intel HD Graphics 2000 embedded graphics
Hard drive 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

I've had to reach back into the review archives to compare the Gateway with the last batch of budget PCs we tested. As you would expect, falling prices and new technologies mean that today's $500 desktop looks an awful lot like last year's $700-to-$800 PC. The present-day equivalents of the Dell and Hewlett-Packard systems in the chart above include Intel's third-generation Ivy Bridge Core chips, and the second-generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core chips in those older systems have become the de facto standard at the $500 price level. If you compare $500 slim-tower PCs from Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others, you'll find that the Gateway SX2870-UR10P offers the best assortment of hardware and the most compact case in its class.

As pedestrian as the SX2870 might appear -- its 1TB hard drive, its DVD burner, and its Core i3 chip are practically universal at this price -- the Gateway actually has one feature I didn't expect. USB 3.0 ports may no longer be that exotic in more expensive PCs, but they were hardly common in budget PC or $750 desktops last year. You get two of them in this Gateway system. HP also offers USB 3.0 ports in its Slimline slim towers, and Lenovo has them in its slim H520 systems as well. Still, if the CPUs and basic components in these systems seem like hand-me-downs, at least these vendors have worked to keep the motherboard connectivity options current.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs
Rendering single CPU

The Gateway SX2870 lands where I expected on our performance tests. It can't overcome the true quad-core Core i5 chip in the Dell and HP Pavilion systems, but due to the 3.3GHz clock speed and more current system and application software, it outperformed many of the older Core i3-based units. Even the Gateway's win on our iTunes test is no great shock. That test relies almost exclusively on single-core CPU speed, and in that regard the Gateway is the fastest PC of the six compared here. But with only a dual-core Core i3 chip, even one that can emulate a quad-core CPU as workloads demand via Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, the faster clock speed can't elevate the Gateway over PCs that have true quad-core processors.

Very few of these wins and losses are dramatic, of course. And presumably you have modest expectations for the capabilities of any PC that costs $500. The Gateway SX2870 can't play games well, and it's not particularly suited to HD movie editing or other demanding tasks. You should have no problems using it as a basic home or office productivity system, however.

One of the things I like most about slim-tower PCs is the versatility you get from their small design. Living-room PCs don't appeal to everyone, but the fact that this system is small enough to fit unobtrusively in a media cabinet lends it some intriguing possibilities. Its HDMI video output makes it a friendly companion to any current television or display, and its 802.11n wireless networking adapter will help you get the unit online with minimal cord clutter.

The Gateway doesn't have all the trappings of a purpose-built home theater PC. There's no TV tuner in this system, no Blu-ray drive, and no remote control. You can add all of those things post-purchase, of course. Even if you don't, the Gateway's 1TB hard drive will provide storage capacity for a reasonably large collection of video, image, and audio files to play directly through your home entertainment center. Another limitation here is that the Gateway only supports audio output via its HDMI port or via its 5.1 analog audio jacks. If you want 7.1 audio or digital audio output, you'll need to add a dedicated audio card.

Rather than expanding its audio output options, though, gamers would probably rather use the Gateway's 16x PCI Express slot to add a graphics card. The narrow chassis and 220-watt power supply will limit you to low-powered, half-height graphics cards, but for gamers, anything would be an improvement over the integrated Intel HD graphics chip. Other expansion options are limited. You can add two more memory sticks, but there's no room for a second internal hard drive.

Gateway's service and support policies fall in line with those of its competitors, but its online options still seem to be caught up in Acer's brand consolidation efforts. You get a one-year parts and labor warranty with the system, but phone-based tech support, according to Gateway's Web site, operates from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Bangkok time, Monday to Saturday (6 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. PT). Gateway's Web-based support is limited to driver downloads. A service program section seems to offer more help, but as of now it has only filler text for an assortment of service call centers.

Conclusion
With tablets getting so much attention these days, it's perhaps not surprising that the budget PC segment has become a bit stale. Still, plenty of people need PCs in this price range, and as long as you keep your expectations reasonable, and don't need much in the way of customer support, the Gateway SX2870-UR10P should satisfy most of your general computing demands, at a better price than competing budget PCs.

Performance testing for this review was conducted by CNET editor Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations

Acer Aspire AM3970-U5022
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3,1GHz Intel Core i3-2100; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 2000 embedded graphics; 1TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Dell Inspiron 620
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3,1GHz Intel Core i5-2310; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Gateway SX2870-UR10P
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.3GHz Intel Core i3-2120; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Pavilion P7 1070T
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i3-2100; 8GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 2000 integrated graphics; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

HP Pavilion Slimline S5 1060
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i5-2130; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6450; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

Lenovo H320
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i5-650; 6GB 1,066MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 310; 640GB, 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway SX Series SX2870-UR10P
7.5

Gateway SX desktop

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Support 5