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Gateway SX 2850-33 - Core i3 550 3.2 GHz review: Gateway SX 2850-33 - Core i3 550 3.2 GHz

Gateway SX 2850-33 - Core i3 550 3.2 GHz

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
6 min read

The Gateway SX2850-33 is one of a wide selection of Gateway slim tower desktops. As with the others we've seen, this model works well as a budget PC, and it also has the right design and feature set for living-room content delivery. The $549 SX2850-33 is no cheap Nettop, but it also offers the performance and most of the connectivity options we expect from a PC in this price range. Wireless networking and a fast, up-to-date Intel Core i3 dual-core CPU separate the SX2850-33 from the other SX models, in exchange for a hard-drive space reduction and fewer connectivity options. This system's Wi-Fi card alone, a rarity in the SX line, may be enough to earn this desktop fans among living-room PC enthusiasts. We'd also recommend it to anyone interested in a small, capable budget desktop.

Gateway SX2850-33 Compact Desktop PC (SFF)

Gateway SX 2850-33 - Core i3 550 3.2 GHz

The Good

One of the fastest budget PCs we've tested; wireless networking and HDMI port make it perfect for the living room; room to upgrade via free expansion card slot.

The Bad

Only USB 2.0 for data connections; had to manually correct overscanning when we connected it to an HDTV.

The Bottom Line

The latest in Gateway's line of versatile slim towers, the SX2850-33 stays current with a fast Intel Core i3 CPU, and more importantly adds Wi-Fi to improve its suitability as a living-room desktop. It might cost more than a Nettop or a dedicated video-streaming device, but for its overall speed and flexibility, we'd pick this system as a budget PC or an online living-room content center.

The SX case is over a year old at this point. Perhaps that's not quite enough time to justify a redesign, especially when the current design is attractive enough, but we can't help thinking that we'd like to see a new take on this PC. Maybe it's because we've already reviewed three of them. In any case, we don't expect many people will be offended by the black and silver plastic exterior. From an aesthetic standpoint, you can put the SX2850-33 anywhere.

Thanks to its HDMI video output and wireless networking capabilities, this system's technology also lends some flexibility to how you might use it. You get a traditional VGA video output as well, so you can connect this system to most, if not all, monitors on the market. The HDMI port also makes this system a near-seamless living-room resident. The wireless networking helps minimize cable clutter, always a bonus when you're installing a PC in a nontraditional space, and you get a single standard network adapter for wired connections.

Gateway SX2850-33 Gateway SX2801-01e
Price $549 $549
CPU 3.2GHz Intel Core i3 550 2.8GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5500
Memory 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 640GB, 7,200 rpm 1TB 7,200 rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Other vendors have PCs that would seem to compete with the SX2850-33, but Gateway has consistently nailed the formula for this kind of computer, which means that the decision arguably boils down to choosing which Gateway SX2800 model to buy. We last reviewed the SX2801-01e, which retails for roughly the same price as the SX2850-33, but you'll find several differences between the two.

The SX2801-01e uses an older, slower Intel chip and only comes with a wired Internet connection, but it does feature a larger hard drive and more RAM than the SX2850-33e. Practically speaking, the extra memory doesn't make a huge difference in the range of tasks these PCs can perform--you won't be editing large HD video files with either, for example, so the primary difference comes down to choosing faster overall performance and wireless networking or an extra 360GB of hard-drive space for about the same price. Given the SX2850-33's performance edge, we'd happily sacrifice the extra drive space.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 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)
Gateway SX2850-33

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway SX2850-33
Asus Essentio CM5671
Gateway SX2801-01e

The Gateway SX2850-33 outperforms both its linemate and competing desktops in its price range on almost every performance test. That Dell Inspiron i570 enjoys an edge on our multicore CPU test due to its true quad-core AMD CPU, but the Intel Core i3 530 chip in the Gateway is fast enough to outperform it elsewhere, and the Dell's multicore edge is minimal. All of these PCs are relatively capable, but the Gateway SX2850-33 should provide a noticeable performance benefit in day-to-day use.

We also found that the Gateway provided flawless HD movie playback, at least for HD YouTube and QuickTime content. It had no trouble with less demanding sources like Netflix and Hulu, and we were also impressed with its gaming capabilities. This is not a gaming desktop, and we expect you will come across many titles this PC won't be able to manage, particularly more recent shooters. We were pleasantly surprised, though, to find that it provided a playable Portal experience, even at 1,920x1,080. We would expect a similar experience for other less-demanding games like World of Warcraft, the Sims series, Civilization V, and others.

If you have more demanding gaming needs, you could always add a graphics card to this PC, although you're limited to budget-level half-height 3D cards due to its narrow case. There's also room for two more memory sticks, but that's all the internal expansion room. The lone hard-drive bay is occupied, and the 802.11 b/g/n wireless card sits in the 1X PCI Express slot.

The connectivity options on the outside of the Gateway are also a bit limited, a change we'll attribute to this model using a different motherboard than we've seen in other SX systems. You still get the usual array of USB 2.0 jacks, as well as 5.1 analog audio outputs, a media card reader, and the already mentioned HDMI and VGA outputs. We miss the FireWire and eSATA jacks we've seen on other models, though, since we always appreciate alternative data inputs.

For the HDMI jack, the system transferred the audio output automatically when we connected it to an HDTV, but it did not properly account for the tendency for PCs to overscan a 1080p TV image. That means if you connect this Gateway to a TV over HDMI, you may need to jump into the graphics driver software to manually adjust the borders of the onscreen image in order to make it line up properly with the edges of the physical screen. It's not a big deal, but it's obviously preferable for the computer to figure out the proper screen size for itself.

Juice box
Gateway SX2850-33 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.92
Sleep (10 percent) 2.24
Idle (25 percent) 40.97
Load (5 percent) 81.13
Raw kWh 166.56
EnergyStar compliant Yes
Annual energy cost $18.90

Annual power consumption cost
Gateway SX2850-33

The Gateway's power consumption falls in line with other PCs in its price range, although we're happy to see that it's not only faster than its competition, it's also more power-efficient. That's not an uncommon feature for desktops using Intel's Core i-series CPUs. Over time we've seen them consistently post better power consumption figures than AMD-based PCs like the Dell Inspiron i570. Granted, the difference breaks down to only a few extra cents per month, but it speaks to the success of Intel's CPU strategy in the budget price range.

Gateway gives you one year of parts-and-labor coverage for the SX2801-01e, along with 24-7 toll-free phone service and a variety of help resources available online. The system comes with a few diagnostic apps to help you monitor the status of various components yourself.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Asus Essentio CM5671
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Dual-Core E5500; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell Inspiron i560-2050NKB
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Dell Inspiron i570-7034PBK
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4; 6MB 1333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD4200 integrated graphics chip; 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway SX2801-01e
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz Pentium Dual-Core E5500; 6MB 800MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway SX2850-33
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i3 550; 4GB 800MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway SX2850-33 Compact Desktop PC (SFF)

Gateway SX 2850-33 - Core i3 550 3.2 GHz

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8Support 7