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Gateway SX2851-41 review: Gateway SX2851-41

Gateway SX2851-41

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

While we've written appreciatively about Gateway's SX line of living-room-friendly slim tower PCs, we've never been overly impressed by its case design. Despite a new exterior look for the Gateway SX2851-41, our opinion remains the same. The matte black case is a noticeable departure from the glossy black of the previous version, but this is still a plastic, inexpensive-looking chassis that does little to challenge Apple's design dominance. Since the launch of Intel's new CPUs, we also have to ask whether it's wise to buy any desktop using older Intel chips. Perhaps you can justify spending $549 on this system or one like it if you have an immediate need for a basic productivity system or a PC-based home media box with a lot of storage. If you can wait, it won't be too long before you see a noticeable bang-for-the buck improvement as Intel's new CPUs begin to show up at these lower price points.


Gateway SX2851-41

The Good

Continues Gateway's winning slim tower formula by offering fast, budget performance and living-room capability; friendly looking new design; wireless networking card included.

The Bad

New look marred by Intel and Microsoft badges on front of the case; hard to recommend a desktop with Intel's older chips.

The Bottom Line

Gateway knows how to market a compelling budget slim tower, and the SX2851-41 is no exception. We're wary of buying any new PC right now with an Intel chip refresh on the way, but if you need an affordable desktop for work or living-room duty, this system is a solid pick.

Gateway hasn't taken a great risk with the tweaks to the SX case. The matte black plastic perhaps looks a bit friendlier than the older glossy black design. You may also appreciate the exterior accent lighting that rims the top tray and illuminates the Gateway insignia on the front of the case. We like the dedicated light power toggle on top of the case. We also can't help but feel that the combination of the Gateway logo and Windows and Intel badges on the front of the case really takes away from what could be a pleasantly simple design. Apple was successful in beating back Intel's demands that it include an Intel Inside logo on its systems. We'd love to see Gateway, its Acer parent, or any Windows PC company take a similar stand.

Gateway SX2851-41 HP Pavilion Slimline S5660f
Price $549 $759
CPU 3.2GHz Intel Core i3 550 2.9GHz AMD Phenom II X4 840T
Memory 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip 512MB ATI Radeon HD 5450 graphics card
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/DVD burner combo
Networking 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)

We're not overly impressed by the configuration Gateway is offering with this PC. Aside from the chassis, the only difference between this system and the older SX2850-33 is the upgrade from the older model's 640GB hard drive to a 1TB drive in the new PC. We're also anxious for Intel's new Sandy Bridge CPUs and their improved integrated graphics chips to make it down to PCs in this price range. If there were no new Intel CPU, this system would seem a fairly priced, if rather formulaic take on the slim tower that Gateway has nailed with relative consistency over the past year. It will perform most of the tasks you can reasonably ask of a PC in this price range. In light of the fact that we expect the new Intel Core i3 2000 family to appear in PCs of this price range by the back-to-school shopping season, it's hard to argue for spending $550 on this desktop today.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Gateway SX2851-41
Lenovo IdeaCenter H320

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCenter H320
Gateway SX2851-41

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCenter H320
Gateway SX2851-41

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCenter H320
Gateway SX2851-41

Cinebench (score)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Lenovo IdeaCenter H320
Gateway SX2850-33
Gateway SX2851-41

Despite our ambivalence toward this PC, it's still a fair deal and competitively fast. You can see from its test results that its performance is almost identical to that of the SX2850-03, which makes sense given that they share the same processor, the same memory allotment, and the same motherboard. The minor performance deviations between the two PCs likely have to do with different firmware and testing variability, but in the grand scheme of $500 to $800 slim towers (along with Apple's now underpowered Mac Mini), the Gateway SX2851-41 will serve you well.

This PC will perform most day-to-day and light-duty media editing tasks with reasonable quickness, and HD movies play smoothly as well. You might get away with playing a few older and current-generation games. Our Left 4 Dead 2 experience was tolerable, but we had to crank down both the image quality and the resolution on Fallout: New Vegas. Add a low-profile graphics card to the free PCI Express slot, and you should have better luck with current-generation titles. One of the anticipated benefits of budget Sandy Bridge PCs, though, is better gaming performance from the built-in graphics processing chip. We're anxious to see how that chip will transform PCs in this price range. Your only other expansion options for this system are a pair of free memory slots.

We're also hoping that the new generation of Intel CPUs will bring more robust motherboards to these low-end PCs. The last few iterations of Gateway's SX-Series mainboard have disappointed in terms of their external connectivity options. We welcome the HDMI output on this PC, as always, since that makes it a versatile PC in the living room as well as the office. We also like that Gateway has included a wireless networking card at this price. Otherwise the connection options are limited to USB 2.0 jacks, a VGA video out, 5.1 analog audio output, and a pair of PS/2 ports for legacy mice and keyboards. FireWire, eSATA, and digital audio outputs are all sorely missing. While none of those features are exactly crucial for a light-duty consumer PC, they're also not terribly exotic extras, either.

Juice box
Gateway SX2851-41 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.88
Sleep (10 percent) 2.14
Idle (25 percent) 36.39
Load (5 percent) 78.69
Raw kWh 151.22
Energy Star-compliant Yes
Annual energy cost $6.79

Annual power consumption cost
Lenovo IdeaCenter H320
Gateway SX2851-41

If our reviews of the Sandy Bridge gaming PCs are any indication, we can also expect better power efficiency when Intel's new chips become more mainstream. The power draw in this category isn't terrible now, and you'll barely notice the Gateway SX2851-41 on your power bill from month to month. Still, we welcome any technology that can reduce even modest power consumption, and the Core i3 200-series of Sandy Bridge CPUs promises to provide that kind of efficiency.

Gateway gives you one year of parts-and-labor coverage for the SX2851-41 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.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Apple Mac Mini (Spring 2010)
Mac OS X 10.6.3; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 320M; 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive

Gateway SX2850-03
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 SX2851-41
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; 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Pavilion Slimline s5660f
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

Lenovo H320 40411FU
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 SX2851-41

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Support 7