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Gateway aims to reduce hot air

PC maker to launch new line of cooler, quieter business desktops. Photos: Gateway's wind-tunnel design

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Gateway wants its top business PCs to stay cool.

The Irvine, Calif., PC maker on Thursday plans to revamp its E-Series line of desktop PCs for businesses with three new models. One of those models, the 6300, sports a new motherboard design--dubbed Balanced Technology Extended (BTX)--that helps the machine run cooler and more quietly than other Gateway desktops.

BTX, a motherboard design originally created by Intel and made into an industry standard, works to remove a PC's heat more effectively. It arranges the PC's three hottest components--its processor, chipset and graphics card--in a row to place them inside an airstream flowing from the machine's front to its back. Other components, such as memory, are also repositioned to aid airflow.

In the 6300, the airstream--which Gateway calls the wind tunnel-- was created by locating a fan on either end of the chassis. That cools the processor and other components more effectively than does an ATX motherboard, today's standard board design. ATX, introduced about 10 years ago, positions components more randomly, said Marc Demars, director of product planning for Gateway's professional line.

"The heat of the PC was never a concern back then," Demars said.

Ten years ago, the 75MHz Pentium, then Intel's fastest chip, consumed 8 watts of power. Since then, Intel's processors have progressed to speeds of up to 3.6GHz--that is, 3,600MHz--and many now consume 100 watts or more of power, making them that much harder to cool off. Graphics chips have followed a similar path.

Gateway tests showed air coming out of one of its idle BTX PCs was only 14 degrees Fahrenheit higher than room temperature, and only 22 degrees higher when running the 3D Mark benchmark program. Other ATX-based PCs the company tested showed greater differences, a presentation by Demars showed.

The 6300 is also quieter than Gateway's 4300 ATX machine, because the 6300's two fans are larger and don't have to spin as fast to move the same amount of air as the 4300's single, smaller fan, Demars said.

The company also says that reducing the temperature inside a PC's chassis can increase the lifespan of its components, which can fail if they overheat.

The 6300 can be configured with a range of Intel's latest Pentium 4 500-series processors, as well as DDR2 RAM and top-end graphics cards that sport up to 256MB of onboard RAM. Its slightly larger chassis includes seven drive bays. The E-Series 6300 will start at $989.

The E-Series 4300, meanwhile, will start at $949 and will also offer 500-series Pentium 4 processors, DDR2 and several graphics cards. But customers can also configure the machine with a Celeron processor. It can be ordered with either four or six drive bays.

Gateway's E-Series 2300 will start at $629 and come with Celeron or Pentium 4 processors and standard DDR RAM. The 2300s will use built-in graphics from its Intel 865 chipset.

The new desktops might make businesses take renewed notice of Gateway. The PC maker, which acquired eMachines earlier this year, has been seeking to pump up its PC sales, including sales to business customers.

"Low heat and less noise--all of those are very good stories from a commercial point of view," said Roger Kay, an analyst with IDC who viewed the desktops earlier this week.

Gateway has "always had a business with government (customers) and a lot of business in education," he said. "I think that they're investing in maintaining that and growing it. I think the best sign of that is the proportion of the much downsized workforce that's dedicated to the commercial business."

Kay estimates that more than a third of the company's 1,900 employees serve its business customers.

Gateway also offers the BTX-based 700GR desktop to consumers via retailers in the United States.