We're still plugging away on our roundup of retail desktops for back-to-school, but we have a winner for both the budget and mainstream categories, and indeed it is the same system for both. Gateway's $500 SX2800-01 slim tower system with its low price, up-to-date connectivity options, and surprising performance outclasses PCs that cost $200 more.
The SX2800-01 had little serious competition in the budget category. Slim tower PCs from Dell and HP fell flat because of slow CPUs and out-of-date motherboards that only offered the most basic connections to peripheral devices. Midtowers in this price range from HP and Asus fare a bit better, and the Asus, in particular, is a good deal if you don't mind its suspect tech support. Gateway gets the nod here, though, for offering the best-conceived blend of design and components. It will perform admirably in the office, living room, dorm, or pretty much anywhere.
We awarded the Gateway an Editors' Choice award even before we saw the test results for our mainstream back-to-school desktops, but we wound up using the Gateway as our performance measuring stick in that category, as well. Competing systems from Dell, HP, and Asus all offer larger hard drives than the Gateway, and as you get up to the $700 mark you start to see discrete 3D cards and wireless networking. But it's not until we loop in a $750 Asus system from our high-end category that the Gateway finally falls off the top of the performance heap. Unless you need a specific feature offered by a desktop in this price range that the Gateway doesn't have, these midprice PCs offer few incentives to spend the extra money.