Features

The system we were sent for review is a nearly maxed out FX530 configuration, the FX530XT. Prices start at $4000, but a few extras increase the system as tested cost to around $4400. For that price, you get not only the overclocked QX6700, but you also get a 24" LCD with speaker attachment and all of the other sundry extras like a keyboard and mouse. (We will be providing a separate review of the LCD in the near future.) Here's a quick look at the test system's features.

Gateway FX530XT
Case: Gateway custom BTX case
Motherboard: Intel BTX 975X (custom)
Processor: Core 2 Extreme QX6700 Overclocked (12x266MHz 3.20 GHz 2x4MB shared L2 cache)
Heatsink/Cooling: Custom BTX CPU HSF with dual 120mm fans at front and rear of case
RAM: 2x1024MB Hynix PC-5300 5-5-5-15
Graphics: ATI Radeon X1950 XTX CrossFire (custom)
ATI Radeon X1950 XTX
Hard Drives: 2x150GB Western Digital Raptor 16MB 10000 RPM in RAID 0
Optical Drives: HL Data Storage GSA-H11N 16X DVD+RW
Lite-On SOHC-4836V 16X DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo
Expansion Slots: 2 x PCIe X16 (X16 and X4 or dual X8)
1 x PCIe X1
2 x PCI
Expansion Bays: 4 x 3.5" internal bays
2 x 5.25" external
Audio: Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi
TV Tuner: ATI Theater 550
Power Supply: 700W Delta Electronics
1 x 24-pin ATX; 1 x EPS12V
5 x SATA
3 x 4-pin Molex
1 x 4-pin mini Molex
2 x PCI-E 6-pin
Operating System: Windows Media Center Edition 2005 SP2b
Front Ports: 2 X USB2.0
2 X 3.5mm Audio (Headphone and Microphone)
2 x 6-pin Firewire
Rear Ports: 1 x Audio I/O Panel (five jacks)
Optical and Coax S/PDIF Out
1 x RJ45 GbE
4 x USB2.0
1 x 6-pin Firewire
Speakers: LCD TDX speaker bar
Monitor: Gateway 24" FPD2485W Widescreen LCD Monitor
Other: 9-in-1 flash reader
Dimensions: 16.5" x 8" x 17.5" (HxWxD)
Weight: 40 pounds

For the most part, the system configuration is an exercise in selecting the best components currently available. Without further overclocking, it is impossible to find a faster CPU on the market today. This processor is backed up by a pair of the fastest hard SATA drives, the Western Digital Raptor 150GB, configured in RAID 0. You also get 2GB of memory and X1950 XTX CrossFire graphics cards. Our particular system added an optional Creative X-Fi soundcard and an ATI Theater 550 TV tuner. Our first impression is that this will be one of the fastest systems currently available, but let's take a closer look at a few areas.

Given the extremely fast processor, 2GB of memory is a good starting point - you can always move to 4GB, but we would recommend a 64-bit operating system in that case. What struck us as slightly off was that Gateway uses somewhat lower performance DDR2-667 memory, rather than going with one of the readily available DDR2-800 modules. We asked about this, and were informed that the Intel BTX motherboard does not support DDR2-800 memory. That seemed a bit hard to believe, so we decided to try installing our own Corsair DDR2-800 DIMMs, which also sport faster 4-4-4 timings.

True to Gateway's word, the system utterly failed to POST, greeting us with beeps from the PC speaker that indicated a memory error. This is most likely a BIOS issue that could be corrected in the future, but basically we have a situation where a manufacturer is using a top performing CPU with less-expensive memory. That's not ideal if maximum performance is your ultimate goal, as performance will be slightly lower (around 2%-5%) than what could have been achieved with better memory. However, faster memory tends to cost quite a bit more than the added performance that it brings, and major OEMs are known for being very cautious when it comes to using higher spec memory modules. In practice, outside of running benchmarks few people are likely to notice the difference between DDR2-800 and DDR2-667 memory. It would be nice to have the option to choose faster memory, but the lack of DDR2-800 support is not the end of the world

All of the other equipment looks to be a good choice for a high-end gaming/workstation PC. You get FireWire 1394a support (three ports), a dedicated X-Fi soundcard, two optical drives, a decent amount of hard drive storage (which can be configured differently should you so desire - maximum hard drive capacity is four 750GB drives, currently allowing up to 3TB of storage), networking (wireless optional), and basically everything you would expect to find in a high-performance enthusiast computer. The one area where Gateway definitely falls short right now, unfortunately, is in the graphics department.

It's no secret that NVIDIA has reclaimed the performance crown with their G80 (GeForce 8800 series) graphics cards. What's more, these are the only currently shipping DirectX 10 offerings on the market. In some cases, a single 8800 GTX is able to match the performance of X1950 XTX CrossFire, but if you want the absolute fastest performance possible in games right now you can run two 8800 cards in SLI mode. The problem is, SLI requires an NVIDIA chipset on the motherboard, and the Gateway system uses an Intel 975X chipset. The net result is that Gateway is charging $900 in graphics upgrades (relative to the 7600 GS graphics card included on the base FX530 models), but for that price we would much rather have a pair of GeForce 8800 GTS cards.

We asked about this, and were informed that Gateway basically had a choice of either preparing for the Windows Vista launch or spending time validating the new 8800 hardware, and they opted for the former. Whether that's actually correct or not is an important. The simple fact is that right now, the FX530 is not going to be the fastest gaming system on the planet - in some cases not even close. What's more, we did verify whether or not a GeForce 8800 GTX could fit into this system. It's a tight fit, and it required a bit of wrangling, but we did manage to install an EVGA 8800 GTX into the lower X16 slot. The top X16 slot cannot be used, because the 8800 GTX is a dual slot design and there's no open mounting bracket at the rear of the case for the second slot cover. The NVIDIA driver control panel reported that the lower X16 slot was operating at X4 speeds, so that's another performance penalty. In essence, if you're serious about gaming, we would either wait and see what Gateway has to offer in the future in the way of updated graphics cards, or else we would look to another system vendor.

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  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 09, 2007 - link

    I've used a Dell XPS 410, and other than the top-end 700/710 most of the XPS cases are pretty drab as well. That said, I'm one of those people that prefers function over form, and in some instances PCs that others think look great I find to be downright gaudy. It's all up to personal preference, and the case is generally well designed in my view. Unfortunately, BTX appears to work well for cooling and noise but doesn't do much for compatibility.

    I can't say that I've had any experience with Delta Electronics beyond supporting a ton of PCs and laptops that used that brand (all Dell systems). Many PSUs failed after a few years, but that was in a warehouse environment where dust was a real problem. That they could last even two years is pretty good, and the failure rates were probably only on the order of 5% or so (compared to a motherboard failure rate of at least 15% after three years). However, I don't have any equipment to really test PSUs, so I can't speak from any standpoint other than personal experience when discussing what PSUs are good and which aren't.
    Reply
  • Operandi - Friday, February 09, 2007 - link

    Dust will kill any PSU regardless of quality. Typically speaking Dell builds very reliable machines so the fact that Dell would source Delta is a testimate to their quality. Reply
  • sprockkets - Saturday, February 10, 2007 - link

    They used to use Delta all the time, then, like HP and probably others, went to using HIPRO, and those die all the time. Reply
  • Zebo - Friday, February 09, 2007 - link

    Dust kills, how so? How important is it to keep computer in general clean? Only time I ever clean is when I rebuild them- about every 6 months, not due to any kind of failure though. TIA Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 09, 2007 - link

    Dust buildup on heatsinks reduces their ability to dissipate heat. I've seen a few GPUs where the fans literally melted because they got too hot! Besides that, dust can gum up the insides of the fans, causing the bearings or whatever else to stop working. I can't even guess at how many fans I've had fail over the years due to dust. So, if you live in a dusty environment, a good cleaning every 3 months probably isn't a bad idea. Most parts will last at least a year, even with neglect, but after that a lot of parts will start to fail if they aren't regularly cleaned. Reply

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