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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  • akers - Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - link

    Can anyone shead some light on why Gateway is delaying shipment on the FX530? I have had two delays so far and they cannot promise that it will be deliered by the second delay date. I have heard that there were so Vista problems but it was fixed by now.
  • rfaster - Thursday, March 22, 2007 - link

    My system arrived last week - I ordered it bare bones with the quad core OC'd to the 3.2.

    Specs - I put in a 8800GTX (fac OC'd to 600) - 2nd slot so its only running at 4X ( I did not realize this until I read the great article on this site), I'm running 2 150 10K raptor's, 4GB 667 ram. The best I can do is low 9K's on 3DMark 2006 (Running Vista Ultimate 32bit). I'm seeing easy 1,200's from other folks with similar setups.

    Question - Is the 4X for Slot 2 causing the SLOWNESS? As you pointed out in your article there is NO way to fit the 8800GTX into slot 1 - so I am trying to decide if I should accept the 4X speed on my $699 8800GTXOC - or ship this pc back. I hate to think that my $699 video card is a WASTE on this system due to the 4X?
  • rfaster - Thursday, March 22, 2007 - link

    Akers - on the delay I was told they are having a difficult time sourcing the parts needed to build this system. I was a bit put off by the delay on getting this box -- reminded me of my experience with Alienware a few years back ----
  • JarredWalton - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    Right now, Vista plus 8800 GTX is probably going to be a bit slower than normal. Still, I wouldn't worry too much - you can see that your low 9000s score matches what I got in 3DMark06... which is really just a benchmark and not an actual game.
  • Darkskypoet - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    Now, correct me if I am wrong... But One of the major hinderances to the Quad FX platform (yes I realize 2 dual core chips is power hungry, and inelegant vs a dual die Quad core) is NUMA, rather the lack of proper NUMA support in XP. Looking at the benchmarks (and in fact all Quad FX bench's) sites continue to use XP variants to benchmark the Quad FX systems vs Conroe. XP does not support NUMA, one article in particular I had read mentioned this fact explicitly, and also mentioned that in many cases accessing data in memory in a NUMA dumb system incresed memory latency SUBSTANTIALLY. Consider that in a NUMA dumb O/S, the data required for a process / thread assigned to one chip, could inadvertantly have it's data stored in memory directly linked to the other CPU. This alone hurts benchmarking scores like crazy. In reality a Quad FX setup, if benched with real SMP/ SMC aware software, should eek out a higher per core performance vs Quad Core Conroe, then an X2 vs Dual Core Conroe.
    I saw this because the interconnect superiority (When run with NUMA Aware O/S : Vista / Linux / Etc.) will show itself vs the somewhat limited FSB in use in Quad Core C2D implementations; thus increasing performance per core vs Quad Core C2D.

    I'm not saying we're gonna see the Quad FX Systems out perform C2D systems here. However, given proper NUMA support, the Benches will be a lot closer. Added to that we can use 2xxx series opterons in QUAD FX, and it starts to become a bit of a nicer picture for AMD. The icing on the cake however, would be that one should expect to be able to drop 2 native Quad Cores on to the QUAD FX boards in the near future.

    I believe Nintendo Summed it up for us previously, "Now you're playing with power". If AMD follows this track, then they have a platform out that is fully tested, and stable; running 2 NAtive Quad core chips for the Enthusiast market. As unknown as the Performance of K10 is at this stage, 8 cores with should be mighty interesting. Mighty interesting Indeed.

    Anyone know of a Proper NUMA aware OS used in Quadcore C2D vs Quad FX benchmarking?

  • Tuvoc - Saturday, February 17, 2007 - link

    Windows XP x64 edition DOES support NUMA. I have dual Opteron 265s (nicely overclocked from 1.8 to 2.2) and as long as the BIOS is set correctly, then Sandra reports the NUMA status

    I also have an Intel Quad core, and it is blindingly fast....
  • roflsaurus - Tuesday, February 13, 2007 - link

    BTX case?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 13, 2007 - link

    BTX is a new form factor that Intel came up with a couple years ago, but the computer parts manufacturers have been relatively slow to adopt it. Basically, it reorganizes the locations of various parts in order to allow for better cooling. Motherboards are also mounted on the offices side of the case, compared to ATX. So where you would open the left side of the case on an ATX system, on the BTX case you would open the right side. If you were to put an ATX motherboard and a BTX motherboard next to each other, on the BTX motherboard everything would appear to be "backwards".
  • Tuvoc - Sunday, February 11, 2007 - link

    They say Gateway had to increase the voltage to make the overclock stable - but by how much ? That would have been intresting to know. Also core temps under full load certainly would have been very interesting
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 12, 2007 - link

    The motherboard doesn't appear to work all that well at higher FSB speeds, so Gateway's overclocking is accomplished via changing the multiplier. More on this in a moment.

    Voltages are also a bit odd. CPU-Z reports 1.238V, but the BIOS is set to 1.450V. Obviously, there's a pretty big difference, and which is more accurate I cannot say. That illustrates the problem with reporting CPU temperatures as well: the BIOS/motherboard implementation will have an impact, as they can read the thermistor differently. Basically, you only end up comparing the Gateway results to itself, and the important thing is that there were no issues with stability when running overclocked.

    Back to the FSB stuff. The BIOS has support for adjusting FSB speed and RAM speed, but only in large steps. The FSB can be set to 533, 800, 1067, and 1333 - default being 1067 for Core 2. The RAM can be set to DDR2-400, 533, and 667 (or Automatic). Basically, all of these items select a ratio and bus speed. DDR2-533 represents a 1:1 bus/RAM ratio, while 400 is 3:4 and 667 is 5:4. Using those ratios, you can use the FSB-1333 speed to modify the overclocks a bit. I was able to run the bus at 1333 with DDR2-533 and a 10X multiplier to end up at a 3.33 GHz CPU speed (and a real DDR2 speed of 667).

    RAM voltages can be adjusted as well, but only to 1.8, 1.9, 2.1, or 2.2V. I didn't play with these at all. No point in trying to fry Gateway's equipment. I would venture to guess that the CPU could run at 3.3-3.5GHz if you want to push things (3.33 seemed perfectly fine in somewhat limited testing), but again I don't want to push too hard and end up with a dead PC/CPU/RAM/mobo/whatever.

    Hope that helps,
    Jarred Walton

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