Gateway SX2800-01 Review

by Reads (23,256)
  • Pros

    • Charging bay
    • Lots of ports
    • Quad core CPU
    • Quiet and small
  • Cons

    • No built-in wireless
    • Glossy case invites scratches

Gateway has been playing a subtlety game ever since being acquired by Acer. They may not always have the same kind of big name brand recognition that Dell and HP have, but it’s not for want of quality. Their recent summer desktop launch shows that Gateway still has a point to make and a product to show. Today we take a look at the new slim Gateway SX2800-01.

Specifications

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz
  • Memory: 4GB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Hard drive: 640GB SATA @ 7200RPM
  • Optical drive: 18X DVD+/-RW SuperMulti drive with LightScribe capability
  • Sound: Integrated HD audio with USB-powered external stereo speakers
  • Video card: Intel X4500HD integrated graphics
  • Networking: 10/100/1000 Ethernet
  • Modem: 56kbps
  • Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
  • Power supply: 220 watt internal
  • Built-in memory card readers
  • Inputs: 9 USB2.0 (5 front, 4 back), FireWire, eSATA, audio in/out
  • Warranty: One-year limited parts and labor
  • Dimensions: 10.7 x 4.2 x 13 inches (H x W x L)
  • Weight: 12 pounds

The pre-configured Gateway SX2800-01 is available from online and traditional retailers for $499.99.

Build and Design
Gateway’s newest slim form factor desktop manages to pack a lot of features into a pretty small footprint. The chassis measures only four inches thick, so it won’t up a lot space wherever you end up putting it. Modern trends dictate putting the computer underneath the desk, but it’s so small it doesn’t have to be down there unless users really want it. The case is fairly solid, being a standard mix of lightweight metal on the important bits and glossy black plastic covering the front and top. One thing that Gateway has become a master at doing that many manufacturers have yet to catch on to is the way in which they hide tools and features within the case itself. As a result, what looks like a standard, smooth interface can actually hold a number of useful ports, readers, buttons and drives. The SX2800, despite its petite stature, continues this trend. At the bottom front of the case, a little door flips down to reveal a staggering number of inputs, with a whopping five USB2.0 ports, FireWire, multiple card readers and headphone and microphone jacks. That’s a lot of interface options packed into such a small area.

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Given that the case is so thin, the optical drive, like with most small form factor PCs, is mounted vertically when used in a standard placement. It, too, is hidden behind a panel of glossy black plastic. Interestingly, however, Gateway decided to move the eject button from where the optical drive sits to the top of the machine. It definitely lets them present a sleeker interface along the front of the machine, but it also keeps users from having to deal with a mushy fake plastic button that does nothing more than press the actual button sitting on the optical drive. So points to Gateway for that innovation. A downside to the way in which the case is engineered, however, is that the little rescue hole is almost awkwardly out of reach. For the uninitiated, if something happens such that the computer is rendered inoperative while a disc is still in the drive, a paper clip can be inserted into a little hole on the front that manually engages the drive and forces it open. It’s still visible and probably accessible behind the glossy cover, but it’ll probably take a little more work than usual. Regardless, should something serious happen, it would be short work to pop the drive itself out and use the paper clip trick like usual.

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Possibly the best feature of the newly-designed case is the resting area sitting on top. An innovation we first saw in HP’s high-end mainstream computer, the indentation serves as a place for users to quickly dock portable electronic devices such as cell phones, media players or storage drives. A handy channel is carved into the back corner that serves to funnel cords down the back of the machine and keep them from snaking all around and getting in the way. Users can leave the cables plugged in the back and resting in the designated area, ready for when a phone or MP3 player needs some electricity. The bottom of the indentation is covered in a strangely low-friction plastic. It actually feels very similar to the surface of a Wacom tablet. It’s hard to tell what purpose the different material serves, but at a guess it’s probably easier on the surface of portable devices than the regular case materials.

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As mentioned earlier, the SX2800 is sleek, slim, and doesn’t take up too much room. One potential downside to this that we discovered is that it’s a lot easier to tip the machine over on the left than it is on the right. This isn’t too surprising, given the orientation of the components within. In fact, most computers are heavier on one side than the other, simply by the nature of how components are mounted on the motherboard. Still, bigger desktops have a little more room to spread the weight out and have a more balanced weight and center. It’s not bad enough to remotely be considered a detractor, just something to keep in mind when you’re placing the computer in a potentially precarious position.

Inputs and Expansion
We already covered the clever camouflage Gateway developed to hide the front connectors, but it’s worth mentioning again. Sitting in an easily-accessible area at the front of the machine are a multi-card reader, audio connections, and FireWire and USB ports. What’s pretty impressive about this is the fact that there are five USB connections on the front of the machine alone. I have a hard time imagining that I’d need to plug five separate USB devices into the front of a machine, especially considering the usefulness of the charging bay on top, but it’s nice to know that I could. Manufacturers can’t complain any more about fitting a lot of inputs in a very small area. The front of the computer also holds the 18X DVD+/-RW drive with LabelFlash support. Optical drives are a lot less important these days than they were even a year ago, but again, it’s nice to be able to take advantage of it should the need arise. This drive supports LabelFlash, a Yamaha/NEC-developed disc labeling technology that competes with the more well-known HP LightScribe. An interesting feature of LabelFlash is that it also takes advantage of the now-defunct Yamaha Disc T@2 (“disc tattoo”) tech that lets users burn images and text into the unused portion of DVD-Rs.

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The rear of the machine is where the rest of the inputs lie. At the top, taking up the only available expansion slot, lies a 56k modem. That’s right, a brand new desktop in 2009 still comes replete with a modem. All teasing aside, there remains a surprising segment of the population (my parents included) that is forced to rely on the virtues, such as they are, of the old dial-up technology. Still, I think most people could be better served with a wireless card in place of the modem, though that could raise the price point above the attractive sub-$500 price point at which it currently rests. In addition to the modem, there are a further four USB2.0 ports, bringing the total up to an impressive nine. There’s also an eSATA port; I was going to complain about how Gateway probably could have fit an eSATA port in the front of the machine instead of so many USB ports, but eSATA never really took off and will more than likely be rendered obsolete when the new USB3.0 specification enters widespread manufacturing.

Gateway SX2800-01

There are several more audio ports here, including both 5.1 analog out, line in, a dedicated microphone in and even digital sound in the form of SPDIF optical out. Video options are present in the form of both VGA and HDMI out; HDMI is certainly becoming more and more common over DVI in built-in video ports. Still, users can easily use an HDMI-DVI adapter to connect their display, should they have a monitor with no HDMI ports. For those looking for an HTPC option, the SX2800 would certainly fit the bill, its slim and quiet nature, coupled with the HDMI port means that it fit right at home in any entertainment center. Dedicated PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports round out the inputs on the back of the machine. It’s interesting to see that even consumer-oriented desktops are still hanging on to these ports; if nothing else, it means that you won’t need to give up one of the nine USB ports on this machine just to hook up your keyboard.

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Looking at the inside, there’s still a couple of opportunities to expand and upgrade this machine despite its diminutive form factor. While the SX2800 does come with four gigabytes of RAM in two DIMMs, there are four slots on the motherboard. Users can add an additional four gigabytes of memory, bringing the total up to a luxurious eight gigs. To do so, however, requires removing the big optical drive; its vertical mounting means that it covers up half plus a little of the memory slots on the board. Users looking to add a little more “oomph” to their games will take pleasure in noting the presence of a PCI-Express x16 slot at the very top of the motherboard. The form factor necessitates the use of a low or slim profile graphics card, however, and there aren’t too many modern graphics cards available in such a format, though users willing to settle for an ATI Radeon HD4650 or NVIDIA GeForce 9600 (or possibly an 9800GT with some modification) might be in luck. More relevant to the intended use of the SX2800, buyers could also add useful options like TV tuners and related tools; very relevant to the potential use as an HTPC.

Performance
Gateway shoved an Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 into the slim profile computer. While it sits on the low end of Intel’s quad-core offerings, it’s certainly going to come in handy when trying to accomplish scalable, processor-intensive tasks like audio or video editing, compositing, 3D rendering, et cetera. In gaming, a slower quad-core processor likely still won’t do as well as a faster dual-core CPU, but gaming isn’t really the goal of computer like the SX2800.

wPrime CPU performance comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Desktop Time to complete wPrime 32M
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.301s
Gateway SX2800-01 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.35s
Dell Studio One 19 (Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 @ 2.5GHz) 30.999s
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 35.582s
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 37.363s

PCMark05 overall general performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark06 Score
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6887 PCMarks
Gateway SX2800-01 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6539 PCMarks
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 5589 PCMarks
Dell Studio One 19 (Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 @ 2.5GHz) 5433 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 5189 PCMarks

PCMark Vantage overall general performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark Vantage Score
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 6479 PCMarks
Alienware Area-51 790i (Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 5976 PCMarks
Gateway SX2800-01 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 5035 PCMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz)
4847 PCMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 2647 PCMarks

3DMark06 overall graphics performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Dell Studio One 19 (Pentium Dual Core E5200, NVIDIA 9400) 1966 3DMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Core 2 Quad Q8200, ATI HD3450 256MB) 1820 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1714 3DMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350, NVIDIA 9400M) 1552 3DMarks
Gateway SX2800-01 (Core 2 Quad Q8200, Intel X4500HD) 1117 3DMarks

HDTune results:
Gateway SX2800-01

Regardless of the specifications, the new Gateway holds its own, and manages to put out a surprising level of performance for a sub-$500 machine. In day-to-day tasks, the svelte new SFF contender isn’t a knock out, but it doesn’t struggle to compete, either.  A decently high-speed Hitachi drive helps the computer boot up within a reasonable amount of time.

Gateway SX2800-01

One feature of this computer that doesn’t really fit in any other section of the review is Gateway’s interesting picture frame mode. Once fully in Windows, users can insert a memory card with pictures on it into one of the card reader slots at the bottom of the machine. A button at the top of the computer, next to the optical drive’s eject button, starts the program. It loads pretty much instantly, and fills whatever display is attached with a full-sized picture. Every few seconds the picture changes to whatever file is next on the card. I couldn’t get it to respond to keyboard or mouse input (save to exit the mode), so users can’t really control the slideshow. Still, it’s a very cool feature to have available, and could be very interesting when being used in a media-centric setting; having a gathering of some sort? Hook it up to the TV, toss some pictures on a card and hit a button.

Power, Heat and Noise
Despite having a not-particularly-power-efficient quad-core processor inside, the SX2800 isn’t all that power hungry. At idle, the machine only pulls down 49 – 52 watts of power, putting it at the low-end of mainstream desktops. Under load, users may see the computer use between 70 and 90 watts of electricity, maxing out somewhere around 110. That’s really not too bad for a quad-core computer. Heat wasn’t bad, either, with the hottest area of the computer the outtake from the power supply at the bottom of the rear. More importantly, however, is how quiet the computer is. My work laptop put out significantly more noise than this machine, and this is when the desktop was sitting less than two feet from my head. In an absolutely quiet room, it’s audible, but barely, and probably not even if you’re typing fast. Remarkably, even when stressing the computer’s CPU and GPU at once, the noise didn’t go up.

Conclusion
The Gateway SX2800-01 is a great small form factor desktop. It packs a quad-core processor, four gigabytes of RAM, DVD-burner and lots of value-added features into a package only four inches thick. It’s clear Gateway is really putting a lot of thought into this year’s crop of back to school desktops, and the result is a fun, stylish computer for less than five hundred bucks. It does come with Intel’s integrated X4500HD graphics which, while much better than Intel’s previous integrated efforts, means you aren’t going to play the newest 3D games with high-end settings. Older games, though, as well as some newer games set to low settings should run playably, if not as smooth as other options.

With the onslaught of nettops powered by the efficient Atom processor, manufacturers have had to get creative in order to make lower-end desktops a worthwhile consideration. Gateway’s definitely done that here. Small enough to fit in a dorm room, but with enough features to stomp nettops down, it’s an attractive option. At $499, if you’re looking for a cheap, capable computer for yourself or your grad, the SX2800-01 should be at the top of your list.

Pros

  • Charging bay
  • Lots of ports
  • Quad core CPU
  • Quiet and small

Cons

  • No built-in wireless
  • Glossy case invites scratches


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