We’re documented fans of Gateway’s latest FX case design, at least for the most part, but we have reservations about the FX6840-03e, a specific $1,099 configuration. We’ll give the Gateway some credit for its strong application performance scores, but a $1,149 Dell system offers a more versatile configuration for only a nominal price increase. We do like certain aspects of this Gateway system, but there’s not enough value in this PC to recommend it.

We like the Gateway case primarily because it introduces front-accessible hard-drive bays to a relatively mainstream PC. We’re more used to seeing that feature on gaming desktops from boutique vendors. Not everyone will need the front-panel drive access, but it’s a rare enthusiast design touch that is actually useful.

The case design has some polarizing elements to be sure, its red accent lighting chief among them. It’s also large enough to qualify as a full tower system, as opposed to the midtower PCs that have dominated our recent retail desktop round up. If you’re particular about the look of your hardware, you may have some reservations about picking up the distinctive Gateway. Heavy data archivers should consider the convenience of the front-panel hard-drive access, and either accept or overlook the Gateway’s “gaming PC” looks. 

You’ll see below that the Core i7-based Gateway posted strong application performance scores, but the AMD-based $1,149 Dell Studio XPS 7100, a built-to-order system, offers better gaming performance, along with a better selection of features. The Gateway has a midrange 3D card, a standard DVD burner, and only wired networking. You’ll pay $50 more for the Dell above, and it won’t complete productivity-oriented tasks as quickly, but it will play games faster, and at higher resolutions. It also provides a Blu-ray drive, more hard-drive space, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. If we were shopping for a home PC with entertainment in mind, we’d happily sacrifice the Gateway’s superior CPU performance for the Dell’s more complete feature-set.

We cannot deny that the quad-core Gateway DX6840-03e is faster than the six-core Dell Studio XPS 7100 on all of our productivity-oriented tests. If you wanted a desktop for consumer-level digital media editing and light-gaming duties, this Gateway would make a reasonable choice.

The problem for the Gateway is that we have a feeling most consumers shopping for a performance-and-gaming-capable PC in this price range put gaming first. And as you can see from our Far Cry 2 scores, the Gateway can’t come close to the Dell in 3D performance. You should be able to play current and future PC games on the Gateway at lower resolutions and minimal image quality settings without much difficulty. Introduce a 22- or 24-inch LCD that can support higher resolutions and the Gateway’s shortcomings will quickly come to the forefront. By coming in above 60 frames per second on our high-resolution Far Cry 2 test, the Dell shows that not only can it handle current titles, but that it also has the headroom to accommodate near-future PC games as well.

If you want to upgrade the Gateway’s 3D capabilities, that’s certainly an option, and the 500-watt power supply will support a decent graphics card upgrade. You get no second graphics card slot, so you’d have to get rid of the current Radeon HD 5770 card, but that’s more or less expected for PCs in this price range. Other card upgrade options include a 1x PCI Express slot, along with a standard PCI card slot. You also get room for three more hard drives: one internal, two via the front-panel drive trays. All of the RAM slots come occupied.

We’re less pleased with the Gateway’s connectivity options, which seem like a joke. It’s possible this is a case of Gateway’s retail partners restricting the ports to allow for an upsell, but with such a wide selection of ports on the back of the FX6831-01, we don’t understand why the FX6840-03e’s inputs and outputs are so limited. You get a few USB 2.0 jacks, Ethernet, old PS/2 mouse and keyboard inputs, and only 5.1 analog audio. The graphics card provides DVI, HDMI, and even DisplayPort, but without even 7.1 audio, let alone FireWire or eSATA ports, like you’ll find on the FX6831-01, the FX6840-03e looks like a throwback. The Dell Studio XPS 7100 also features more connectivity options.

The Gateway’s power consumption is impressive for its price class. Perhaps it’s because other PCs in this price range that we’ve reviewed come with AMD chips, which have proven themselves comparative power hogs. We also note that the FX6840-03e’s power consumption is lower than that of the FX6831-01e, which has a faster 3D card. Perhaps it’s the 3D power alone that keeps the FX6840-03e’s power draw low. In any case, this is a relatively inexpensive desktop to operate.

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