Gateway FX6831-03: The Heart and Soul of a Performance PC
At a Glance
This excellent buy in the Performance PC category isn’t a show-stopper, but its fast speeds and high-definition support combine to deliver a great performance when it counts.
The Gateway FX6831-03 is in many ways a match for one of the power PC category's best price-for-performance systems, the Micro Express MicroFlex 95B. But while the systems share similar performance characteristics, the FX6831-03 surpasses the 95B in features and extras. Though this PC packed with awesome add-ons might not top the charts, you won't find a better value for the $1699 (as of March 1, 2010) cost.
The FX6831-03's Intel Core i7-860 processor runs at 2.8GHz, a little below the speed of the MicroFlex 95B's 3.2GHz Intel Core i7-950 CPU. Even so, Gateway's machine was able to deliver comparable performance on our WorldBench 6 suite, earning a score of 142 (close to the 95B's mark of 148). That result is thanks in part to the FX6831-03's memory configuration: The Gateway PC's 16GB of DDR3-1333 memory--no, that's not a typo--is the largest amount we've seen on any system gracing our charts. We have to ask, however, what typical PC activities actually benefit from 16GB of RAM. Would a reduction in price and a switch to 8GB have been a better choice?
As for the graphics performance, the FX6831-03's discrete ATI Radeon HD5850 card competes head-to-head against the MicroFlex 95B's dual-GPU nVidia GeForce GTX 295 board. Producing 134.9 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 (1920 by 1200 resolution, high settings), the FX6831-03 outdid the 95B, which offered a frame rate of 111.7 fps. At higher resolutions (2560 by 1600), the FX6831-03 suffered a thorough trouncing from the Electronics and Computing Black Mamba PC--a $2179 system (as of March 1, 2010) that can output an average of 129.5 fps.
The FX6831-03 does much to improve on the few problem points of the 95B. For starters, the hard-drive capacity difference between the two systems is almost laughable: The Gateway PC's 1.5TB hard drive (for booting and storage) is above and beyond the 95B's paltry 300GB offering. Gateway also stashes a combination Blu-ray reader and DVD burner alongside another DVD burner on the front of the system, directly above two free drive bays for hot-swapping 3.5-inch drives.
Gateway's beautiful, jet-black case for the FX6831-03 is a step up from the traditional design of its FX line. Two USB ports and a multiformat card reader are configured for easy access on the system's front panel. An additional two USB ports reside near a push-top panel on the top of the computer. Between these touches and the panels that conceal the optical drives and hot-swap bays on the system's front, Gateway has done a great job of taking its standard chassis to the next level.
The system's rear delivers a tremendous range of connectivity. Joining the six USB ports are two eSATA ports, one gigabit ethernet port, one FireWire 400 port, an S/PDIF optical output, integrated 7.1 surround sound, and HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity via the graphics board.
The case of this midsize-tower system, as well as its preconfigured innards, leaves little room for additional interior upgrading. One hard-drive bay (joined by the two aforementioned hot-swap drive bays) is all you get to work with for front-facing devices. Located on the motherboard are a single free PCI Express x1 slot and a PCI Express x4 slot, which eliminates your ability to run a CrossFire setup on this machine. And space is tight at the bottom of the motherboard, so getting another card in underneath the ATI Radeon HD5850 would be a challenge anyway.
Aside from a mere three buttons for multimedia control, the FX6831-03's keyboard doesn't offer any additional keys. The mouse does have two additional buttons, but they're split across the sides of the mouse--you'll really be able to toggle only one of them with your thumb.
While the Gateway FX6831-03 power PC isn't a category leader in performance, it does provide an excellent experience in both general use and gaming for a relatively low price. The generous amount of connectivity and the Blu-ray support do much to sweeten the deal. As for the less-than-stellar upgrading options, you won't honestly need to upgrade this system for quite a while, given just how much comes along for the ride. If you want to anyway, maybe you can pawn some of the ample memory to help defray the cost.