Gateway’s trademark cow is long dead, but that doesn’t mean the company can’t be its quirky old self—something the FX6800 gaming rig illustrates perfectly. With its itsy-bitsy, microATX board, “I don’t care about appearances” wiring, and moderate price, you’d think the box would be easily outclassed by the custom, hand-built PCs we see every month. Well, think again.
The FX6800’s secret is under the hood. While the majority of the machines we’ve tested lately are still running overclocked Core 2 Extreme CPUs, Gateway reached for the midrange Core i7-940. The top-end CPU may be the speed king, but we seriously wondered if a stock-clocked, 2.93GHz Core i7-940 could even hang with those 4GHz Core 2 Extreme rigs.
The results were surprisin. While the FX6800 didn’t clean anyone’s clock, the Core 2 Quad boxes didn’t exactly blow the lowly $3,000 Gateway out of the water, either. For example, the radical, oil-cooled, nearly $11,000, Hardcore Reactor that we reviewed in March was only six percent faster in our Premiere Pro CS3 test and 10 percent faster in Photoshop CS3. Perhaps even more embarrassing is the Reactor’s score in our ProShow Producer and MainConcept tests. Both benchmarks are multithreaded and thus we saw the eight-core (four real, four Hyper-Threaded) FX6800 acing the Reactor by 31 percent in ProShow Producer and achieving near dead-even scores in Main Concept. The performance gap was shocking considering the 1GHz clock gap and massive price difference between the two machines.
In gaming, the FX6800’s single ATI HD Radeon 4870 X2 card couldn’t compete with the competition’s CrossFire and SLI configurations, though. In Crysis, the 4870 X2 saw frame rates in the 34fps range. The tri-SLI Reactor ran in the 53fps range.
Just because the FX6800 comes with only one videocard doesn’t mean the machine can’t run CrossFire. It’s true that you lose two slots going from ATX to microATX, but the board in the FX6800 features two x16 physical slots, so a second X2 card could be mounted. The Delta PSU in the rig even features a harness to support a second graphics card, but we don’t know if it can deliver the needed juice.
There are some other nice touches in the FX6800. The top-mounted media reader features a copy button that automatically copies files to the PC. We like the FX6800’s storage config, which features Intel’s speedy 64GB X-25M SSD drive and a 1TB Seagate Barracuda. Not great, but not bad. We particularly like the two additional, easy-to-access drive bays in front. Slide open a door, and you can insert two 3.5-inch SATA drives to act as backup. Further adding to the convenience, Gateway has a backup button that activates Vista’s built-in backup application.
There’s a lot to like about the FX6800. It’s not Kick Ass–worthy, but it’s pretty affordable, and it won’t leave you embarrassed, even if you compare it to last month’s fire-breather. The FX6800 is a little like driving your dad’s AMC AMX against an exotic car in a street race. The other car may be louder and flashier, but it still can’t pull away from your funky ’70s ride.
Quieter and faster than many far more expensive PCs.
MicroATX board limits your expansion capabilities.
Intel Core i7-940 (2.93GHz)
Custom microATX using Intel X58 chipset
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2
Intel 80GB X25-M, 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11
HL-DT-ST GH15F DVD burner
Custom / Delta 1000 Watt
Premiere Pro CS3
614 sec (+130%)
Unreal Tournament 3
Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700, 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800 RAM on an EVGA 680 SLI motherboard. We run two EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX cards in SLI mode, Western Digital 150GB Raptor and 500GB Caviar hard drives, LG GGC-H20L, Sound Blaster X-Fi, and PC Power and Cooling Silencer 750 Quad. OS is Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit.