Gateway 610XL Review

We love the fact that the 610XL simply works as designed and looks great while doing so.
We love the fact that the 610XL simply works as designed and looks great while doing so.
We love the fact that the 610XL simply works as designed and looks great while doing so.

Highs

  • Looks great
  • extremely powerful
  • and simple to use

Lows

  • Integrated WiFi card may be buggy on some wireless networks
  • but is fixed through a driver update

DT Editors' Rating

Home > Product Reviews > Desktop Reviews > Gateway 610XL Review

Summary

Conclusion

Gateway’s 610XL Media Center PC in a way sets a new standard. It shows that you do not have to sacrifice power or connectivity when creating a small form factor PC. We love the fact that the 610XL simply works as designed and looks great while doing so.

Perfect for the kitchen or the office, the 610XL plays multiple roles. It can either be a stereo system or television while eating your breakfast, or the family PC used to do taxes, editing home movies or playing games. The intermittent WiFi issues we had seem to be fixed by Gateway via a driver update and even still could be related exclusively to our network setup so this is nothing that seriously hurt the 610XL.

If you have been in the market for a system of this type, instead of choosing between an Apple iMac or Sony’s W-series systems, we recommend taking a look at the 610XL first.

Introduction

When it comes to Media Center and Home Theater PC’s, there are several ways to build them. The first way is to integrate the PC with your home theater system; put it into a receiver-like case and slide it into your audio video rack. Or you could opt to integrate the home theater experience into the PC itself while making the system as streamlined as possible. Gateway offers two computers which target both of these types of integrations. The 901X Media Center PC looks like a home theater receiver but packs a powerful computer inside, and the 610X Media Center PC which looks like a sleek lifestyle computer but packs home theater functions into the system.

In this review we look at the Gateway 610X Media Center PC priced at $1999.99 and purchased directly from Gateway.

Design and Features

Physically the Gateway 610X Media Center PC is one of the smallest desktop computers in the consumer market. Its physical prowess falls in the same category as the Apple iMac and Sony VAIO W series of home computers. It features an all-in-one design with every aspect of a full-fledged desktop computer integrated into the system, including speakers and a sub-woofer. Now if you think that is nothing special, consider what the 610X packs beneath the hood. With a 3GHz Intel P4 w/Hyper Threading CPU, 512MB of memory and a 128MB ATI Radeon 9200 graphics card, the 610XL has the horsepower to stomp many of the desktop systems out there.

But of course we all know it takes more than a good video card and a processor to make a legitimate Media Center PC. So Gateway decided to add a 17″ wide-screen LCD display, a DVD writer, 802.11g wireless networking, an FM radio tuner, integrated speakers and a subwoofer.  Gateway chose Microsoft’s Media Center operating system to tie everything together.

Performance

When it comes to speed and power, the 610XL has the heart of a desktop and the soul of a laptop. In every benchmark we ran, the 610XL simply blew the socks off of the competition in our tests when compared to the smaller all-in-one PC’s. The 610XL also posted scores that bested Gateway’s own desktop Media Center PC, and while the video card in the 610XL might not be the best for some of the intense 3D games out there, it certainly is fine for most software programs.

3dMark 2001 PRO Benchmark CPU Arithmetic Benchmark CPU Multimedia Benchmark PC Mark 2002 Tests

Gateway 610XL
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 3GHz Intel P4 w/Hyper Threading; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Integrated ATI RADEON 9200 AGP graphics with 128MB; 200GB Ultra ATA100 7200rpm hard drive

Gateway Media Center XL

Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440G 128MB; Seagate 80GB7,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCV-W20

Windows XP Home Edition; 1.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; SiS integrated 32MB graphics; Samsung Spin Point SV0602H 60GB ATA 100 5400 RPM HDD


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Design and Features Continued

Specifications aside, how does the 610XL look? The overall design is very subjective. Dressed in a matte silver case and highlighted by soft black rubber highlights, the 610XL is fairly attractive. When we asked people what they thought, it was pretty much split. The matte silver finish and rounded edges could give the system a somewhat unpolished, cheapened look when compared to the Sony PCV-W20 and Apple iMac. Both of the aforementioned systems feature high gloss shiny plastic cases which give their two systems a very expensive look. This is lacking from the 610XL, but overall the design is positive in it’s own way. The keyboard, remote control and mouse also match the system colors perfectly and offer a good high quality feel to them.

Buttons and input/output placement on the 610XL seem to all be in the right place. The left hand side of the system features a 6-in-1 media card reader (hidden behind a black cover), FireWire and USB connectors. On the right hand side is the DVD writer, FM tuner card and antenna connection, and headphone and microphone inputs.

But the back and top of the system is where things get interesting. Just in case the integrated speakers and subwoofer is not enough, Gateway was so kind as to include front/rear/center/subwoofer outputs as well as SPDIF digital audio output, so you can use an aftermarket speaker system with the 610XL. And because this is a full fledged Media Center PC there are S-video inputs and outputs, a TV input, and RCA audio and video inputs so you can hook not only your cable or satellite TV into the 610XL but you can input VCRs, DVD players and other products into the 610XL just like you would any other television set. And lastly you will find Ethernet, and four USB 2.0 inputs on the back of the 610XL. Controls for changing the volume, channels, screen brightness and power are located in the top of the 610XL and slightly hidden by the large 17″ LCD in the front. The 610XL is all about connectivity and has more inputs and outputs than most full sized desktops.

The available connections located on the back of the 610XL
The available connections located on the back of the 610XL

Setup and Testing

Because the 610XL is a Media Center PC you will want to make sure to set aside some serious reading time on how to setup this computer. If you chose to use it as a regular system, setup will be almost no different than a regular desktop computer. However if you want to use this system for what it was designed for, make sure to pay attention to the instructions. You will also want to make sure that the system will be compatible with your cable or satellite service. It might be a good idea to write down a list of questions to ask the sales rep before purchasing the 610XL.

With our review unit we tested the DVR (digital-video recorder) capabilities as well as the integrated FM capabilities. As with every other computer featuring the Microsoft Media Center operating system, you can record television shows on the fly or preprogrammed just like Tivo and other digital video recorders. On-screen menu navigation is easy to see and use. Because the 610XL has only one TV tuner in the system, you cannot watch one show while recording another. So you either have to watch the show its recording, or do something else while recording is in progress. We had no problems surfing the Web or using the system’s computer-related features while recording a show at the same time. To access the FM radio stations in your area, you must use the Media Center OS to tune-in. To help make sure that you get a clear reception, Gateway packs an external cord antenna with the 610XL. In our opinion, we would have preferred a shorter plastic antenna versus the corded type because the corded antennae just seems to hang behind the system and just plain looks ugly. It is often hard to find a good spot to put the corded antenna.

The FM tuner card can be accessed via a rear panel
The FM tuner card can be accessed via a rear panel

Setup and Testing Continued

One major disappointment in this system, and it is due entirely to the operating system, is the way the system accesses online internet radio stations. When you use the Media Center OS to choose Internet music, you are greeted by a Napster logo and a registration screen – not what we like to see. We would like to be able to go to a website like http://www.shoutcast.com/, click on a station link and have the Media Center OS player start playing it. Either that or give us the option to type in the IP address of the station itself and play it that ways. In order to stream true Internet music you will have to use Windows Media Player or a 3rd party player such as Winamp, instead of accessing it through the Media Center OS menu screen.

The 610XL is a very easy and intuitive system to use. The included Microsoft radio frequency- based cordless keyboard and mouse worked flawlessly for us as did the included remote control. We did not encounter any issues with the wireless peripherals such as having to reset them or being out of range of the receiver from a reasonable distance. The mouse feels nice and solid and while may not be the best for gaming, will work well for any other type of application. The keyboard feels good to type on and all of the necessary hot keys work as designed.

On the other wireless front is in the integrated 802.11G WiFi card. As soon as we setup the 610XL system, we had a very difficult time connecting to our wireless network. Manufactured by Broadcom, the WiFi card simply would not hold a connection to the network. It would find the network and try to connect but would lose it again after a few minutes. We went to Gateway’s Website and noticed an update for the Broadcom network card and updated its drivers and software. This helped tremendously but was still not perfect. Now our test system will find the network and connect, but it takes a few minutes after the system is started for it to get connected. We have gotten used to the instant network connection from our Netgear WiFi test equipment. Hopefully this is something Gateway will improve upon in future models of their Media Center PC’s.

When it comes to speed and power, the 610XL has the heart of a desktop and the soul of a laptop. In every benchmark we ran, the 610XL simply blew the socks off of the competition in our tests when compared to the smaller all-in-one PC’s. The 610XL also posted scores that bested Gateway’s own desktop Media Center PC, and while the video card in the 610XL might not be the best for some of the intense 3D games out there, it certainly is fine for most software programs. Benchmarks speak for themselves, please click on the performance link for complete test results.

Heat and noise is often an issue with small form factor computers. Much like the Apple iMac, we found the Gateway 610XL to be virtually silent at normal distances and it did not suffer from any heat issues.

Upgradeability

While the system hardware present in the 610XL is some of the best currently available, how will the system fair in a year or two? Sadly, the only hardware we found that could be upgraded in the system is the memory. Simply unscrew a plate on the back of the system and you will have easy access to the memory. We would recommend that if you can afford it, you go with the most powerful configuration of the 610XL available. This means upgraded memory and any other internal components which Gateway gives as an option to upgrade at the time of purchase. Now while we are disappointed to see the limited upgradeability, the upside is that the 610XL is more powerful than any other system we could find in this category, so it is likely to be up-to-date longer.

The memory can be upgraded by accessing the rear panel
The memory can be upgraded by accessing the rear panel

Conclusion

Gateway’s 610XL Media Center PC in a way sets a new standard. It shows that you do not have to sacrifice power or connectivity when creating a small form factor PC. We love the fact that the 610XL simply works as designed and looks great while doing so.

Perfect for the kitchen or the office, the 610XL plays multiple roles. It can either be a stereo system or television while eating your breakfast, or the family PC used to do taxes, editing home movies or playing games. The intermittent WiFi issues we had seem to be fixed by Gateway via a driver update and even still could be related exclusively to our network setup so this is nothing that seriously hurt the 610XL.

If you have been in the market for a system of this type, instead of choosing between an Apple iMac or Sony’s W-series systems, we recommend taking a look at the 610XL first.