The hype surrounding Intel’s new Core i7 Quad-Core processor touches down at Gateway in the form of the new FX6800-01e gaming machine, with a hot new i7 beating within. The inky-black-and-orange machine impressed us with its computational fortitude, but lost points with a messy array of trialware scattered on the new machine, some cheap construction issues, and a few odd crashes. Despite the holdbacks, it’s still a lot of machine for the money, and not many other manufacturers can match the same outfit of premium hardware for the price.
Features and Design
The FX6800 is Gateway’s first machine to pick up the Intel’s next-generation Core i7 processor, a brutally fast quad-core chip that handles eight threads simultaneously through the rebirth of Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology. Though the technology seemed to die with the company’s Pentium 4 desktop processors, Intel has promised a drastic increase in speed from it that time around, along with a handful of other refinements. The FX6800-01e gets the 920 model of the chip, which is clocked at 2.66GHz. Though the desktop only sports 3GB of RAM – a departure from the usual 4GB found in most gaming systems – Gateway has designed it that way to mate well with the the i7 chips three channels for memory (1GB on each channel). And it’s blazing fast DDR3 RAM, clocked at 1066MHz. On the GPU front, the FX6800 uses ATI’s top-shelf Radeon HD 4850, which includes 512MB of onboard DDR3 RAM and offers dual DVI outputs, along with S-video. Gateway also provides a 750GB SATA II hard drive.
In the spirit of making the FX6800 a true-blue gaming rig, Gateway has given it a tasteful dose of edgy styling on the outside. Like the FX notebook that also bears Gateway’s performance branding, the company has shined up many of the exterior panels in piano black, and trimmed others in a burnt metallic orange. Though some faux carbon fiber makes an appearance behind the “FX” letters on the front, Gateway has thankfully been more sparing with it and left it off all other parts of the PC. Two other gaming PC staples, a window to show off the guts and interior neon lights, are also absent – which can be either a bane or boon depending on your tastes. We preferred the more conservative approach, and didn’t think it looked too out of place in an office, which tends to be a good measure of overall gaudiness.
To keep the outside looking clean, many ports and connectors on the face have been hidden behind slide-away panels. The microphone jack, headphone jack, and a FireWire port, for instance, have been hidden behind a bay that pivots out from below the power button. We liked the concept, but Gateway could have done a better job executing some of the doors, which felt too cheap to function reliably. The featherweight door that hid the lower two hot-swappable eSATA bays rattled to the touch and tended to snag on the close, while the pop-up top hatch for the 15-in-1 media reader suffered the opposite problem: It was so firm, we had to really slam it in to get it to open.
The FX6800 also has an interesting media control array built into its very top bay. With power off, it looks like another black plank, but powered on, a grid of orange lights pop out from below. This makes them inconspicuous, but also less convenient to operate. For us, the glare on the glossy panel made them difficult to read from above, so we had to bend down to the cases level to get a better look, then carefully select the option since the lack of separation between options and lack of tactile feedback makes it easy to select the wrong one. Since the included keyboard offers nearly all the same controls, these inconveniences pretty much negate the usefulness of the on-box controls altogether.
Though Gateway includes a keyboard, mouse and speakers with the FX6800-01e, all feel like relatively cheap Logitech knock-offs. The keyboard, especially, has a very lightweight feel to it that doesn’t exactly exude quality. The mouse runs along the same line (with a left button that developed a squeak in only one day), and the coffee-cup-sized speakers predictably lack much punch at all. In their defense, though, all three accessories do the job well enough, and will make do for buyers who don’t already own better-quality peripherals to hook the desktop to.
Image Courtesy of Gateway
As the loads of icons sprayed all over the desktop when you first boot up the computer would indicate, Gateway hasn’t said no to many companies when it comes to loading its machines with miscellaneous garbage. From a link to Creative product registration and eBay on the desktop to EarthLink and NetZero shortcuts planted squarely at the bottom of the Start menu, the degree to which our system came infested with ads and trialware bordered on disgusting. Gateway’s choice of Norton 360 (a trial version of course) for security was especially irritating, since it insists on jumping all over users with questions every time they do anything, like a week-old puppy, but far less cute. Experienced users may want to reload the system from scratch with Windows XP if they intend to do any serious gaming on it, but even less seasoned users will still have to spend a good deal of time cleaning up Gateway’s mess right off the bat.
Though the FX6800 has a hotrod Intel processor under the hood, you wouldn’t know it during the boot process, where it takes as long to load Vista as most other desktops we’ve tried: about a minute and ten seconds. That’s not atrocious by any means, but for all the power it packs, it doesn’t clear much headway, either.
Fortunately, the fast RAM and processor seem to stretch their legs once the Vista logo appears, since desktop items seem to load much quicker than we’re used to, and the system is ready to handle applications nearly immediately. The desktop experience reflects this as well: windows collapse and expand without hesitation, applications launch rapidly, and response time within applications rivals any other system we’ve used. In a word, it’s fast, and we can confidently say it’s one of the most eager multi-taskers we’ve ever used, even on par in day-to-day usage with the much pricier AVA Direct system we reviewed months ago.
Of course, the true task comes when it’s time to push pixels in a gaming environment. And the i7-equipped FX6800 strutted its stuff there, too. First up on the roster: BioShock, a relatively recent game with moderate hardware demands. Even after boosting resolution all the way to 1920 x 1080 and cranking every detail slider to high, the FX6800 had no problem pumping out ultra-high, flawless framerates. BioShock could not so much as faze our FX6800, so we moved on to more contested ground.
As the undisputed champion of gaming resource hogs, Crysis made an ideal test to wheel out of the shed and see how the Gateway performed. After our results with BioShock, we started off aggressively with every setting set to high and resolution at a blistering 1920 x 1080. Initially, it seemed to chew through without complaint, but as we progressed through the game and experienced more action and more detailed scenes, certain weak spots started to show through. At the beginning of heavy firefights, the machine seemed to stutter and choke as it struggled under the load of all the on-screen action. Eventually, these spots smoothed and returned us to playable framerates, but the inconsistencies became somewhat irritating under extended play, and we would probably sacrifice some visual niceties to eliminate them by turning down other settings, long term. In the name of testing, we turned on 2x antialiasing, but we wouldn’t consider the result playable.
The bottom line: Gateway’s FX6800 will play any game on the market and play it well. Although it won’t puncture the upper extremes of detail and performance in the tiny percentage of games that test its true abilities, its power should be more than sufficient for years to come.
In our rather brief time with the FX6800, we experienced two random crashes that forced us to reboot the system entirely: one freeze-up as we attempted to change wallpapers, and one blue screen of death after exiting Crysis. Both raise questions about the reliability of this particular hardware configuration, but we couldn’t necessarily rule out Vista woes, either. In either case, note that the brand-new and unmodified box wasn’t without its hiccups.
There’s a lot to like about this reasonably priced gaming rig, though it has its share of problems as well. Buyers looking for a capable machine in this price range should probably place it near the top of their lists, but not before checking out competitors like Dell’s XPS line, which was also quick to pick up the Core i7 chip and offers competitive pricing. We would also caution novice users from investing in the FX6800-01e, since the initial mess of trialware and the reliability issues we experienced may require some more techie knowledge to handle properly.
• Outstanding gaming and desktop performance
• Good mix of hardware for the price
• Attractive case
• Cheap accessories
• Too much preloaded junk
• Chintzyy case widgets
• Random crashes