Gateway’s flagship desktop, the 7200XL is the first system we have seen using Intel’s new BTX form factor rather than the well-known ATX form factor. This means that the system should theoretically be quieter and remain cooler than a comparably equipped ATX based system while still being able to handle the best components out there. And Gateway certainly doesn’t skimp in that department either. The 7200XL comes with ATI’s Radeon X800 XT graphics card, a 3.4GHz Intel processor, 1GB of memory and more. What makes this system even more appealing is its price tag, only $2199. Gateway has either been hit-or-miss with their desktops in the past. Let’s see how the 7200XL stacks up
Features and Design
The most noticeable difference between the 7200XL and other desktops on the market is its form factor. The BTX (Balanced Technology Extended) form factor was designed in an effort to help with the internal cooling of a system, including reduced noise output. Announced at the Intel Developer Forum in fall of 2003, the new specification was later introduced into the market in late 2004. As hardware components evolve into faster speeds and larger storage capacities, so does their heat output. The older ATX form factor has a tough time keeping the inside of a computer cool because of its component layout, this is what the BTX specification is aiming to fix. Some high-end gaming machines can have up to 6 fans or more inside of the system to help keep it cool, but BTX based systems need just two, one in the front of the case and one in the rear. The theory is that this will help to create a wind tunnel effect where cooler air is brought in through the front of the system and hot air is pushed out the back. The fans are much larger (120mm vs. 80mm) than the fans used in traditional ATX systems, yet they spin 40% slower thus creating a very quiet atmosphere. With a BTX based motherboard, the CPU is located towards the upper front of the motherboard instead of right in the middle. The motherboard chipsets are also located closer to the back of the motherboard. This combination of hardware placement helps to create an unobstructed airflow path. Systems featuring a BTX form-factor motherboard open on the right side of the case instead of the left side like an ATX based system.
Although the price of the Gateway 7200XL is much lower than we expected for their top-of-the-line product, Gateway has packed a lot of power into it. In its base configuration the 7200XL comes with a 3.4GHz Intel processor, 1GB of PC3200 (400Mhz) memory (upgradeable to 2GB), a 250GB Serial ATA 100 hard drive running at 7200RPM, a 17″ flat panel display, 16X Dual-layer DVD writer and 16X DVD ROM drive, ATI Radeon X800 XT (256MB) graphics card, an integrated 8-in-1 media card reader, Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card, and a 5.1 speaker system, all for $2199.99. It’s important to note that systems in this price range rarely come configured with generous 1GB of memory and 250GB Serial ATA drive.
The look of the system isn’t bad either. The color combination reminds us of some of the eMachine systems we have seen in the past – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The keyboard, mouse and speakers all share the same silver/black color scheme. On the front of the system, there are the two DVD drives. One is the dual layer DVD writer and the other is a DVD ROM drive. The 8-in-one media card reader is also in the front and includes a single USB port. Oddly enough, there are two FireWire ports on the bottom right of the system. You rarely see more than one FireWire port on a system, let alone two on the front. There are six additional USB ports located on the back of the system. Multimedia enthusiasts will love all of the input ports and media card slots on this system. With the way the expansion slots are setup, the 7200XL comes with two open PCI slots. Removing the 56K modem will result in 3 open PCI slots. The drive bays are mounted perpendicular to the case and can easily be removed.
As far as software is concerned the 7200XL only comes with a few programs. Windows XP Home Edition comes preinstalled as the operating system as does Microsoft Works Suite 2005, Microsoft Word, Encarta and a 90 day Norton Antivirus Trial – that’s it. We would actually prefer a system came with software you could actually use instead of a ton of trial software, so this is a breath of fresh air. The Gateway 7200XL comes with a one year warranty.
Windows XP Home Edition; Intel Pentium 4 @ 3.6GHz; 1GB PC3200 RAM; ATI X800XT (256MB); 250GB 7200RPM Hard Drive; Creative LAbs Audigy 2 ZS Sound Card
Windows XP Professional; AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 @ 2.41GHz; 1GB PC3200 RAM; Nividia Geforce FX 6800 Ultra, (2) 140GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPMSATA hard drives in RAID stripe array, Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
Designtechnica Test System
Windows XP Professional; Intel LGA 775 3GHz CPU; 1GB Crucial Ballisitx DDR2 533MHz RAM; MSI ATI X800 XT video card; Western Digital 7200RPM SATA 80GB hard drive
Use and Testing
As we do with every new system we review, we decided to open up the 7200XL (breaking the warranty seal) to see how Gateway did with the cable management and internal cooling. There is really only one screw holding the side of the case on. Just unscrew it and flip a big green level (no joke) and the side of the case pops open. You can see in the image below, they have put a huge venting system in place over the processor leading from the front of the system. All of the cables are zip tied, but they are just sort of hanging down inside of the system versus being tucked away. But overall, the inside of the system is pretty barren and should make for a quiet and efficiently cooled atmosphere.
The system powers on by pressing the green Gateway logo on the front. We were astonished at how quiet the system sounded. We had to turn off all of the other computers in our lab in order to hear the 7200XL. And even when we were running our benchmarking tests, the system was still hardly audible. The 7200XL review system Gateway sent us came with a couple upgrades. The first upgrade included a 3.6GHz processor instead of the 3.4 GHz which comes with the base unit. The second upgrade was the monitor. The base system comes with a 17″ LCD, but Gateway opted to send us their 19″ flat panel FPD1940 which incorporates Fujitsu’s MVA (Multi-Domain Vertical Alignment) technology which helps to make the monitor viewable from multiple angles. The FPD1940 also comes with DVI and analog VGA inputs and a native resolution of 1,280x 1024.
The included multimedia keyboard is pretty nice and does the job. It’s not the best we have seen, but it should not be a deal breaker. The mouse that Gateway packages with the system is pretty bad, it utilizes a ball instead of optical technology; we didn’t even think you could get a ball mouse anymore. The 5.1 GMAX speakers are not the best looking we have seen either, but they sound much better than most speaker systems shipping with other PCs. The subwoofer that comes with the 7200XL is monstrous and gamers are sure to love it. If you already have a Klipsch or a high-end Logitech speaker system, we recommend you keep and use those instead.
The FPD1940 19″ monitor is bright and sharp and sure to appeal to multimedia enthusiasts. For games, it held its own, but hardcore gamers will probably want to opt for a CRT based substitute or spend the extra money and get a high-end Samsung LCD with a low response rate.
To measure real-world application performance, we use BAPCO’s SysMark 2004 test suite. SysMark installs programs like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office among others, and then tests the systems performance with those applications. In our SysMark tests, the Gateway trailed behind both of our test machines, and while its score was slightly lower, it is no slouch. The biggest factor with the SysMark 2004 tests was the memory installed on the 7200XL. Although 1GB of memory is great, the memory speed is just slower than that of our two other test machines.
Where the 7200XL really excelled was in our 3DMark and gaming tests. No doubt due to the ATI X800 XT video card and the 3.6GHz Intel processor, the 7200XL outperformed our two test machines ever so slightly. To see complete benchmark results, please click on the performance tab located above this review.
Gateway’s 7200XL is a system that deserves attention. For the price you will be hard pressed to find a system that comes with as many features as the 7200XL. For the multimedia enthusiast, the 250GB hard drive, 256MB video card and plethora of USB, FireWire and media card slots is a dream come true. And because the system is so quiet, you can get your work done peacefully without losing concentration.
Gamers will love the 1GB of memory, the smoking fast ATI Radeon X800 XT video card and the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card. And because the system is easy to access and upgrade, the 7200XL should last for some time.
We did not encounter a single problem with this system. It worked out of the box and every component we tested performed admirably. With the 7200XL, it is very clear that Gateway means business.