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PC World

A Ferrari for your desktop: Gateway's 'ultimate enthusiast' PC

by Rex Farrance

(IDG) -- OK, I know "Xeon" is synonymous with "workstation" in most people's minds. But when Gateway offered to send me the GX-450XL, its "ultimate enthusiast desktop PC," I couldn't resist -- even if it is based on a single Xeon CPU. (Xeon processors are designed for use in two-, four-, or eight-processor workstations or servers.) After all, how often do I get to play around with the PC equivalent of a Ferrari Testarossa?

I expected top performance from this $3699 Windows 98-equipped powerhouse, and I wasn't disappointed. While business applications aren't the Xeon's forte, the GX-450XL's PC WorldBench score of 225 is higher by a point than any Windows 98-equipped Pentium II-450 PC World has tested to date. And the GX-450XL was also 5 percent faster than the average Windows 98 PII-450 with 128MB of RAM. Its performance in games is nothing short of breathtaking (more about that later). Even so, I'd have to say that in its single-CPU configuration using Windows 98, any extra you're paying over a Pentium II-450 is mostly for bragging rights.

If you want it all

So aside from the prestige of owning a Xeon-based PC, what do you get for the big bucks? For starters, this sharp-looking system comes in a stylish off-white skyscraper tower flanked by a drop-dead-gorgeous 19-inch Gateway VX900T Trinitron monitor. It's loaded with an impressive STB Velocity 4400 graphics board with 16MB of memory, DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives, a 3Com/U.S. Robotics 56-kilobits-per-second V.90 modem, a TV/FM tuner card, a Creative Digital sound card, and a great-sounding Boston Acoustics Digital Media Theater Speaker setup with Surround Sound.

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After checking out the GX-450XL for a while, I realized that this system could easily do double-duty as an entertainment center in a small apartment or a game room.

The 14GB hard drive should give you all you want in the way of storage. But if you need more space you can copy your data onto disc: The CD-RW drive puts out audio CDs, CD-ROMs, or CD-RWs at 650MB a pop. And the 4.8X Toshiba DVD-ROM drive is a great addition, complementing the bright beautiful monitor and outstanding five-piece speaker set. In small rooms you'll enjoy DVD movies on this PC far more than you would on a conventional TV. The drive handles all CD formats, including CD-ROMs at highly respectable speeds -- and when DVD-ROM games start to show up in force, you'll be set.

Gaming spectacular

You won't have to wait for DVD applications to enjoy the GX-450XL's gaming capabilities, though. An impressive list of CD-ROM game titles were bundled with the system.

For teens and adults, there are Acclaim's Forsaken; Dreamworks Interactive's Chaos Island, Dilbert's Desktop Games, Hexen II, and The Neverhood; Microsoft's A Bridge Too Far, Close Combat, Flight Simulator 98, and Monster Truck Madness; and ActiVision's Battle Zone, Heavy Gear, and Unreal.

Tykes will find plenty to keep them busy too, with Goosebumps' Attack of the Mutant, and Microsoft's Creative Writer 2, Magic School Bus Explores in the Age of Dinosaurs, Magic School Bus Explores the Rain Forest, Plus for Kids, and 3D Movie Maker.

You also get Microsoft's Home Essentials 98 (which includes Word 97, Encarta 98, and Works 4.0), Bookshelf 98, Encarta Virtual Globe, Hallmark Greetings Workshop, Money 98, Trip Planner 98, and Streets 98. And Gateway tosses in diagnostic utilities and Network Associates' McAfee VirusScan.

All the games I tried installed quickly and flawlessly using the DVD-ROM drive. I was particularly impressed with the GX-450XL's ability to handle the fast-paced action and 3D graphics in Forsaken. No matter how quickly I twisted, tumbled, and turned, there was nary a stumble. And with the large display, I quickly lost myself in the maze of tunnels, wondering when an enemy laser blast would come shrieking out of the darkness.

Ultimately expandable

The system is nicely designed, with a beautifully ventilated case. Despite the powerhouse CPU, the cooling air stream never got overly warm at normal ambient room temperatures.

Although it comes fully loaded, this PC still has plenty of room for add-ins: Three of the four memory sockets are available, along with three PCI slots. Only one slot accepts an ISA (or PCI) card, though, and it's already used by the modem. There's more than enough room for adding drives: Six bays are available, two of which will accept removable-media drives.

The system documentation is as accessible, concise, and nicely illustrated as with other Gateway products I've seen. PC World readers give Gateway good scores on system reliability, and they rate support quality Fair. The company's support policies are outstanding, including a three-year parts and labor warranty and round-the-clock toll-free support.

If you're looking for the best possible deal right now on an extra high-performance PC, you can do a little better buying a stock Pentium II-450. But considering all the GX-450XL brings to the party -- particularly if you're setting up an entertainment system in a new apartment -- this Xeon really isn't a bad deal... especially if you'd also like to impress your friends in the bargain.

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