Gateway's FX400XL brings leading-edge PC technology to mainstream users, packing a dual-core CPU inside a BTX case design. Add plenty of memory and a speedy video card, and you have a premium PC that can handle almost anything you can throw at it. Our $2,489 test system is aimed at high-end mainstream users. Those who want the extensive options and absolute latest hardware of a powerful gaming machine might want to look elsewhere.
The BTX case design rearranges the components to allow for better airflow. With a pair of quiet 120mm fans, the FX400XL is barely audible under normal operation. Only when running processor-intensive applications, such as a 3D game or a video-editing app, do the fans speed up to a more noticeable level, despite the fact that the internal cabling looks sloppy compared to the expert routing you find from specialty manufacturers such as Alienware or Falcon Northwest.
At the heart of the Gateway FX400XL lies a 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830 dual-core processor. The only other CPU option available is a $250 upgrade to the faster Pentium D 840, which we'd recommend to only the most serious performance junkies. Gateway backs up the dual-core processor with the requisite hardware to take full advantage of the chip's performance. Two GB of DDR memory is standard, and the system includes two 250GB hard drives (configured as discrete drives; RAID isn't supported). A double-layer DVD burner is paired with a second DVD-ROM drive, and a flash memory card reader sits below the floppy drive. Audio is courtesy of a Creative Audigy 2 ZS sound card and the Gateway GMAX 5100 speaker system, which has been replaced by the Creative Labs Inspire T5400 5.1 speakers. The system's dual DVD drives and generous hard drive space will keep users with large movie and music collections happy.
With a PCI dial-up modem taking up room, internal expansion is a bit tight. There's one open PCI slot and one available 3.5-inch drive bay. There's plenty of room for external expansion, with three USB 2.0 ports and a pair of FireWire ports up front, and four USB 2.0 ports, two more FireWire ports, and an Ethernet port around back.
Despite hardware specs that will satisfy just about everyone this side of hard-core gamers, some of the configuration options can be confusing. The GeForce 6800 Ultra includes dual DVI outputs, but only a standard VGA cable is supplied with the system. Out of the box, text on the included Gateway FPD1975 19-inch LCD monitor was somewhat fuzzy. When we substituted our own DVI cable, it was like a whole new monitor, with much crisper, easier-to-read text. (Of course, Gateway is happy to sell you an optional Belkin DVI cable for an additional $29.95.)
When compared to other dual-core systems, the Polywell Poly 939N4X2 easily surpassed the FX400XL's SysMark 2004 benchmark results, using an Athlon 64 X2 4200+ to beat the Gateway by a sizable 24 percent margin (more evidence that AMD's dual-core chips are superior to Intel's). The Dell Dimension 9100, which uses the 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D 840 (available as an upgrade in the FX400XL), was 5 percent faster.
Video and 3D graphics come from Nvidia's until-recently top-of-the-line GeForce 6800 Ultra, a speedy card that still has the chops to run today's most demanding games in high resolution. In our 1,600x1200 Half-Life 2 test, the FX400XL's performance fell behind that of Polywell's newer GeForce 7800GTX by 20 percent but still provided very playable frame rates, passing 60 frames per second. As Gateway's top-of-the-line consumer system, we wish dual GPUs were offered. Sadly, this is not an option.