Usage and Closing ThoughtsThe Gateway FX6831-03 is one of the few pre-built PCs I could see myself buying and using on a daily basis without much regret -- and that's saying something coming from someone who has built their own systems for the past ten years.
Its quad-core Intel Core i7 860 processor has plenty of power to spare, even for the most demanding of tasks, and you will likely never run low on memory with the included 16GB of RAM. The Seagate 1.5 TB 7200 RPM hard drive is speedy enough for a spinning drive and offers gobs of storage for all of your digital media. There is no choice for adding an SSD since Gateway won't let you configure the system online, which is a real shame.
The FX offers plenty of connectivity including multiple memory card slots, two eSATA, and a total of 10 USB ports (four on the front panel). There are no USB 3.0 ports on this system, though we suspect you won't have much use to give them for now anyway. Down the road you could always add an expansion card for around $30 once you have a real need for the interface.
The Gateway FX's black chassis highlighted by red accents looks pretty sleek. The hidden optical drives and hot-swap 3.5-inch bays on the front bezel add to the overall clean lines of the system, while the red LEDs add a bit of flare to it, but thankfully can be turned off if fancy lights are not your thing. I haven't considered a system with two optical drives in quite some time, but the Blu-ray drive is a nice touch for watching high-def movies.
Inside the chassis there is little room for expansion. There's one x1 and one x4 PCI-E slot available, which opens the possibility of adding a second graphics card in CrossFire mode albeit with some bandwidth limitations. You can add up to three additional hard drives, two via the front bezel hot-swappable system and one internally.
On the software side, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit was very responsive and the pre-installed software is somewhat acceptable, with some useful applications you might want to try, and a few others that I personally chose to uninstall right away.
Gaming on the Gateway FX6831-03 was very enjoyable -- this is a gaming PC after all. Frame rates on the newly-released Just Cause 2 were very playable at maximum graphics settings and a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Using FRAPS I observed an average of 50 frames per second, while occasionally dropping to around 40 fps in graphic-intensive scenes. Older games like Unreal Tournament 3 were completely smooth with all settings maxed out.
During normal usage the computer's cooling system was audible but not overly loud. Naturally, when the graphics card is being pushed hard its cooling fan spins up and makes its presence well known.
While having 16GB of memory sounds nice, it's certainly not needed on this kind of system unless you are into intensive memory tasks like digital video editing. Gamers simply won't need this much RAM. Its less expensive sibling, the Gateway FX6831-01, has no Blu-ray drive and half the memory, which is still plentiful at 8GB but sells for $400 less. I see how these savings could be better spent on a solid state drive or on supporting hardware like a monitor, aftermarket keyboard/mouse or on a quality speaker system.
On this same note, while the Radeon HD 5850 is a powerful card that offers the perfect balance for this type of system, the aforementioned $400 could be reinvested into a higher-end solution like the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 if extreme frame rates is what you are ultimately after.
As for the entire system's pricing, I tried to configure similar spec’d machines from the usual suspects. Dell presented me with the base Alienware Aurora which ended up considerably more expensive and better equipped if I tried to add a competing graphics card and other components that matched the Gateway. HP insisted on using terrible graphics card choices for gamers, but otherwise seemed to be priced on par with the FX systems. Meanwhile, the more brick & mortar iBuyPower offered dozens of customization options and we were able to configure a nearly identical system (sans the crazy amount of RAM) for around the same price.
So all in all, even compared against our PC Buying Guide's recommended Enthusiast level system, the Gateway FX fares quite well except for the lack of component customization, which could be a turn off if your idea of buying a desktop system from a major manufacturer was not to mess around with the computer's internals in the first place. A one year limited warranty on parts and labor comes standard with all Gateway FX systems.