Usage Impressions and Closing Thoughts
Given the intended market we found Gateway's small form factor machine to be very capable. It was very responsive and didn't show any signs of sluggish behavior during general usage. Full HD videos on YouTube, and even the recently released 4k resolution videos, which are nearly four times the size of 1080p, played smoothly in full screen mode and only taxed the CPU around 60%. Factor in the large hard drive, adequate amount of system memory (with room for expansion), small footprint, low noise output and HDMI out, and you have the makings for a solid HTPC.
You also get quite a bit of useful features. The front and rear I/O panels on the Gateway SX 2311-03 are nearly identical to what we saw on the Aspire X1200 SFF two years ago, sans a FireWire port. If a design works, don't tamper with it, eh?
A total of nine USB 2.0 ports should keep even the most peripheral-happy users content. HDMI and eSATA are nice additions as well, but we are left with only a VGA port and no DVI connection. An adapter will be needed if your monitor only supports DVI. Also, the addition of USB 3.0 would have been nice at this point, but perhaps in a future revision.
As was to be expected, the SX falls short when running games that rely heavily on the GPU. You can get by playing some older titles at low to medium graphics running moderate resolutions, but anything above that was out of the question.
The system features Wi-Fi connectivity through a wired antenna instead of the more traditional internal implementations we are accustomed to. The external antenna uses two cables that screw into the back of the expansion card and has a suction cup on the bottom, which effectively increases your mounting options. The included keyboard and mouse are average at best, but that's about what we would expect from a budget SFF PC.
You'll have no problem fitting this sleek and small system under a shallow desk beside your home theater system or even tucked away behind a monitor. The Gateway SX was completely dwarfed sitting next to a Corsair Obsidian 800D chassis.
You will need to supply your own monitor and speakers with this bundle, so this is an additional cost that you may need to factor into your buying decision. Gateway's list price for the AMD quad-core we tested today is $599, but we found a few discounts online with Amazon currently offering the lowest price at $564 with free shipping.
A slightly more basic configuration using the triple-core Phenom II goes for less than $500. If you would rather have Intel Inside, the same $500 will get you into a Core 2 Quad Q8300 or for $30 more, a Core i3-540.