Top budget desktop PCs

Aimed at the value-conscious, these budget desktops will tackle your computing needs without breaking the bank

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Pros :
Slim chassis offers a pleasing look
Above-average connectivity
Integrated wireless networking

Cons:
Small size makes upgrades difficult

Bottom Line: Gateway's miniature desktop PC simply doesn't have room for anything extra, and its lack of space versus competing systems is distressing.

REVIEW:
With the SX2311-03 budget desktop PC ($599 as of August 24, 2010), Gateway jumps into the crowded compact-PC market. Since there's simply no way to squeeze more out of a miniature system and still keep it competitive, PC makers end up creating similar models priced in the $600 range. That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't enough variance between system loadouts to establish a pecking order.

You might think that the use of an AMD CPU--specifically, the 2.8GHz Phenom II X4 820--should have allowed Gateway to slap a lower price tag on this machine. Instead, from the looks of things, the company chose to use the savings to beef up the system's components. The 4GB of DDR3 memory is a bit better than the 3GB we've seen on competing desktops such as the Acer Veriton X480G or Acer Aspire X1301-B1812, but nothing much compared with the 6GB of RAM in Gateway's own SX2840-01. We do like the inclusion of a 1TB hard drive--but in that respect, the SX2840-01 matches the SX2311-03.

Why do we keep bringing up Gateway's other recent desktop? As far as specs, what it doesn't match on the SX2311-03, it beats. The SX2311-03's score of 108 on our WorldBench 6 suite of tests pales next to the mark of 118 that the less expensive ($559), Intel-based SX2840-01 earned. As for graphics, the other Gateway barely surpassed the SX2311-03 in gaming prowess, delivering 18.4 frames per second on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (1920 by 1200 resolution, high quality) to the SX2311-03's 7.9 fps. Although 18.4 fps might not be a result to show off to one's friends, it is nevertheless stronger than what we saw from the SX2311-03.

Had we a nickel for every time we saw this system's chassis come through the PCWorld Labs, we could likely afford two of these machines. We always appreciate the glossy coverings of this particular Gateway case, however. A side-flipped panel conceals the DVD burner (no Blu-ray on this inexpensive little guy), and a separate panel at the bottom of the case hides the PC's five front USB ports and multiformat card reader. This elegant setup beats the look of the Acer X480G and other business PCs, which tend to slap connectors and drives on the front of the case in a dull fashion.

The inside of the SX2311-03 is troublesome. Of course, it isn't as if Gateway had much room to create some kind of beautiful, easy-to-access construction within this small rig. That said, you can't access the system's hard drive or memory slots without removing the optical drive--a major annoyance. The sole open PCI x16 slot is clutter-free, however, and wiring isn't an issue here (presumably, there's just no room to do a sloppy wiring job).

At the rear of the system you'll find an above-average number of connections for a PC of this size, including four USB ports, one eSATA port, one gigabit ethernet port, integrated 5.1 surround sound, and a VGA and HDMI connection. That's a bit more than what you'll find on Acer's X480G; but just as with Gateway's SX2840-01, the lack of a DVI connection here means that you'll encounter subpar display quality without an HDMI-to-DVI converter or an HDMI-accessible monitor. On the SX2311-03, Gateway has also removed the FireWire support that's found on the front of the SX2840-01. The company has, however, added integrated 802.11 b/g/n networking capabilities to this system, which helps to compensate for the loss of FireWire to a good degree.

The mouse and keyboard that ship with the SX2311-03 are generic in design and function, offering no additional buttons; both are average, plain input devices. They're wired, as well, which will eat up two USB ports on your nine-port system.

So where does that leave the Gateway SX2311-03? To be honest, it lands right behind the company's own SX2840-01 desktop. The two are nearly identical in construction, save for the parts where the SX2840-01 pulls ahead--namely, in general and gaming performance, connectivity, and interior chassis design. Given that you'd be paying a bit less for a better PC with the SX2840-01, the SX2311-03 does not belong at the top of your must-have list. For once, Gateway's biggest rival is...itself.

HP Pavilion p6540f
HP Pavilion p6540f Review, by Armando Rodriguez September 23, 2010

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