Gateway GT5056B review

£550
Price when reviewed

Tesco is muscling in on the typical territory of PC World and Dell, bagging the exclusive rights to this desktop PC from Gateway.

The GT5056B costs the same as the Dell Dimension C521 but doesn’t include a monitor. However, the extra budget for components means Gateway can include more choice hardware in the case. Unlike the single-core chip in the Dell, for instance, Gateway uses a dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo. Naturally enough for a £468 PC, it’s the lowliest 1.86GHz E6300, and the unbranded 1GB of RAM is also slow at 533MHz. Still, scores are up by 20% over the Dell. Compared to what it’s likely to replace, this is a very fast PC.

The motherboard is a custom-made BTX design, based on Intel’s P965 chipset. The net effect is that all the components are kept cool without the PC making too much racket. Not that the GT5056B has such a stylish design that you’d want to put it on show in a living room; the nicest thing we can say about this chassis is that we appreciate the 9-in-1 media card reader.

Expansion inside is limited to two RAM sockets and one PCI Express 1x slot, before having to resort to the generous allocation of nine USB ports. There’s also room for a second hard disk, but the lack of airflow means it’s likely to get hot. Also note the 300W PSU, which probably won’t handle much more load than is already present.

There’s a nod towards gaming in the form of a card based on one of Nvidia’s low-end graphics chips, the GeForce 7300 LE. It hasn’t got much onboard memory, instead relying on Turbo Cache technology to borrow system RAM. However, there are benefits of this discrete graphics card over, say, Intel’s integrated graphics. The most obvious is the presence of two display outputs, one DVI and one D-SUB. It also provides hardware-accelerated, high-definition video playback. In terms of gaming power, though, the card is very limited. At their lowest settings, our 3D tests produced unplayable results; dropping all detail settings to low and switching the resolution to 800 x 600 still only produced a frame rate of 25fps in Call of Duty 2. The Radeon X1300 Pro of the Dell is a notch better, but still not a gamer’s choice.

Gateway does offer a level of entertainment more than Dell, though, through a combination of TV tuner and Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. While it’s fine for watching a bit of television or avoiding remote-control battles in the living room, it’s only a single tuner and so doesn’t make the most of the comprehensive PVR features. The 250GB hard disk capacity will be restrictive if you start recording lots of TV too, but it’s good to see both a DVD-ROM drive and a DVD writer in place. We also welcome the inclusion of a remote control; we just wish we could rustle up the same enthusiasm for the pair of dreadful stereo speakers Gateway sees fit to bundle.

Another advantage of Gateway using Windows XP MCE 2005 is that it means anyone buying this PC will qualify for a free upgrade to Vista Home Premium; visit www.uk.gateway.com before 31 March 2007 (date subject to change) to make your claim. As with most Vista upgrades, you’ll need to pay for the postage and packaging of the discs. Despite the paltry gaming performance of the graphics card, it will run all the fancy Aero effects of Vista Home Premium.

There are some oddities about the GT5056B; the only real benefit to having the discrete graphics card is to power two screens, while if you like the idea of the TV tuner you could be disappointed by it only being able to handle one channel at a time. Still, the dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM allow you to run as many applications as you want – unlike the single-core Dell, which requires more self-discipline – and it does benefit from the free Vista upgrade. The obvious sacrifice is the lack of screen, and a one-year return-to-base warranty compared to Dell’s collect-and-return cover, but if you’re only looking for a base-unit upgrade (or want to choose your own screen) it’s a reasonable choice while stocks last.

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