While the 800XL shows off some cutting edge technology, the rest of the system doesn't quite measure up.
Whether you're looking to buy your first PC or upgrading from an older machine, it's always a good idea to go for the highest specification you can afford. There are many reasons for this, one being that the hardware will be able to run emerging software for longer than a lesser machine. However, a premium must be paid for the very latest technology, so plumping for 'second best' usually offers the best value for money.The heart of Gateway's 800XL is the latest Intel Pentium III 800E processor. Matched with 128Mb SDRam, this PC is a force to be reckoned with. Apart from the 20Gb hard disk, the other components, like the Soundblaster Live Value, the 56Kbps modem and the 3dfx Voodoo 3 3000, are rather mediocre.
The other exception is the new 8x Hitachi DVD-Rom drive. DVD movies play smoothly, but the real benefit of this fast drive will be felt as soon as DVD applications start to appear.
If you have a large TV, you'll appreciate the TV out connector on the Voodoo 3 3000. While the Boston Acoustics speakers and subwoofer provided some decent sounds, they didn't offer surround sound or, more importantly, Dolby Digital support for getting the best out of DVD movies.
The 17" monitor seems to be yet more proof that this size is fast becoming the standard, and this Gateway rebadged display did the job well. Unusually, Gateway has chosen to replace the floppy disk drive with an LS-120 drive. This reads normal floppy disks and also high capacity 120Mb disks, which are useful for backing up and storing data. We would have preferred the much more common Zip drive, as these are much more common, enabling you to share or transfer large files between PCs.The 800XL is a solid machine. Opening the sturdy, well built case reveals a spacious interior, but the power cables and sprawling EIDE cables make the place untidy. Upgradability is good, though, with four free 3.5" internal bays, and two free 5.25" external bays.
One unusual component choice is the motherboard. It doesn't feature the latest chipset, and it doesn't have an integrated Ultra ATA/66 controller to match the hard drive. For this reason, Gateway has installed a PCI card which does this job, but at the same time it uses up a precious PCI slot. However, this Promise card does offer the benefit of increasing the number of hard drive and other EIDE devices you can attach in the future. Just two PCI slots are free, and there are two DIMM slots free for upgrading the memory capacity.Although the Voodoo 3 3000 was a good performer when it was launched, it's already beginning to show its age. Scoring 2849 in 3DMark 2000, it was almost 2000 3DMarks behind the top cards today. It will still be able to handle most of the games you throw at it, but a few months down the road you may well find yourself wanting to upgrade.
The Sysmark 2000 result did not disappoint. The 800XL really did excel by scoring an excellent 159. What this means in practice is that office and other processor intensive applications will run extremely quickly.
Speaking of software, the only package in the box was Office 2000 Small Business Edition. We would have liked to see a slightly more comprehensive selection for the money.