Gateway PC boasts first-of-its-kind design

Box Score

Chassis design. Those two words nearly make our eyes glaze over. But with agencies looking to get more years of use out of high-speed, hot-running PCs, it turns out chassis design matters.

Dual-core processors (see story, Page 25) will certainly help make desktop systems more energy efficient, but a new design called balance technology extended (BTX) may help computers built this year live twice as long as their predecessors.

First impression

The GCN Lab got a first look at one of the earliest systems to incorporate BTX, the Gateway E-6300. By most conventional measures it's an unremarkable computer, with a 3.2-GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512M of double-data-rate-2 RAM, 160G hard drive and integrated Intel Corp.
graphics adapter. Even the E-6300's performance is fairly standard. Its GCN/Alterion benchmark score of 6,813 is on par with machines in its class.

But we were impressed with the BTX design, which stands to replace the existing advanced technology extended (ATX) desktop form factor over the coming year. ATX designs were revolutionary because the motherboard was rotated 90 degrees, placing the CPU closer to the cooling fan. BTX flips the motherboard from the right side of the PC to the left so the CPU is at the front of the computer, away from the heat-radiating power supply, which allows vendors to place larger, server-sized fans in a desktop unit.

BTX also rotates all the ports on the motherboard 90 degrees so PC cards and RAM are in a horizontal position. These changes increase airflow through the system, minimizing pockets of trapped hot air that are common in ATX models and creating a wind tunnel effect.

The results: Ventilation fans have to spin a lot less and there's no need for additional cooling fans for parts such as the CPU and video processor. In the Gateway E-6300, a pair of 20mm fans'one in front and one in back'circulate the air. And once the system boots up, it operates far more quietly than most desktop computers.

We opened the chassis, put our ears to the inside of the system and barely heard a sound. Other systems in the lab drowned out the E-6300.

The BTX design also gives the E-6300 more room for the larger add-in cards that graphic companies are designing. We found the memory slots and optical drives a lot more accessible than in previous models.

At $1,089, not including a monitor, the E-6300 isn't necessarily cheap, but we found the BTX design to be worth the cost and a sign of things to come.

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