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Solved: Gateway SX2800-01 Owners: Graphics Upgrade Now Possible - My Experience


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23-May-2012, 10:47 PM #1
Post Solved: Gateway SX2800-01 Owners: Graphics Upgrade Now Possible - My Experience
I'm posting this here for the benefit of Gateway SX2800-01 desktop owners who've been wishing they could upgrade their slimline/small form factor PC's exceedingly lame stock graphics to match its otherwise stellar specs. I'm happy to report that this is now possible with nothing more complicated than cutting a couple of holes with a Dremel - or not, if you want to wing it.

A brief overview for the uninitiated and/or curious:

The Gateway SX2800 series (made by Acer) came out in spring of 2009 and quickly won the Editor's Choice Award at CNET for packing an Intel 2.33GHz Core 2 Quad processor into a compact system (15" x 4" x 11.5") at around $500 retail. The system is screamin' fast, whisper-quiet, and has a few extras like Firewire and eSATA ports that you don't normally find on $500 machines, also included 4GB DDR3 RAM expandable to 8.

There is one significant drawback that's particularly frustrating given the quality of the rest of its stock specs: Integrated Intel graphics that are adequate at best, coupled with an upgrade-nullifying 220w power supply shoehorned into a tiny space (also an eject button for the DVD burner that requires Medieval violence to activate - very weird but tolerable once you're used to it.)

If you want a thorough overview, here are CNET's written and video reviews of the system.

I haven't really checked, but I assume that other, newer systems have surpassed this one over that three-year span (maybe even a newer Gateway, since this one's now discontinued.) This is intended as information for current owners, or anyone else who wants to create an excellent yet low-cost gaming and general use system, with just a couple hundred bucks beyond the system price and a little tinkering. [Standard disclaimer: I don't have any affiliation with Gateway or with the manufacturers of either the power supply or the graphics card I will describe here, or with the CNET, System Requirements Lab or Squidoo sites that I've linked here.]

Just recently I discovered a manufacturer that makes a 400w power supply that not only fits into the SX2800's space but is significantly smaller than Gateway's stock 220w Lite-On supply - which opens up a whole lot of options for graphics card upgrades, even with the half-height/single-slot size limitation imposed by the case.

As a lifelong geek I'm also a longtime die-hard fan of Tomb Raider - and the most recent TR game, "Underworld," has some notoriously demanding minimum system requirements. You can check your own system against it at System Requirements Lab (locate and pick Tomb Raider Underworld from the dropdown, then let it evaluate your system.) Knowing it was going to require an upgrade in any case, I bought the game and tried it with the stock system. It rendered beautifully, but at a frame rate of something like two per second, IOW unusable. After scouring the 'Net for half-height single-slot upgrade graphics cards (an excellent source for this is the writeup on it at Squidoo, but beware that it includes double-slot cards that won't fit the SX2800,) I bought one rated for 400w minimum but which reviewers claimed they'd run off of lower-wattage supplies with no problem. It actually worked great for a few hours, then began shutting down after a few minutes' runtime because of that power deficit and/or heating issues.

A little digging and I unearthed a Texas-based company called KDM Power that makes a 400w supply that comes in a truly tiny chassis - much smaller than the meager 220w stock Lite-On supply. KDM advised me that the rear mounting screws wouldn't match the Gateway's hole configuration, but since I'm not planning on carrying the system around in a backpack, that was something I told them I'd work around.

'Long story short, I got the 400w supply installed, cut a "sunroof" into the top of the case to allow the graphics card's onboard fan direct access to the sky (the lone PCI-e slot is located right up at the "ceiling" with no room to spare,) and it's been working flawlessly since. I completed the job on Friday the 18th; it's now Wednesday the 23rd and I've had it running continuously 24/7 since the 18th without a hitch. "Tomb Raider: Underworld" looks cinematic-level spectacular and plays perfectly now, BTW, so any comparable game will presumably work just as well with this setup.

The power supply is KDM Power model #KDM-MFX9400-80+ (the last item at the bottom of the page,) and the graphics card I chose is a Sapphire model 100326LP, a Radeon HD6670 1GB 128-bit GDDR5. Each item was roughly $90 - the supply direct from KDM, the Sapphire from Newegg. As I said in my Newegg review of the SX2800, I assume that 400w will allow for beefier cards than that one, but it serves my purposes fine.

I also put up a photo series over at Photobucket, documenting the installation.

Happy upgrading!

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As Seen On

BBC, Reader's Digest, PC Magazine, Today Show, Money Magazine
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Tags
gateway sx2800-01, graphics, power supply, sx2800, upgrade

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