The well-designed gray and off-white Gateway minitower has two front-mounted USB 1.1 ports and four more on the back panel. It also has two open PCI slots and two open drive bays--one suitable for a removable media drive and the other for a hard drive. The neatly kept interior provides tool-less upgrade features for all components: You can open PCI slots by loosening an external thumbscrew, lock and unlock outward-facing drive bays with green tabs, and slide hard drives out the tower's front after removing thumbscrews.
Microsoft's Works Suite 2002 isn't the best productivity bundle, but it's a nice extra on a PC in this price range. The same is true for the 16X/10X/40X CD-RW drive: While it doesn't record CD-Rs as fast as the latest drives, it's a bonus at this price.
The color setup poster (which has the phone number for Gateway's tech support on it) and the color-coded and icon-labeled rear ports made setting up our 300C easy. Gateway also provided a handy binder to hold all the software, as well as a thick manual for the Gateway home PC lines, with lots of setup, upgrading, and troubleshooting information.
WHAT'S NOT: To take advantage of the 300C's low price, you'll have to give up a few features. With integrated video and a 15-inch CRT monitor (the Gateway EV500B), gaming was almost too painful to watch. Unreal Tournament wouldn't run in anything but the atrocious software mode (hardware-accelerated mode yields better frame rates and crisper graphics), and Quake III couldn't handle anything higher than 800 by 600 resolution in 16-bit color--and even that appeared cartoonish and overcontrasted.
While the monitor displayed rich colors and realistic-looking flesh tones in our test photograph, medium-size text in our test Microsoft Word document screen blurred enough to be difficult to read at 1024 by 768 resolution.
WHAT ELSE: With a 1.3-GHz Celeron CPU and 128MB of PC133 RAM, the 300C is no powerhouse. Its score of 87 on our PC WorldBench 4 benchmark is near the bottom of the heap for Windows XP Home systems we've tested recently, but is still suitable for basic computing tasks and simple gaming.
A two-speaker set, the Cambridge SoundWorks GCS3, delivered fairly loud sound in our tests, although the output was distorted at the highest volume levels. Matching the system's colors, the gray-and-white Gateway keyboard was smooth and accurate to type on and includes 12 hot-keys for Web access and audio controls.
UPSHOT: If your computing needs are relatively simple, you'll save a bundle on this well-designed but basic machine. By Joel Strauch