Gateway FMC-901X and 610XL Media Center PCs

Gateway, which has been making traditional PCs since 1985, recently entered the consumer-electronics industry, producing things like flat-panel TVs, digital cameras, and camcorders. And now with the introduction of its FMC-901X (at right in photo) and 610XL Media Center PCs, Gateway is clearly entering the business of making nontraditional PCs.

The two machines I looked at are similar in many ways, especially in their basic technical specifications (see "fast facts"). Yet they're built for very different applications (and are available in several configurations). The FMC-901X, which Gateway calls a Family Room Media Center, is made to blend in with your home theater equipment rack and looks more like an A/V receiver than any PC I've ever seen. The 610XL, by contrast, is an all-in-one Media Center with a widescreen 17-inch LCD monitor that made me wish I was back in school - it's the perfect dorm-room PC.

Both machines come with the Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) 2004 operating system installed, which basically means they're full-fledged Windows XP computers with the added benefits of the Media Center software. This lets you do things like watch and record TV shows using the hard disk as a buffer so you can pause live TV, skip instantly forward and back, and so on.

You can watch movies on either PC's built-in DVD drive. And both can transfer TV shows recorded on the hard drive to blank DVDs. The 901X came with a DVD-Multi drive, meaning it can burn DVD-RAM and DVD-R/RW discs. The 610XL's drive can record on both DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW blanks but not on DVD-RAM - one of the few technical differences between the two machines. Neither allows you to record TV directly to a DVD.

With its blue backlighting on some buttons and multicolored front-panel display, the 901X certainly looks like it belongs in a home theater rack - the front panel even has a flip-down door that conceals A/V inputs, outputs, data ports, memory-card slots, and the like. But it has more than just good - and familiar - looks. The remote, for example, features expected Media Center buttons like Live TV, Recorded TV, My Pictures, My Music, and Radio. There are also front-panel controls, including a set of cursor keys and transport controls for the DVD drive. Flip down the door and there are direct-access Media Center buttons plus channel and volume up/down controls. Pop in a CD, and the display shows the album and track titles.