Walt Mossberg

New Gateway Desktop Takes on Look of iMac, but Can’t Match It

If you’ve lusted after Apple’s sleek, one-piece iMac desktop computers but have no interest in switching to the Mac, you’re in luck this holiday season. Two of the big Windows PC makers, Gateway and Dell, will offer their own all-in-one desktops, which — like the iMac — are designed for style and pack an entire computer into a svelte body that looks like it’s merely a monitor.

The Gateway One

Both new contenders, oddly, are named “One.” I’ve been testing the Gateway One, which can be preordered now at beautyofone.com, and is set for delivery this month. It will also be available at Best Buy stores. Dell’s entry, called the XPS One, will be unveiled later, though Dell is already teasing it on a page buried within its huge Web site.

All-in-one desktops have been around for many years, but they failed to win a big slice of the consumer market. The iMac has been a success, however, partly because it combines beauty and power. It is speedy and can even optionally run Windows. Another factor is that mainstream, nontechie, nongamer consumers are gradually turning away from clunky towers toward laptops and other smaller forms.

Like the iMac, the Gateway One is striking, though the two products look very different. While the latest iMac has a brushed-aluminum front with a black border around the screen, the front of the One is all black, clad in a seamless sheet of plastic. The iMac sits on an aluminum foot; the One’s bottom edge rests directly on the desktop, supported by a small tilting metal stand in the rear.

I can’t recommend the Gateway over the iMac, however. It offers smaller screens and lower resolution — huge factors in an all-in-one machine — for prices that can exceed the iMac’s. It starts up and restarts more slowly. Unlike the Apple, it comes with annoying trial software. It also is noisier than the iMac, and lacks a built-in Web camera. Plus, twice during my few days of testing, it crashed with a blue screen, losing all open data.

The Gateway One comes in three models, priced at $1,299, $1,499 and $1,799. Unlike the iMac, which comes in two screen sizes, 20-inch and 24-inch, Gateway is offering only one screen size across the entire line: 19-inch, considered a middling dimension these days for a desktop. Best Buy has an exclusive on the low-end and high-end models. The midrange model will be sold directly by Gateway. All can be bought only with Windows Vista, not Windows XP.

Shockingly, for those who still cling to the notion that Windows machines are always priced lower than comparable Macs, the entry-level Gateway One costs $100 more than the entry-level iMac, which is $1,199. And the less expensive Mac gives you more in several key areas: a slightly larger screen with much higher resolution, a faster processor and a better video system.

At the high end, the $1,799 Gateway One has a much smaller screen than the comparably priced iMac, which sports a huge 24-inch display with much better resolution for the same price. The $1,799 iMac also has a faster processor. All the iMacs come with a better operating system and better bundled multimedia software.

Apple also offers a built-in camera, while Gateway’s is an ugly snap-on gadget that ruins the lines of the design. On my test model, the camera never stayed on straight and the videos it made contained so much background noise as to be worthless. This may have come from the One’s fan, which seemed to run a lot.

But the Gateway offers some advantages. At every price point it has more memory than the iMac — double the amount in the base model and triple in the $1,799 model. The One also has larger hard disks — 320 gigabytes in the base model compared with Apple’s 250 gigabytes, and 500 gigabytes in its top model compared with 320 gigabytes on the same-price iMac.

The Gateway also has a wireless keyboard and mouse, which cost extra from Apple, plus built-in slots for camera memory cards, which Apple doesn’t offer. On the high-end model, Gateway throws in an external TV tuner, something Apple doesn’t include.

Gateway also boasts that, unlike the iMac, its One model has only a single, thick cord protruding from its rear. This is partly due to the standard wireless keyboard and mouse, but mostly it’s due to the fact that, unlike on the iMac, the power supply isn’t built in but is contained in a bulky, heavy module meant to rest on the floor. This power module contains the networking port and a few other ports meant for peripherals you don’t plug in and out often.

The One started up faster than some other Vista machines I tested, but it’s still slow compared with even an older, 20-inch iMac. It scored very well on Vista’s built-in performance rating, garnering a 4.4. But my high-end iMac, set up to run Vista, scored a 5.0.

The Gateway One may appeal to style-conscious Windows users, but I think the iMac remains the best consumer desktop on the market.

Email me at mossberg@wsj.com. Find all my columns and videos online free at the new All Things Digital web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

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