Imagine a compact, all-in-one desktop system, democratically priced and with the accent on ease of use and general convenience; a computer for the millennium, a computer for anyone to use. You could be forgiven for thinking that this sounds like an evangelical pitch for the iMac, but in fact it could equally well describe Gateway’s Astro PC.
The Astro lacks the iMac’s technicolour casing, but the principle is the same, with the monitor and system box integrated into a single cabinet. The styling may or may not be your cup of tea, but there’s no doubt that this approach makes for a simple, speedy installation and setup, since all you really have to do is plug in the power supply, keyboard and mouse.
The keyboard and mouse are daisy-chained, and connect to a USB port which is readily accessible at the side of the case, leaving a further three USB ports for other peripherals. Gateway seems to think that the Astro will appeal to first time buyers, so the issue of non-USB peripherals won’t be a serious problem, but it’s as well to remember that you can’t give one of these to the kids and hand them down an old inkjet printer or scanner. Unless you enjoy confusing them…
The current model is not built for ambitious computing – in other words gaming – since it has a Celeron 400MHz processor, only 64MB of RAM as standard, and a relatively modest 4GB Quantum Fireball UltraDMA/33 hard disk. It’s supplied with a copy of Works Suite 2000, which makes sense, and is best regarded as a word processor-cum-Web browser that will sit unobtrusively in a corner somewhere, which is fair enough for this sort of money.
The i810 motherboard chipset incorporates a basic graphics sub-system which is fine within this context, i.e. running a 2D Windows desktop on a 15-inch monitor in 16-bit SVGA. There’s no local memory associated with the graphics chipset, so it borrows 2MB from the main system instead, and the i810 silicon also provides audio and modem functions, which helps keep the overall cost of the machine down to a minimum.
There isn’t much you can do by way of upgrading the Astro, since it lacks expansion slots, including an AGP slot, and there are no free drive bays inside the case. We also noticed that there was only the one memory socket, so you’d have to replace the existing 64MB module if you wanted to add more.
There’s no doubt that the Astro’s relative simplicity is its most attractive feature from the point of view of someone wanting only the most basic and hopefully trouble-free of systems, and on that basis it succeeds quite well. Even the lack of expansion capability probably won’t be a serious drawback for the kind of non-technical and undemanding user that Gateway has in its sights here, and that’s the crux of the matter really. The Astro will be fine so long as it’s bought by the right kind of people, and not in error by somebody simply attracted by its price or its looks.
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