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How do they do it? eMachines, now a division of Gateway, simply has a knack for delivering more low-end PC for your money. Granted, eMachines' one-size-fits-all retail products won't cut it for advanced users, or even for some intermediate buyers. But if you're a beginning buyer or you're looking for a cheap second PC, you won't care that eMachines doesn't provide gourmet graphics cards or memory upgrades. What will grab you about the T3256 is its $599 price. What grabbed us was the performance it turned in, the impressive (for a budget PC) features, and the smart design. Plus, eMachines now offers two simple warranty upgrades, with coverage that's not quite as robust as the big guys' but a welcome improvement all the same.
While top-tier online vendors such as Dell let you configure your system the way you'd like, eMachines keeps prices low by offering only a single build of each of the three or four systems it sells per quarter. For the fourth quarter of this year, you have a choice of three: the T2862, the T2984, and the T3256. Think of this as the Tall, Grande, and Venti approach to bare-bones PCs. Although the Dell Dimension 3000 throws in a 17-inch CRT for roughly the same total price as the monitor-less T3256, we'd happily trade that low-cost peripheral for better performance, a larger hard drive, a DVD burner, and a greater degree of upgradability.
Though you can't configure these models to fit your exact specifications, eMachines provides both AMD- and Intel-based options. The two lower-end models use Intel's budget Celeron D processor; and the T3256 is based on AMD's Athlon XP 3200+ processor. Compared to the new Celeron-based Dell Dimension 3000 we recently tested, the eMachines T3256 delivers a 7 percent edge in application performance. It felt peppy when running mainstream apps in our tests; multitasking didn't slow down its operation, and windows opened and closed without a lag.
In addition, eMachines has packed a lot of bells and whistles into the T3256's feature set. The T3256 serves up 512MB of RAM (albeit of the slower 333MHz PC2700 variety) in a single DIMM, allowing for future upgrades, and a spacious 160GB hard drive. Amazingly, eMachines also includes a fast 48X CD-ROM drive, an 8X DVD+RW/-RW, and an eight-in-one flash memory reader in place of a floppy drive. The tool-free case opens easily to reveal a neat interior offering two free PCI slots and an AGP slot for upgrading the integrated graphics with a third-party card; you won't find an AGP slot on the Dimension 3000.
The black-and-silver minitower case perfectly matches the included peripherals--keyboard, mouse, and stereo speakers. But if you want an optical mouse, a wireless keyboard, or a fancy speaker set, you'll have to purchase those somewhere else: eMachines does not offer any other options. The same goes for software. You get Windows XP Home and the Microsoft Works suite, but anything else you buy on your own.
If you look carefully on eMachines' Web site, you'll find the company's two warranty upgrade options: two years of onsite service and free phone support for $99, and three years for $139. (Phone support, which is available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. PT seven days a week, is free but requires a toll call.) The way this works is simple: purchase your system through the retail channel of your choice, then go to eMachines' site within 90 days to upgrade your warranty. For those who opt not to upgrade, support calls cost $20 after the initial year of protection is up.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).