eMachines is merely treading water with its T-series line of fixed-configuration, budget PCs. The latest, the T5234, offers no improvement to last quarter's T5230 system. If anything, the T5234 represents a step back, using a slightly slower CPU than the model it replaces. The only upgrade to be found is an additional 70GB of hard drive space. Other than the slower CPU and the larger hard drive, the two systems are identical. While we hold modest expectations for a budget, sub-$500 PC, we expected more from the eMachines T5234. If you can find the older T5230 for less, there's no reason not to pull the trigger. Of course, eMachines isn't your only budget PC option. Dell's new Inspiron desktops feature a new look, low starting price points, and options including integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, while HP's Pavilion Slimline models have long been budget favorites of ours.
|eMachines T5234||eMachines T5230|
|CPU||2.3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+||2.1GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+|
|Memory||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE||128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE|
|Hard drive||250GB, 7,200rpm||320GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||16x dual-layer DVD burner||16x dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium||Windows Vista Home Premium|
Aside from our disappointment with the choice in processor, there are no glaring defects on the T5234. Like past models, it uses eMachines very functional mid-tower chassis. The silver-and-black case is still relatively current looking, and the T5234 comes with a standard 16x DVD burner and ubiquitous media card reader, while providing ample room for future upgrades. There's room for a second hard drive and another optical drive, but most importantly, the motherboard provides an open x16 PCI Express slot should you want to upgrade the integrated GeForce 6150SE graphics. With only 1GB of system memory, that's an upgrade we recommend making. Not only will Vista Home Premium run more smoothly with the addition of dedicated graphics memory, but a graphics card should also give you a DVI port for an all-digital connection to an LCD. The only video port the system provides out of the box is an analog VGA port, which isn't the best choice if you have a digital LCD.
After the addition of a graphics card, the second upgrade we recommend is adding more memory; 1GB is the minimum requirement for running Vista with the Aero graphics effects. Unfortunately, you'll need to replace the two 512MB sticks the system ships with because there are only two memory slots to be found. If the motherboard had four DIMM slots, you'd be able to simply add another two sticks, making use of the 1GB of memory you purchased with the machine initially.
We're used to seeing a slight bump in performance with each new T-series desktop as eMachines updates its budget PC offerings each quarter, and one of the best qualities we found with the previous T5230 system was its performance. While the T5230 outclassed competing budget PCs on CNET Labs benchmarks when we tested it three months ago, the T5234 doesn't offer a performance bump but rather a step back, posting lower scores than the T5230 on CNET Labs' tests. While it still offers enough muscle to smoothly run Vista Home Premium out of the box (you'd be wise to add more memory or a graphics card as you begin to add applications to the system), with a smaller edge in performance, Dell's and HP's budget systems begin to look more attractive with available features such as integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and LightScribe drives. And given the choice between the two most recent eMachines systems, we'd sacrifice the slightly larger hard drive on the T5234 for the faster processor on the older T5230. Vista Premium is just too demanding to sacrifice processing power, particularly on a low-end system with only 1GB of memory that must share resources with the graphics subsystem.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|