As the NFL draft draws near, general managers measure and debate the agility of 300-pound linemen, the speed of wide receivers, and the arm strength and Wonderlic scores of quarterbacks. Much like those searching for a franchise running back, you face a similar situation when shopping for a new PC; you must choose among a group of nearly equivalent options, and a bad investment can still sting years later. Though you'll find many of the same features on competing budget systems, no one has mastered the price/features value equation quite like eMachines. If Mel Kiper Jr. was profiling the eMachines T6532, he'd undoubtedly mention that this is a budget PC with tremendous upside. For general home use, you won't find more for the money than the $529 (after $50 mail-in rebate) eMachines T6532.
As Gateway's budget retail line, eMachines systems are available only through chains such as Circuit City and Best Buy and only in fixed configurations. Currently eMachines' top-of-the-line system, the T6532, represents a better value than comparably priced Gateway counterparts, such as the DX100X. As shipped, the T6532 is a good entry-level or second system, and its expansion options mean it will have a longer lifespan than other budget boxes.
The T6532 shares the same black-and-gray aesthetic as its Gateway-branded cousins, such as the DX210 series machines. On the system's front panel, you'll find mic and headphone jacks, as well as a single USB 2.0 port and an 8-in-1 media card reader. In back are four additional USB 2.0 ports, additional audio jacks and even an old-school parallel port. Sadly, the T6532 does not include any FireWire ports.
Inside the T6532, you'll find 1GB of DDR RAM, a big 200GB hard drive, and a double-layer DVD burner. Two of the four DIMM slots are free, as is a single PCI slot and a PCIe x16 slot for upgrading to an aftermarket graphics card. The easy-to-open case features a fairly orderly interior, but stray cables blocked one of the free drive bays in our evaluation model.
Built on AMD's mainstream 2.2GHz Athlon 64 3500+ processor, the T6532 won't set land-speed computing records, but it does compare favorably to its budget competitors. Other systems in its price range from Dell, Gateway, and Lenovo are roughly 11 percent slower on CNET Labs SysMark 2004 application benchmark. The T6532's predecessor from last quarter, the T6420, is also 11 percent slower. We found the system to be very responsive during our anecdotal tests, even under heavy multitasking scenarios. It has the chops to function as your primary, everyday PC.
The T6532's integrated Nvidia GeForce 6100 graphics chip delivered acceptable DVD playback on a generic 17-inch LCD monitor, but it could not handle our 3D gaming tests. Adding a fully fledged 3D card to the available x16 PCI Express slot will allow it to play most current-generation games.
The eMachines T6532 uses eMachines BigFix. The system does not come with a monitor, but eMachines sells three different monitor models, including a 17-inch LCD for $269 (after a $50 rebate). The included keyboard, mouse, and two-piece desktop speaker set are the cheapest imaginable, and they mark one of the few times in recent memory that we've seen a rollerball mouse.as its operating system and comes with a generous package of bundled software, including Microsoft Works 8.5, CyberLink PowerDVD, Money 2006, and the company's proprietary system maintenance utility,
Included documentation is sparse, but a detailed electronic user guide is preloaded on the hard drive. The one-year standard warranty includes phone support available seven days a week from 5 a.m. to midnight (PT), but it's a toll call. Live support chat via eMachines' Web site is available from 3 a.m. to midnight. eMachines also offers simple, affordable warranty upgrades via its Web site. While you can't add esoteric options, such as accidental-damage protection or data-retrieval services, the company does offer one- and two-year warranty extensions, which cost $99 and $139, respectively.