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eMachines T3256 review: eMachines T3256

The T3256 continues eMachines' dominance in the budget class, with strong features and performance. Highlights included 512MB of memory, a spacious 160GB hard drive, a DVD burner, a media-card reader, and an AGP slot for future graphics upgrades. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded desktop at this price level.

Asa Somers
5 min read
eMachines T3256

Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.
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.


eMachines T3256

The Good

Great feature set for the money; easily upgradable; good performance.

The Bad

Cannot be customized at time of purchase; limited warranty upgrades; phone support requires toll and is not 24/7.

The Bottom Line

The T3256 continues eMachines' dominance in the budget class with strong features and performance.

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.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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).

3D gaming performance (in fps)   (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).

System configurations:

Dell Dimension 3000
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Celeron D 330; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 96MB (shared memory) integrated Intel 865G; Seagate ST340014A 40GB 7,200rpm

Dell Dimension 4700C
Windows XP Home SP2; 3.0GHz Intel P4 530; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB (shared memory) integrated Intel 915G ; Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA

eMachines T3092
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; 64MB (shared memory) integrated GeForce4 MX; Hitachi HDS722516VLAT20 160GB 7,200rpm

eMachines T3256
Windows XP Home; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon XP 3200+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; 64MB (shared memory) integrated GeForce4 MX; WDC WD1600BB-22GUA0 160GB 7,200rpm

Systemax Ascent 64-A30
Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3000+; Via K8T800 chipset; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; 64MB ATI Radeon 7000; Samsung SP1203N 120GB 7,200rpm


eMachines T3256

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 7Support 7