Of the super budget PCs currently available from mainstream retailers and Dell.com, the $399 eMachines T3626 is the second best deal available. We found a system from Acer that has more features for the money, but the eMachines edges that one out by offering a $50 rebate. If that deferred $50 means more to you than a larger hard drive and likely faster overall performance, this eMachines system gives you the most computer for the money. Otherwise, we'd suggest springing for the Acer or another slightly higher-end system.
As we pointed out in our review of the eMachines T5234, the eMachines midtower case is functional and reasonably attractive. It's no style-piece, but it won't kill the look of a room, either. The compact midtower design will fit on or under any desk, and a well-organized front panel gives you ready access to the DVD-burner drive, the media card reader, and the USB and audio ports. Inside, you'll find room to upgrade. Your first order of business should be the memory, although with only two slots, you'll have to throw away the current pair of 512MB sticks if you want to go to 2GB. You can try a graphics card if you have your eye on gaming, but the 300-watt power supply will limit you to midrange 3D cards.
|eMachines T3626||eMachines T5234|
|Price (before rebate)||$399||$485|
|CPU||2.2GHz AMD Sempron 3800+||2.3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+|
|Memory||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128 MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6100||128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE|
|Hard drive||250GB, 7,200 rpm||250GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||16x dual-layer DVD burner||16x dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium||Windows Vista Home Premium|
Compared with its linemate, the $485 eMachines T5234, the T3626 is similar in all but its processor and its hard drive capacity. The T3626 has a single-core budget Sempron chip and a 160GB drive, while the T5234 has a full-fledged dual-core Athlon and 320GB of storage. The extra storage speaks for itself. As for the processing power, we didn't love even the T5234's performance compared with the older eMachines T5230, but as you can see, the difference between dual-core and single-core chips is noticeable, if you know where to look.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Rendering single CPU|
The T5234 doesn't show up on our Photoshop test, largely due to testing irregularities that we're still trying to resolve. But compared with the Dell Inspiron 531S, which has the same CPU as the T5234 (although twice the RAM), the eMachines T3626 looks awfully slow. More telling is the iTunes test, which is especially processor-sensitive. There it took the T3626 a full minute longer to process the same workload as the T5234. The Cinebench scores reveal that for tasks that only use a single core (word processing, basic Web browsing, e-mail) you won't be too far behind other similar systems due to the raw CPU clock speed. But in addition to Windows Vista in general, you can expect that more and more programs will benefit from dual-core CPUs. That makes the T3626's performance suited only to the most basic computing tasks.
Still, thanks to its media card reader and the DVD burner, primarily, the T3626 could work as a basic digital media workstation. Its relative puny hard drive will run out of space quickly if you plan to store entire collections of photos, music, or video on it. For this price, though, it's the best deal going. Dell forces you to get a 250GB hard drive in its most spare Inspiron 531, but you can't get both a DVD burner and a media card reader and keep the price under $400. Neither can Hewlett-Packard's Best Buy or Circuit City offerings. The Acer Aspire we found at Circuit City offers a 250GB hard drive and the rest of the same features for $399, but again, no rebate.
Service wise, these systems are all very similar. eMachines offers one year of parts and labor coverage with this system for free. You can't order it from eMachines directly, so you can't upgrade the eMachines warranty, but we're confident that either Best Buy or Circuit City would be very excited to sell you an upgraded warranty, in-home set-up, or other services. You can turn to eMachines' Web site for various support links, though, which we found comprehensive and easy to understand.