Of all the sub-$400 PCs on the market right now, the eMachines T3642 is the best in its price class. It offers the most processing power, the largest hard-drive storage, and the most versatile collection of features compared with other on-the-shelf offerings currently available at Best Buy, Circuit City, and Wal-Mart Stores. The T3642 also improves on last quarter's T3626 on price and in features. If you're looking for a bargain basement desktop, this is the one you should pick.
The eMachines case has stayed largely the same since its revamp in the beginning of last year. It's a small, gray and black midtower that is inoffensive, but also not totally bland. It's also compact enough to fit pretty much anywhere, so it's easily hidden if you'd rather keep it out of sight.
As far as its specs, the eMachines T3642 is a remarkably capable desktop for its price. Yes, it has a single-core AMD Athlon processor, and a few other desktops in this price range have low-end dual-core Intel chips, most commonly the 1.6GHz Pentium Dual Core E2140. However, because the eMachines' Athlon is a 2.6GHz single-core chip, we would expect it to outperform the E2140-based desktops, especially on the basic applications budget desktop owners are most likely to run.
What we also like about the T3642 is that it not only has better specs than the current competition, but it also greatly improves on last quarter's eMachines T3626. The processor is faster and more robust in the new model (the older one didn't have the speed to make up for its lack of a second core), and you also get a 250GB hard drive this time around, compared with the 160GB drive in the previous system. Perhaps that's not great news if you purchased the T3626, but in the overall scale of budget PCs, we find it heartening when we see the baseline features of lower-end systems inch higher over time. It doesn't always happen that way with eMachines quarterly updates, but this time it most certainly has.
|eMachines T3642||eMachines T3626|
|CPU||2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 4000+||2.2GHz AMD Sempron 3800+|
|Memory||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128MB (shared Nvidia GeForce 6100||128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE|
|Hard drive||250GB, 7,200 rpm||160GB 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drives||16x dual-layer DVD burner||16x dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium||Windows Vista Home Premium|
Unfortunately, we haven't tested a Pentium E2140-based PC, so we can't make a direct comparison between the eMachines T3642 and its most capable competition. However, we do have a couple other low-end dual-core desktops in our testing database, and the eMachines T3642 gives them a run on our benchmarks.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance--in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Rendering Single CPU|
We wouldn't expect this $350 eMachines to outpace a $659 Dell, or an $800 Apple Mac Mini, although you should note that the T3642 doesn't trail too far behind either of those systems on our iTunes test. But compared with the dual-core Lenovo ThinkCentre A61e, the eMachines shows why sometimes a fast single-core chip isn't always the worst option. Granted the 2.1GHz Athlon 64 X2 BE-2350 chip in the Lenovo system is a low-power model designed more for efficiency than speed, but it's still a dual-core processor. As you can see, the single-core eMachines was faster on every test. The Pentium Dual Core E2140 is a similar, efficiency-oriented CPU, and we would expect this eMachines model to outpace systems using that chip as well.
Aside from the faster CPU and the large hard drive, the eMachines T3642 has most of the same features as its predecessor. Both come with dual-layer DVD burners and multiformat media card readers. Each also offers some room for upgrading, within limits. The T3642 has a spare 8x PCI-Express graphics card slot, so while you can upgrade the graphics capability with an aftermarket 3D card, you don't get the full 16x PCI-Express slot of more robust desktops. Thus, this system will never be a respectable gamer, but for most of you interested in this system, we expect that's OK. If you want to upgrade the memory to 2GB, you'll have to purchase two 1GB sticks and remove the two 512MB sticks currently in place. It would be nice if eMachines could find a way to use a single 1GB stick, to allow for cheaper, less wasteful upgrading.
Gateway's BigFix software is about the only meaningful application included with the eMachines T3642. It helps users troubleshoot and navigate system software updates. It's a useful support program to be sure, but that's about all you get in addition to Windows Vista Home Premium. A few trialware icons clutter the desktop (four, to be exact), but the most utility you get out of those is a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007.
On top of BigFix, the support package with the eMachines T3642 is about average for budget PCs. The one year parts and labor warranty is fixed, and as this is a retail-only system, you'll have to refer to your retailer to provide coverage beyond the first year. eMachines Web site is also a useful, accessible support resource, if you're up for tackling problems yourself.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple Mac Mini
Apple OS X; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 120GB 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell Inspiron 531s
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chip; 250GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.2GHz AMD Sempron 3800+; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE graphics chip; 160GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 4000+; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6100 graphics chip; 160GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Lenovo ThinkCenter A61e
Windows Vista Business; 2.1GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 BE-2350; 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) ATI Radeon X1200 integrated graphics; 160GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive