As always, the eMachines T5212 is a fixed-configuration PC, which means that if you buy it online or in a store, you cannot customize it prior to purchase. This system includes a dual-core but aging Pentium D 805 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, a 160GB EIDE hard drive, an integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics chip, and the already mentioned DVD burner and media card reader. That config will get you through most basic modern tasks, but we're puzzled as to why eMachines went with a CPU that's more than a year old (the Pentium D 800 series is Intel's first-generation dual-core chip; Core 2 Duo is the company's fourth) and the even more dated EIDE hard drive. Cyberpower was able to add the more recent AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+, as well as a faster and larger 250GB Serial ATA hard drive for only an additional $30 (not counting eMachines rebate).
If you think you'd like to upgrade the eMachines system after you purchase it, you have some flexibility. There's room for a dedicated graphics card, thanks to the x16 PCI Express slot, as well as an additional x1 PCI Express slot and a standard PCI slot for other expansion cards. The box has the physical space for an additional hard drive, but there's no other EIDE connector on the motherboard. It does have four free Serial ATA inputs, however, so you can mix and match hard drive interfaces or take out the EIDE drive altogether. The T5212 has no spare memory slots, so to add RAM you'll have to toss out at least one of the sticks already in place.
We mentioned that the eMachines has a dated Intel CPU in it, and last year we showed that compared to the Pentium D 800-series CPUs, AMD's--such as those in the Cyberpower PC--are much faster. Our benchmarks have been updated since then, but the story remains the same. The only benchmark test on which the eMachines T5212 didn't lose to the Cyberpower is CNET Labs' Microsoft Office test, and that's only because the test wasn't finished when we reviewed the Cyberpower system back in July, and thus we don't have results for that system. Considering that the single-core AMD Athlon 3800+-based HP Pavilion a1510n beat the eMachines T5212 on the Labs' Microsoft Office test, we're confident that the Cyberpower box would have outpaced it as well.
If it doesn't win on performance, the eMachines T5212 makes up for it in style--which is to say, it doesn't really have any. Its front panel is covered with various stickers from Microsoft, AMD, and other partners, but its muted gray looks will easily fade into the background of any work space. The Cyberpower Back to School 2006 will let you choose from 13 different cases, but the one we reviewed would look most at-home in the rec room of a 12-year-old gamer. That's not the look for everyone.
We also have to give eMachines credit for its support, but we wish it was longer. Cyberpower backs its Back to School 2006 with three years of parts coverage and a lifetime of labor and 24/7 phone support, but its online help is average at best. While eMachines' coverage lasts only a year for parts and labor, it has a direct-connect support feature, which will give an eMachines technician remote control of your mouse and your system (moderated by you the whole time). We're coming to consider this capability a must-have for online help. Dell has it with its DellConnect. HP just announced a similar capability last week. Especially for a lower-end system that invites the tech uninitiated, remote control support can preserve a relationship between a customer, a computer, and a vendor much better than even the longest lifetime of phone-based support. We only wish that eMachines offered it for longer.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Cyberpower Back to School 2006
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia 7300 GS; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.066GHz Intel Pentium 4 524; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB (shared) integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics; 160GB Western Digital 7,200rpm EIDE hard drive
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Pentium D 805; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB (shared) integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics; 200GB Seagate 7,200rpm EIDE hard drive
HP Compaq Presario SR1910NX
Windows XP Home SP2; 1.8GHz AMD Sempron 3200+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Nvidia 6150LE graphics chip using 256MB shared memory; 120GB Western Digital 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
HP Pavilion a1510n
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Nvidia 6150 LE graphics chip using 256MB shared memory; 200GB Western Digital 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive