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The only significant difference between the eMachines T5224 we reviewed earlier in the year and the new T5226 is the CPU. The newer $550 T5226 has a 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 925 dual-core processor, a slight uptick over the older Intel chip in the T5224. And while we like eMachines' first system of 2007, this update finds itself competing against more-robust competition. We're pleased that most budget desktops these days have modern features--DVD burners, dual-core CPUs, Windows Vista Home Premium--but every little bit of raw CPU performance helps as well, and, similar to our criticism of the T5224, the T5226 falls slightly behind the competition in terms of straightforward computing power.
In addition to the Pentium D 925 chip, the T5226 comes with 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a 250GB hard drive, a DVD burner, and an integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics chip. In other words, its core specs are identical to the T5224 except for the CPU. While we've been glad to find in that a PC with 1GB of memory and integrated graphics will run Windows Vista and its Aero visual effects with no trouble, this $550 PC's overall performance is eclipsed by that of HP's new $580 Pavilion Slimline s3020n PC, a dual-core AMD Athlon-based desktop that we gave a CNET Editor's Choice award last month.
Our benchmarks show that HP's advantage is clear. It's faster all around on CNET Lab's performance tests. Since both have integrated graphics chips, we didn't even bother to run our 3D gaming tests. Few PCs below $800 or so can post playable 3D frame rates. But whether you're editing photos or encoding and decoding music files, HP's Slimline s3020n remains our pick in the budget PC category.
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It's interesting that eMachines opted to stick with Intel on this update, because a current price check around the Web shows that the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ in the HP costs about $5 to $10 less than the Pentium D 925 chip that's in the eMachines T5226. We can't speak to bulk purchase discount prices, but eMachines decision to stick with Intel hasn't helped it gain much performance ground.
HP also has the edge in the features department. Both systems have DVD burners, 15-in-1 media card readers, and built-in Ethernet jacks. HP gets the win due to its built-in wireless networking adapter. Its DVD player also has LightScribe capability for burning black and white images onto the surface of discs. The eMachines system can't do that.
Because it has a larger case, the T5226 does get you some extra expandability. There's room for one extra hard drive, another optical drive, and a handful of full-size expansion cards, including a PCI Express graphics slot if you wanted to add a 3D card for gaming. HP's small Slimline case only has room for two half-height expansion cards (which are usually less powerful than their full-size cousins) and one of its useful-yet-pricey Pocket Media hard drives, by way of a specialized, front-accessible slot. This expandability gives the eMachines T5226 its one advantage over HP's Slimline.
The two are neck and neck regarding support. Like HP, eMachines gives you one year of parts-and-labor coverage, plus phone support from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. ET, seven days a week. eMachines' online support is every bit as robust as HP's, with FAQs, driver downloads, and other useful information. Both vendors also give you the ability to turn control of your desktop over to a remote support tech, which is often a more-efficient way to troubleshoot an issue than working over the phone. We like HP's Total Care system status software a bit more than eMachines' BigFix patch-and-driver update notification service, but both programs work well at helping you maintain your PC over time.
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Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 820; 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 224MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 925; 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 224MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion Slimline s3020n PC
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+; 1,024MB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) integrated Nvidia GeForce 6150LE graphics chip; 250GB 7,200 rpm Samsung hard drive
iBuyPower Value 640
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6400; 1,024MB DDR2 533MHz SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600GS graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Shuttle XPC X200M
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.66GHz Intel T2300 Core 2 Duo; 1,024MB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Intel 950 GMA graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm Seagate Barracuda hard drive