This top-of-the-line eMachines PC, the $600 T5026, has dropped its AMD processor in favor of one from Intel. The three lower-end models in the line still use Celeron D processors, but where last quarter's top-of-the-line uses an Athlon XP 3200+, the T5026 is based on a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 519 chip. (eMachines refreshes its desktop line each quarter for the retail market.) The T5026 delivers better application and graphics performance than its AMD-based predecessor, but it lost a valuable graphics upgrade path in the process. If you're looking for a budget system and you harbor no great graphics aspirations, however, the T5026 is one of the more feature-rich, better-performing desktops in its class.
Aside from the shift from AMD to Intel and the loss of the AGP slot, the T5026 is nearly identical to last quarter's T3256. Like the T3256, the T5026 is housed in an attractive and functional midtower case, and it serves up 512MB of DDR333 memory, a 160GB hard drive, and an 8-in-1 media-card reader. What's new? The multiformat DVD burner is now of the double-layer variety (for a capacity of 8.5GB per disc), and the hard drive is a Serial ATA drive. Plus, the integrated graphics, courtesy of the Intel 915GV chipset are Intel GMA 900, an improvement over the integrated Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics of the T3256.
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 the three or four systems it sells each quarter. Although the Dell Dimension 3000 and the both include a 17-inch CRT for roughly the same total price as the monitorless T5026, eMachines still makes our budget PC of choice. We'd happily trade that low-cost peripheral for a Pentium 4 part (vs. a budget Celeron D). Plus, the Dimension 3000 has a puny hard drive and lacks a DVD burner. Though the Gateway 3200XL is the T5026's equal, with a double-layer DVD burner and a 160GB hard drive, its Intel 845G chipset is not one but two generations older than the T5026's Intel 915GV.
On the strength of its mainstream processor and current chipset, the eMachines T5026 posted impressive results on CNET Labs' benchmarks. Its score of 154 on SysMark reflects an 18 percent increase in application performance over the results from its predecessor, the T3256. More impressive, it turned a frame rate of 49.8 on our 3D benchmark, Unreal Tournament 2003, 67 percent faster than the T3256. Though its graphics score was much higher, keep in mind that Unreal Tournament 2003 is an older game. Without an AGP or PCI Express slot for graphics upgrades, the system's stuck with the integrated Intel GMA 900 graphics.
If you're a budget buyer who has an inclination for performing upgrades yourself, you may be put off by the expansion options the T5026 presents. There are only two PCI slots: one is occupied by a 56Kbps modem card, and the other is free. Two of the four DIMMs are open for additional memory, and you have space to add a second hard drive. If you begin to outgrow the T5026, you'll have few options for adding new hardware.
Luckily, your external expansion options are more extensive. Lift up the panel at the bottom of the front panel, and you'll find a pair of FireWire ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and microphone and headphone jacks. Below the CD-ROM drive resides the 8-in-1 media-card reader and another USB 2.0 port. The back panel provides four more USB 2.0 ports, an additional FireWire connection, plus the usual legacy ports, PS/2 ports, and an Ethernet jack.
The black-and-silver case perfectly matches the included peripherals--the keyboard, the mouse, and the stereo speakers. But if you want an optical mouse, a wireless keyboard, or a fancy speaker set, you'll have to purchase them somewhere else: eMachines offers no other options. The software bundle does an admirable job covering the basics; the T5026 is a Windows XP Home machine and includes three Microsoft apps: productivity suite, Money 2004 for your finances, and Picture It Premium 9.0 photo editor.
The standard warranty covers parts and labor for a year, but 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.
(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).