No matter how you slice it, with low-end PCs, it's all about the bottom line. And no one has mastered the price/features value equation quite like eMachines. As Gateway's budget retail line, eMachines systems are available only through chains such as Circuit City and Best Buy, and only in fixed configurations. The $599 T6420 offers surprisingly deep features for a bargain-basement system, and it represents a better value than comparably priced Gateway counterparts, such as the DX100X. As shipped, the T6420 is a good entry-level or second system, and its expansion options mean it will have a longer lifespan than other budget boxes.
Currently eMachines' top-of-the-line system, the T6420 shares a basic black-and-gray aesthetic with its corporate big brother, Gateway. On the system's front panel, you'll find mic and headphone jacks, as well as a single USB 2.0 port and an 8-in-1 media card reader. In back are four additional USB 2.0 ports, additional audio jacks and even an old-school parallel port. Sadly, the T6420 does not include any FireWire ports.
Inside the T6420, you'll find 1GB of DDR RAM, a big 200GB hard drive, and a double-layer DVD burner. Two of the four DIMM slots are free, as is a single PCI slot and a PCIe x16 slot for upgrading to an aftermarket graphics card. The easy-to-open case features a fairly orderly interior, but stray cables blocked one of the free drive bays in our evaluation model.
Built on AMD's mainstream 2.2GHz Athlon 64 3400+ processor, the T6420 is not much of a speed demon, but the system is powerful enough for casual use. On the CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark, the system delivered scores statistically even with both the Pentium 4 521-based Dell Dimension E310 and the Pentium 519-based Gateway DX200X. Compared with a system with AMD's budget Sempron 3400+ processor, the HP Compaq Presario SR1620NX, the T6420 enjoyed a 9 percent advantage.
Interestingly, last year's comparable eMachines system actually had a faster Athlon 3500+ processor. This means that since the previous generation, the fastest eMachines PC has lost CPU power and even slipped backward in terms of model numbers, from 6520 to 6420.
The T6420's integrated Nvidia GeForce 6100 graphics chip delivered acceptable DVD playback on a generic 17-inch LCD monitor, but it could not handle our 3D gaming tests. Adding a fully fledged 3D card to the available x16 PCI Express slot will allow it to play most current-generation games.