Top 10 budget desktop PCs

Aimed at the value conscious consumer, these budget desktops will tackle your computing needs -- without breaking the bank

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eMachines ET1161-03
ET1161-03 Review, by David Murphy, PC World February 24, 2009

Rating:

rating_icon_1.5_stars.gif

CPU: Athlon 64 X2 4400+; CPU speed: 2300GHz; Graphics adapter: Nvidia GeForce 6150SE; Monitor: No; Hard drive size: 320GB; WorldBench rating: Fair

Pros :
Good amount of upgrade options
Rock-bottom price

Cons:
Sluggish performance
No appeal for gamers

Bottom Line: With an upgrade or two, the ET1161-03 could become a pretty good general-purpose value desktop.

REVIEW:
We've seen some inexpensive PCs produce stellar performance, but at some point there simply isn't enough oomph available for such a meager investment. That particular deficiency plagues the eMachines ET1161-03, a $400 system that illustrates the need to put more pennies in the piggy bank before making a desktop-PC purchase.

The system bears a sluggish a 2.3-GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ CPU coupled with 3GB of DDR2-667 memory nestled into an ECS motherboard. A single Western Digital drive provides 320GB of storage, which you might consider the highlight of this machine's specifications.

The ET1161-03 also uses an integrated nVidia GeForce 6150SE chip that offers little in the way of graphical prowess: None of our gaming benchmarks could be considered playable. Unreal Tournament 3 failed to run, and on Far Cry--a five-year-old title that doesn't exactly tax modern systems--the ET1161-03 delivered a whopping 6 frames per second (at 1280 by 1024 resolution, with antialiasing turned on). Its WorldBench 6 scores were similarly disappointing, but the results fit the kind of performance we see on machines of this price; its score of 79 was around 30 points lower than the marks of the best value PCs we've tested. That said, some of those PCs are also two to three times the price of the ET1161-03.

To its credit, eMachines does a remarkable job of easing first-time users into the setup process for the ET1161-03. The system comes with a giant diagram that details exactly how to go about getting the PC and optional monitor up and connected. The package doesn't include any driver CDs--you can rebound from disasters only via a recovery partition embedded on the hard drive. But the system does come with a decent starter guide for working in Windows for the first time. Given that this desktop makes the most sense for novices, the extra attention to introductory detail is a great touch.

Given the system's low cost, we didn't expect eMachines to toss killer peripherals into the mix. A generic two-button mouse and a default keyboard are indeed all you get to play with, though the latter has two volume buttons--more than we can say for the keyboards of other value PCs. The system's connectivity is a tad anemic. It sports only four USB ports on the rear of the system, as well as a single ethernet port and integrated 5.1 surround sound. The front offers two additional USB ports and a media card reader. In total, that isn't a grand number of connections, but it is a little more diverse than the offerings of lesser-value competitors.

On the front of the chassis, the glossy case conceals the system's sole optical drive, a DVD reader/writer combo. The smooth look of the case is nothing remarkable, but it isn't bad either. As for the inside, we appreciate the extent of this machine's upgradability compared with other minitower value PCs we've tested. Two PCI Express x1 slots, a single PCI Express x16 slot, and room for one hard drive and a 5.25-inch device sit amongst a slightly messy cabling job. Considering that $400 gets you an average base system, we can see how one or two key upgrades would make a world of difference on the ET1161-03. And the total price after the addition of, say, a discrete video card would still make this desktop less of a hit to the wallet than other value PCs we've looked at.

You're getting what you pay for with eMachines' ET1161-03. Its performance is nothing pretty--in fact, it's horrible compared with that of most other value PCs. But the low cost is the key, and with an upgrade or two, the ET1161-03 could become a pretty good general-purpose PC. Adding a dedicated graphics card would remedy its lack of gaming performance as well.

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