I have to admit it: I love eMachines. The name used to synonymous with “utter crap”, but a couple years ago, they brought in a new CEO who said “OK, we make shit, let’s change that”. Since then, they’ve made decent computers using off-the-shelf components at prices that are much lower than anything you could get from another manufacturer (and sometimes, lower than it would cost to build yourself). Over the years, I have bought these boxes from eMachines (I’m too lazy to look up the model numbers):

  • AthlonXP 2000+, 256MB, 80GB, DVD/CDRW - $500 in early 2003 - Currently my media center PC.

  • Athlon64 3200+, 512MB, 160GB, DVD/CDRW - $1100 in late 2003 - This was the T6000, the first mass-marketed Athlon64 desktop system, and cost MUCH less than it would have taken to build your own. They probably took a decent loss on each one just for the “we did it first” factor. It also had a kickass video card for that time, a Radeon 9600 pro. My parents have this one now.

  • Athlon64 3400+, 1GB, 200GB, DVD+-RW/DL/CDRW - $600 in June 2005 - This one has an onboard Radeon XPress 200, which is quite bland, but at least has an available PCI express slot. What was odd was that it came with WinXP Media Center Edition, even though it didn’t come with a TV card or remote.

  • Athlon64 3200+, 512MB, 160GB, DVD+-RW/DL/CDRW - $500 this month - Purchased by work, same motherboard, just with slightly lower specs across the board.

My biggest gripe so far is that their web site SUCKS. Their info pages only list the last 2 or 3 models (even though more are available on the store shelves), they don’t even mention that they sell laptops (which I’ve heard are good), and the support site doesn’t have drivers available (which is annoying, but at least all the components are standard, so you can find drivers on the manufacturer’s web sites).

Another odd thing is that the computer does not come with a restore disc. Instead, when you first boot the computer, it makes you burn the restore image onto 1 DVD or 4 CDs (which are provided). This makes sense, however, when you consider eMachines comes out with new models faster than some people change underwear, and it would cost a lot more to press CDs every time a new model came out than to just give blank media to the consumer and have them do it for you.

I’ve never had a problem with this before, but when I did it on the latest machine at work before I wiped it to put XP Pro on it (we have a windows domain, which you can’t associate an XP Home machine to), I noticed that the burned DVD appeared blank. Of course I noticed this after the machine (and restore partition) was wiped. No problem, I could get the drivers from the various websites, but my boss thought this would be a good opportunity to see how their tech support is.

I called up the support number, went through a couple menus, and ended up in the general purpose support queue (oh boy, time to wait an hour). I was suprised to hear “Thank you for holding, My name is Bob, ID 12345. I notice you have been on hold 25 seconds. How can I help you?” Wow.

I explained my situation, which he understood, and he told me that can ship replacement recovery media to me. Normally it’s a $20 charge (which really I would accept, since I should have checked the media before I wiped the drive 10 minutes after I bought it), but since it sounded like the software somehow screwed up, he would ship it out for free. It took him about 5 minutes to fill out the various paperwork, during which time we discussed the intricacies of bulk RAM pricing. A knowledgeable tech support guy, wow. And at the end, I was about to ask him for his name again (since I never get around to writing it down during support calls), when he said “OK, we’re just about done. Your case number is 11111, and once again, my name is Bob, ID 12345.”

Dell, you could learn a lesson from these guys, Mr. I-need-you-to-run-some-stupid-diagnostic-utility-to-confirm-that-your-IBM-Deathstar-75GXP-is-actually-dead.