Jewish World Review August 1, 2002 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5762

Off to college ... with eMachines

By Mark Kellner | There's a rather odious (to this viewer) series of TV ads in which an appropriately geeky looking high school senior is opining about which computer to buy. He's welcome to his opinion, albeit sponsored. Ask me for a recommendation of what desktop computer to buy a college-bound student.

A very good value can be found in the line produced by eMachines, Inc., of Irvine, California. A company that's had ups and downs - in management and in product quality - eMachines seems to have found its niche, as well as its balance. I've been testing the T4170, list price $775, and can find no complaints.

The system is far from a "bare bones" box: powered by an Intel Pentium 4 processor running at 1.60 Ghz, the T4170 includes 256 MB DDR memory, which is faster than the RAM found in some lower priced units. There's a built-in CD-RW drive, which works with either recordable (write-one) or rewriteable (write many times) CDs. A 60 GB hard disk drive and the "home" edition of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system round out the main package.

Connectivity for this computer is equally impressive, with a 56K fax modem and a 10/100 megabit Ethernet networking card included. Stereo speakers - small but good enough - are also included with the unit, as is a workmanlike keyboard and a Logitech-made optical mouse. The firm is offering a 17-inch monitor in combination with the T4170, and after rebate the total system is under $850. Not a bad deal considering all you get.

Setup of the eMachines T4170 was very quick: an illustrated chart will guide neophytes, and connections are clearly labeled and color-coded. I was up and running in about 10 minutes. The pre-installation of Windows XP made for a particularly happy experience, since the system was ready to accommodate multiple users instantly. (This feature of Windows XP is good for making sure junior doesn't get into the family checkbook, and Mom and Dad can keep their work files separate.

It's worth noting that there is a front-panel connector for a headset, canceling the speakers when attached; and two front-mounted USB connectors, good for digital camera and handheld computer synchronizations. The front bays for the CD-RW drive and the floppy - the latter, perhaps, an anachronism in a time when blank CDs are often less expensive than floppies - are easily accessed.

In performance - using programs as varied as Microsoft Word, Excel and Adobe Corp.'s Photoshop 6 - the T4170 was an able performer. I found no problems with its handling of multiple tasks, and the programs I loaded ran smoothly. The "7.0" version of AOL's client software is pre-installed, so online connections were easy using an existing AOL account.

I would recommend this machine for the college-bound - or for those working at home - if they don't plan to expand the system greatly, swap out hard disk drives, add internal drives, etc. It's a good, basic computer which is stylish and should operate sturdily for the length of an undergraduate career, if not beyond. But the low price means this should be thought of as a system that will eventually be replaced if a user's needs outgrow its capacity. That's not a bad thing, particularly at a good price. From such a perspective, the eMachines T4170 is an excellent value. Learn more about the computer online at

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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