by Giuseppe Naylor
Earlier this year, I purchased a new laptop from a manufacturer not known for its quality in the past – the eMachines m6809. I did much research to ensure that I did not make a mistake by purchasing a notebook from a traditionally low-end provider. I can report that I am pleased with my decision.
EMachines m6809 Notebook Overview
eMachines, recently bought by Gateway, has made a solid effort to jump into the mainstream notebook computer arena. Its m6809, a desktop replacement notebook, is the first step into that arena. Loaded with an AMD mobile Athlon 64 3200+ processor (2.0 GHz), 512 MB of PC2700 RAM, and an 80 GB hard drive, it has enough oomph to stick around with the big boys. Add into the mix a 2.4x2x8 DVD+-RW drive, and you have the makings of a monster system.
This is eMachines top-of-the-line system, with the m6805 in close pursuit. The cases are identical; all of the differences are internal. The m6805, for example, has a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, while the m6809 has a DVD writer. The hard drive is smaller, at 60 GB vs. 80 GB for the m6809, and the chip in the m6805 is less powerful (mobile Athlon 64 3000+ vs. 3200+). These differences may seem minor, but are noticeable. The chip speed discrepancy is especially noteworthy as the added speed does translate into faster computing.
As pure numbers go, a repeatable benchmark of 3712 was achieved by this machine on PCMark04, and the graphics numbers are a very respectable 9270 on 3DMark01. These numbers put it very close to or higher than 3.2 and 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 performance numbers similarly equipped. Boot times are very good, with about a 1 minute wait between power up and work. Keeping your Windows startup menu clear only helps. Only serious multitasking slows this system down at all.
The eMachines M6809 with all of it’s “doors open”
The 15.4 widescreen is well-lit and clear, even though the resolution is at 1280×800, with no dead pixels. Adding to the visual performance of the system is the ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 with 64 MB of dedicated VRAM. This is not the latest or greatest GPU on the market, but it is more than adequate for almost all graphical and gaming needs, playing such new games as FarCry and Unreal Tournament 2004 with ease.
The eMachines m6809 features a nice sized 15.4″ widescreen
The case is a positive feature of the m6809. Its sturdy feel is a welcome change from the fall-apart plastic feel of some other systems. It does not have the same flash as some offerings from Voodoo and others, but is very clean-looking and well-designed. Its silver and black exterior hide a little noticed fact: when closed, the computer is only thinner than a Dell XPS, which definitely shows its portly proportions. This is a large computer, but it doesn t look it.
A back-side view of the EMachines m6809
The blue accent lights also add a very cool-looking touch to the system. Overall, the surface looks uncluttered, and the quick buttons on top for volume, the default music player, the default browser, and default e-mail programs make for convenient work without the clutter found on other notebooks. The touch pad is well placed on the rubberized top surface, and the mouse buttons are quiet, albeit a little hard to push.
With notebook computers, weight and battery times are very important. The m6809 does not disappoint in either category. It weighs 7.5 pounds, with a travel weight (with AC adaptor) of about 8.5 pounds. While this is heavier than most of the Pentium M lot, it is much lighter than, say, the Dell XPS, which weighs a whopping 10 pounds without the charger, or the HP zd7000 series, which averages a notebook-only weight of around 9 pounds. Battery life also falls within this classification, with just under 3 hours before the hunt for the outlet begins. While it has about an hour less battery life than some of the Pentium Ms, it has more than one hour over the HP or Dell offerings.
A side-view of the m6809 looking at the DVD writable drive
The m6809 also includes some upgrades that you would not expect to see on such a system. The 6-in-1 memory card reader, for example, covers the whole spectrum of multimedia devices that are available today. There are 4 2.0 USB ports, one more than much of the competition offers. The 4 pin FireWire port offers even more multimedia options, as does the s-video port. Most legacy ports, including parallel, serial, and PS2, are gone. Only an outlet to an external monitor remains from the early days of computing. Finally, to top it off, there is and integrated Broadcom 54g WiFi card to connect to your wireless networks or to tap into your favorite hotspot. Unfortunately, there is no integrated Bluetooth adaptor.
The m6809 comes preloaded with Windows XP Home. For most users, this will be sufficient. A restore DVD comes with this system. This is a welcome addition, as most restore disks come on CDs, and usually there are 4 to 5 disks, making you much more likely to lose one. The lack of a Windows XP Home disk, however, was not the best cost-cutting measure that eMachines took.
Included software is robust for the m6809. PowerDVD, Roxio Easy CD and DVD Creator 6, Microsoft Works and Money 2004, and MSN Encarta all come standard. Nero might have been a better option for such a multimedia powerhouse, but Roxio does an adequate job. Norton AntiVirus 2004 is included, but it is an OEM version, meaning that you will need to renew in three months (this is standard practice for almost all computer manufacturers).
Pricing and Value
As always with eMachines products, the kicker is the price. For $1549.00 (plus tax) from BestBuy, this system can be yours. The next closest competition in this feature set costs $450 more. In addition, most of the competitors, namely HP Compaq, utilize the antique nVidia Go440 GPU, which does not match the performance of the ATIs. The m6809 s price puts it more in the range of low to mid end Pentium Ms and 2.6 GHz P4s with shared graphics sets.
There are a few minor drawbacks to this machine. There is only one RAM slot that the user can upgrade, making the maximum RAM 1.256 GB. Even this is overkill for most users, but some gamers and graphics users will find this limiting. There is another RAM slot, but it is located deep within the system itself; you will void the warranty if you attempt to upgrade it. The hard drive is only 4200 RPM. Again, this is a mixed bag, as faster hard drives require more energy, and the slower hard drive in this machine helps it achieve the excellent battery times (for a DTR). The speakers are muffled, and the keyboard could use some upgrading of its own. External speakers are highly recommended.
Ironically, the biggest drawback to this system is not even a component of the actual computer. The service offered by eMachines is substandard. In a day when most manufacturers have a toll-free number, you must call Utah on your own dime. The call centers are not open 24 hours, and, if you do get an agent, you have 20% chance of talking to someone who does not know the answer. There is an extended warranty available through eMachines for reasonable prices ($109 for two years, $189 for three years), but getting the more expensive plan from BestBuy and others would be the better option.
Overall, it is the judgment of this reviewer that this machine is one of the best in its price range, and is definitely worth a $150 premium over the m6805 (DVD writers alone can cost over $200). From the sleek exterior design to the powerful AMD64 chip inside, this is a great choice for anyone who wants a bunch of power without robbing a bank to get it.
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