eMac a Worst Buy? I Don’t Think So

PC Magazine’s Jim Louderback calls the eMac one of the ten worst products of the year. You know, the computer Mac site after site calls Apple’s best computing value ever. The machine we use at Low End Mac.

eMacLouderback writes, “…it’s slow, underpowered, and pathetic. The 40GB hard drive will fill up quickly, the lack of a DVD burner makes offloading files impossible, and the Radeon 9200 graphics card won’t even run this fall’s hot Mac games. . . . If you’re considering a home Apple, think different. Buy a Dell. Or be prepared to spend a lot more for an acceptable Apple computer.”

The obvious implication is that the eMac is an unacceptable computer, a conclusion many of us will never accept. The 1.25 GHz G4 processor provides plenty of power for everything short of video conversion and high-end gaming. The Radeon 9200 graphics do a fine job, even if some high-end games may not be supported – shoot, we’re starting to see games that require a G5!

If you’re looking for a powerful video production computer or a killer game machine, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a good computer for email, the Web, word processing, instant messaging, contact management, scheduling, music, and the other things that most of us do most of the time on our computers, Apple’s low-end eMac has everything you need.

Hard Drive

Yes, the 40 GB hard drive might fill quickly, but you can get a larger internal drive for $50-150 more. Frankly, the stock eMac drives are none too fast, regardless of size. That’s why one of the first things I did to my eMac was pull the internal hard drive and drop in a 7200 rpm one. Bigger. Faster. Nicer.

That’s not for the faint-of-heart. The eMac is the worst Mac I’ve ever been inside when it comes to accessing the hard drive. But the point is, if you want or need a larger or faster hard drive, you can install one.

Better yet, you don’t even have to take the computer apart. Pick up one of those low-cost external FireWire or USB 2.0 hard drives so often listed on DealMac and Deals On the Web. As I type this, DealMac lists a 40 GB 7200 rpm drive for just US$75.

Even better, these USB and FireWire drives are portable, so you can take them to another computer, something that’s just not practical with an internal hard drive.

DVD Burner

Quick show of hands: How many of you burn DVDs on your Macs?

Next question: How many of you know what a SuperDrive is?

Louderback apparently doesn’t. He takes the entry-level Combo drive eMac to task for a small hard drive and no DVD burner. Had he looked a bit closer, he might have seen that Apple also sells a SuperDrive eMac with an 80 GB hard drive and an 8x DVD burner.

Second objection answered.

Besides, you can also offload files using CD-R or CD-RW media in the Combo drive that comes with the low-end eMac.

Video

I’m not a gamer, so I don’t know what important new video games for the Mac won’t work with Radeon 9200 graphics. That said, at least Apple uses real graphics processors from companies that specialize in it – ATI and Nvidia.

Dell buys its internal graphics from the same company that makes the Pentium family of processors. I can’t find any details on Integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 900 found in the Dimension 4700 on Dell’s website, especially whether it has its own dedicated video memory or shares RAM with the rest of the computer.

That said, Dell is more than happy to sell you third-party graphics cards if you want better performance. Kinda says something about what’s built in, doesn’t it?

Value

Let’s compare the eMac with that Dimension 4700, a $899 computer ($749 after savings). It has a 7200 rpm 40 GB hard drive. It has a DVD-ROM drive, not a burner.

It can’t burn DVDs – or even CDs – and has a “small” 40 GB hard drive. (On the plus side, it’s a 7200 rpm drive. Apple, take note.) To match the Combo drive eMac, you add $59 for a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. To get an 80 GB hard drive and DVD burner like the SuperDrive eMac, you’re up to $759.

FireWire for your digital camcorder? Add $30. Speakers? (No, they’re not standard.) $20 and up. Microsoft Works, a poor runner-up to AppleWorks, adds $29 more.

Antivirus software, something Mac users can ignore, puts another $69 line item on your bill.

Guess what – we just passed the $999 list price of the SuperDrive eMac, and we’re still using the Home Edition of Windows XP. The full “Professional” edition, recommended for networking, adds another $79 to the final price.

And did I mention the 0.27mm dot pitch of the Dell’s monitor? It’s not as easy on the eyes as the eMac’s internal display with a 0.25mm pitch.

Apple doesn’t ship the eMac with a “lite” version of OS X, and it bundles a lot more software than Dell does. You have the display and speakers in a single enclosure with the computer. You have a single optical drive bay (on the PC side, it’s not uncommon to have separate drives for CDs and DVDs).

Conclusion

I’ll agree, Apple does skimp a bit on the eMac. There’s no reason Apple shouldn’t be putting 7200 rpm drives inside, just like Dell does. But there’s no reason to fault Apple for offering a drive the same size as Dell and others do on their entry-level computers.

The entry-level eMac does come with a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, something Dell charges extra for, and the SuperDrive eMac gives us DVD burning and a larger hard drive, addressing two of Louderback’s concerns.

How the Intel video and CPU performance (2.8 GHz Pentium 4) on entry-level Dells compares with Radeon 9200 video and a 1.25 GHz G4 in the eMac is something I don’t know, but from using the eMac day in and day out, I have nothing to complain about.

My eMac also came with Safari, AppleWorks, iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, iCal, Address Book, iSync, and Apple’s Mail application at no extra charge, and I don’t have any external speakers and wires cluttering up my desk.

If that all adds up to an unacceptable computer, I’d hate to imagine what Louderback would call the lower-end Dell, HP, Gateway, and other models. Somehow I can’t see calling them better buys.

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