These days a price tag of less than $400 usually means you're buying a netbook, rather than a full-size laptop. However the popularity of low-cost laptops combined with tough economic times has Acer resurrecting its eMachines laptop line with the eMD620-5777, available exclusively through Best Buy for $379 (and this is the current list price; the system has dropped below $300 in the past, and we wouldn't surprised to see it go that low again this holiday season).
With a single-core AMD Athlon processor and only 1GB of RAM, this thin-and-light's performance is nothing to write home about. Also, its battery life and paucity of ports hold this laptop back somewhat. However, if you're in the market for a lightweight 14.1-inch notebook, the eMD620-5777 is worth a look.
The eMD620 isn't going to win any design awards, but its basic build has a certain nostalgic late-1990s corporate style. When looking at the contours and overall design, it is clear that the eMachines eMD620 takes some styling cues from the Acer TravelMate line, including the black matte lid, ribbed plastic above the keyboard, and a thin silver frame that surrounds the touchpad.
The overall feel of the eMD620 isn't as cheap as one would expect for its budget price, but the system is primarily covered in a black plastic. Measuring 13.0 x 9.8 x 1.2-1.6 inches and tipping the scales at 5.3 pounds, this isn't the sveltest thin-and-light, but it didn't cause much strain on our shoulder when put into a messenger bag.
Sharp Picture with Strange Glare
The 14.1-inch glossy display (1280 x 800-pixel resolution) is bright and delivered sharp images and perfectly legible text. When we watched Elf on the DVD drive, colors were sharp and no noticeable motion blur appeared in a scene where reindeer dragged Santa's sleigh through Central Park. While vertically tilting the screen caused a distracting glare, horizontal viewing angles were better; watching the movie side-by-side with a friend was a pleasant experience.
Though a 0.3-megapixel webcam was located above the display on our review unit, mass production units will not be sold with a webcam.
Decent Sound on the eMD620
The built-in speakers, which are located on the front edge, delivered decent sound: not as loud as some budget laptops we've tested, but enough volume and clarity to make the machine usable for streaming music or audio from a DVD. On the topic of sound, the eMD620's fan noise was noticeable but not overly distracting.
Curved Keyboard, Lacking Ports
Like Acer's TravelMate line, the eMD620 includes a full-size ergonomic keyboard, which has a slight smile-like curve. It's not so different from a standard keyboard as to throw off your typing; in fact, we found it very comfortable, and the matte keys had a nice feel and bounce to them. The touchpad is decently sized and offered a good textured feel as we navigated around the desktop, but the right and left mouse buttons clicked loudly.
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The eMD620 is equipped with just two USB, a VGA, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks. The system lacks a memory card reader slot; we were peeved when we had to go searching for an external SD Card reader to transfer pictures to the laptop.
Overall Performance of the eMachines eMD620
Click to enlargeThe eMD620 is a decidedly bottom-of-the-pack performer among thin-and-lights, but that's to be expected given its price. It's powered by AMD's Athlon 2650e single-core processor running at 1.6 GHz, and it has only 1GB of system memory. This combination notched 1,224 on PCMark Vantage (about 1,600 points below the thin-and-light average). While this configuration was more than capable of running Firefox 3 and Microsoft Word 2007 simultaneously, when we added running a DVD movie and Skype to the mix, the system became quite sluggish and took more than a handful of seconds to finish a task.
Increasing the RAM to 2GB was easy (since the notebook has an extra slot), and while this change bumped up the eMD620's PCMark Vantage score by only 25 points, it improved multitasking in Vista Basic slightly; we were able to run Firefox, MS Word, and Skype with less lag.
The ATI Radeon X1200 graphics card managed scores of 1,405 on 3DMark03 and 233 on 3DMark06; these scores are slightly higher than the netbook average. In other words, you won't be playing 3D games and running graphics-intensive applications. This was borne out by a F.E.A.R. score of 23 frames per second at 1280 x 800-pixel resolution.
Sluggish Hard Drive
The 5,400-rpm hard drive performed our file transfer test at a poky 11.5 MBps and booted Windows Vista Basic in a minute and 28 seconds; once we removed Google Desktop from the Startup list, boot time decreased by a few seconds. Nevertheless, the eMD620's 160GB of space is plenty of room for your work, music, and photos.
The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adapter turned in strong wireless throughput of 21.3 Mbps (at 15 feet) and 19.2 Mbps (50 feet), but it does not support 802.11n. Streaming music from Slacker.com was smooth, and watching Desperate Housewives on ABC.com was void of any pauses.
The eMD620 lasted a disappointing 2 hours and 12 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). This is about an hour short of what we'd expect for a thin-and-light.
Software and Warranty
The eMD260 comes loaded with Windows Vista Home Basic and a handful of software, including Adobe Reader, Google Desktop, eMachines GameZone, a sampling of popular online games, and Microsoft Works 8.5. Also included are trial versions of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 and a 60-day trial of Norton 360 Version 2.0. The notebook comes with a standard one-year warranty, which includes customer service from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m. (PST) seven days a week.
The $379 eMD620-5777 sports a larger screen and keyboard than similarly priced 10-inch netbooks, and it includes an optical drive. However, customers will have to put up with short battery life, no memory card slot, and two USB ports (most netbooks come with three).
Those who can't live without those features--and don't mind a smaller display--will be best be suited with a netbook such as the $499Samsung NC10, which can last 6 hours on a charge. Nevertheless, those looking for an ultra-cheap laptop for basic Web browsing and word processing will find a capable companion in the eMachines eMD620-5777.