Computer Associates Complaint - Junk Security Suite
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN -- You did warn me... (Review of eMachines T6412 w/Hyundai LCD)
But I take a line from TopGear's Jeremy Clarkson. He has this philosophy about American Cars. All American Cars are crap, and if you remember this, you might actually enjoy them. I take that philosophy and apply it to PCs. All PCs are crap. Remember that and you've got a fighting chance when dealing with them.
So, despite the fact that I know PCs to be crap, I wanted one for the home LAN. I had a few reasons, the primary being a desire for a cheap throwaway gaming machine. And knowing that PCs are crap, I decided to eschew any brands that carry this pretense of quality that some PCs attempt to foist on the unsuspecting public. They expect you to pay a premium for that. Just compare Dell or HP prices to no-name prices. Homey wasn't playing that. I bought a refurbished eMachines T6412 from Tiger Direct; $399 as is. And you get a lot of buzz for your buck - an Athlon 64 3400, 200 GB of storage 512 MB of mem (I bumped it to a full gig for another 50 bucks), a FULL 90 day warranty (sarcastic wow!), full CD/DVD RW (dual layer), an integral card reader (I take digital), and a good integrated graphics card. That last was key because this computer is intended mainly to run games, specifically Aces High II, Medieval Total War, and any silly frippery the better half wants. The machine comes with the usual garbage bundle - McAfee, a free Norton Security trial (choose one or swim in endless pop-ups), Works, Money, and, inexplicably, a third security suite (Etrust, and they charged me $65 for it) that I later installed and found to be possibly worthless. The machine arrives with Keyboard, Mouse, and powered speakers and for a monitor I bought a Hyundai 19" Hi-def LCD. This last was a major bargain at $280 before a $140 rebate.
Installation of the mem and setup was a breeze. I did this off the network, unthinkingly installing the aforesaid eTrust security suite. Of course, off-net everything worked flawlessly. The monitor was an immediate standout. Its res and color are gorgeous and belie its low price - but then, it's still early. It was only when I plugged into the router that things got rapidly interesting. First, because I now had McAfee, Norton Security, and the Etrust Security Suite ALL installed, I was immediately beset by a sea of security warning popups, registration requests, and setup and installer windows. Second, I found that the machine did a good job at insinuating some kind of automatic connection to the router sans any setup work on my part. Desiring to be rid of the former, I immediately disarmed and disinstalled McAfee and Norton Security, thinking the Etrust security bundle was likely better. After all, they included it as an extra so it must be really special. I then ventured out onto the net to go get some downloads. First, I went and got Aces High II, then I installed MTW from CD. Finally, on a whim I decided I'd go get my favorite Pink Floyd Animals screensaver - the one with the floating pig. This last was probably a HUGE mistake. I don't recall if the eTrust suite actually popped a warning about the download but, if it did, I was at that point so thoroughly inured to security warnings that I doubtless ignored it. Soon, strange things started happening. Starting from boot, I could open Explorer and immediately and speedily access the net - for about three URL entries. After that, all access to the net would be lost. The only clue to what was occurring was some cryptic ref at the bottom of the window to attempts to access some c: drive location path that ending in the frightening string "as.starware.com".
At first, I thought this internal redirection must be an issue with Etrust so I logged on to their chat site via another LAN machine. Etrust help had no clues to offer but were, of course, convinced that it wasn't their problem. So, I called the eMachines helpdesk and was very pleasantly surprised to find that I was on hold for a mere 14 seconds and was then connected to a woman who seemed to have a brain in her head. We talked through my problem and she very quickly discovered that starware is a very nasty piece of Trojan redirect virus/spyware (defined as "Maliciousware" according to her source) and that the only way to be rid of it was to destructively reinstall the system. Further, she recommended I junk all of my security software but McAfee and install a five-piece security package that eMachines endorses. She recommended that, for the time being, I disinstall all but Norton as that would keep me safe until my new bundle arrived - a $99 price on this last, I should add.
I followed her recommendations, reinstalling the system and Norton security and disinstalling McAfee and eTrust. This last will go back to Tiger for refund and will help to defray the $99 hit I'm taking on the new security suite. I then reconnected to the router and got - nothing. So, I made another call to eMachines and waited on hold for 24 seconds before transfer to a rather surly but still knowledgeable mouth-breathing woman who sounded as if she had a cold. We did some pinging and found that the computer could see the net. Thus she concluded that there was nothing wrong with the machine and it was likely a problem with my router and eMachinesdoesn't supportrouterssoshoveoff. I was forearmed for this, though, and kept her on the line by plugging the machine directly into my cable modem and duplicating the same problem. I told her that I thought this indicated a browser setup issue. I mean, the machine could ping through the net but the browser wasn't showing any connection. So we went through my browser properties and internet options and found - nothing wrong.
It was at this point that I thought about confounding. I have Comcast high speed internet and it occasionally and inexplicably seems to stall - no one knows why, and it certainly isn't leakage as we addressed that problem a few weeks ago on a Comcast trouble call. The only solution for this mystery issue is to power down my entire network, including modem, and then bring it back up in order of modem, router, and nodes. I did this and suddenly, everything began working perfectly and has been since. The crap eMachine eats up the net like a crap hemi mopar and, best of all, it runs Aces High II or MTW without graphics hiccups. And that's pretty good for ($399 + $65 + $50 + $99 +$280 - $140 - $65, i.e., a lot of trouble there) $688. So, in sum, I'd call it a good value, for a crap but economical computer. I just keep in mind that, like an old buddy's slightly used '71 Challenger (fast, but it threw a rod fairly early in its life), it could end very badly any day. And for what I paid, and given that I KNOW that PCs are crap, I guess that's thoroughly acceptable, even sort of devil-may-care enjoyable. And if it does end badly, I'll still have that monitor. I could use that with a Mac mini for purposes that require something like a stable, secure, high quality platform. I could use a new one of those, too.