Editors' note: Intel has delayed the launch of the 3.4EGHz Prescott processor until March 22, which means the Polywell Qbox 865T system as described in this review will not be available until that date. (2/18/04)
The first system we've seen with Intel's new 3.4EGHz Prescott chip, the Polywell Qbox 865T is proof that good things come in small packages. Gamers on the LAN-party circuit won't mind toting the Qbox to and fro, and with the ATI All-in-Wonder graphics card found on our $2,450 test system, space-constrained consumers get a PC and a TV in one. The Prescott CPU, paired with 1GB of fast 400MHz memory and a speedy 10,000rpm hard drive, gives the Qbox the power to handle a variety of multimedia tasks. In our test, the system felt peppy even when engaged in heavy multitasking that included recording TV while surfing the Web and burning DVDs. Plus, the case's good looks mean that you won't need to find a way to hide an ugly PC tower behind a bookshelf. LAN partiers who are always on the go won't find a more portable package than the Polywell Qbox 865T. The system measures 7.5 inches by 8.3 inches by 13.1 inches (H, W, D) and weighs 12 pounds, hardly heavier than some notebooks. Any father who's packing the trunk of the family roadster for vacation would be proud of the orderly job Polywell did squeezing the necessary components inside the bread-box-size case. The interior has just enough room to house a full-size graphics card along the left edge, and next to that, Polywell managed to leave room for a full-size PCI card. Audiophiles and movie buffs could use the open slot to upgrade to a sound card should they choose.
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|The Qbox 865T makes up for its lack of internal expansion with a wide array of ports and slots on the front and the back of the case.|
Our Qbox 865T review unit supported 5.1 surround sound out of the box, having reassigned the pink, green, and blue integrated audio ports to the front, rear, and center channels. There's even a sticker on the back panel that labels which port is assigned to which audio channel. The back panel also serves up the usual legacy-port suspects in addition to an S/PDIF-out (digital audio) port, three USB 2.0 ports, and an Ethernet port. Our test system's versatile All-in-Wonder graphics card is a multimedia powerhouse with DVI, video-out, video-in, and cable-TV ports.
Power up the machine, and you'll soon notice the blue LED on the front panel. It displays the time and some system information, such as the CPU temperature and the hard drive activity. Above and below it are sliding panels that hide external expansion slots and ports. With the panels closed, the Qbox 865T looks like it belongs in your living room instead of a back office. Hidden behind the panel above the LED is a seven-in-one media-card reader and a floppy drive. The other panel hides a pair of USB 2.0 ports and two FireWire ports along with microphone, headphone, and S/PDIF-in ports.
Our only complaint about the design is a minor quibble. We wish the company wouldn't stick metallic "Polywell" stickers on the case and monitor; they are hard to peel off, and they leave a residue when removed. We understand the desire for brand recognition, but this method gives the system an amateur look. In the weeks leading up to the launch of Intel's new Prescott processor, rumors swirled that the chip would debut with a speed of 3.4GHz, or 200MHz faster than the then-speediest Pentium 4 on the older Northwood core. The first batch of Prescott systems we received, however, all used the 3.2GHz version of chip. It wasn't until we spoke with Polywell that we found a 3.4EGHz Prescott chip. (Polywell also sent us a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chip, which we also tested on this configuration for comparison.)
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The case is just large enough to house a full-size graphics card, which, in the case of our test system, was the ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro.
The Qbox 865T also gave us our first glimpse at a new 10,000rpm Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive. Up to this point, we'd seen a few high-end systems with speedy 10,000rpm SATA drives, but they were all relatively small at 36GB. Helping ease the decision between capacity and rotational speed is Western Digital's new 74GB 10,000rpm drive. It's a smart choice for the Qbox 865T because the small case doesn't allow for additional hard drives.
Polywell offers just about any graphics card you can imagine on the Qbox 865T's online configurator; our test system used ATI's All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro. With this versatile card, you can play the latest games, watch and record TV, and input and output a variety of video formats. In our tests, this card displayed a smooth, sharp TV picture on the bundled 17-inch LCD. The system also includes a wireless keyboard and mouse and not one but two remote controls, which should keep you computing comfortably whether you're sitting alertly at a desk or relaxing in a La-Z-Boy.
With room for only one optical drive, Polywell chose well in outfitting our Qbox 865T review unit with a multiformat Sony DVD burner: the DRU-530A. Aiding DVD creation is the bundled Sonic MyDVD app. A five-pack of games concludes the software bundle and features titles such as Unreal Tournament and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. Our Windows XP Home test machine was missing any sort of productivity software. Application performance
We saw impressive results from the Polywell Qbox 865T on SysMark 2002. The 3.4EGHz Pentium 4 Prescott system outperformed similarly configured 3.2EGHz Pentium 4 Prescott systems from Dell and iBuyPower by roughly 15 percent. We attribute part of this increase to the faster chip. Other factors in the Qbox 865T's strong showing are the file system that Polywell uses and a lightning-fast hard drive. Polywell systems typically do very well on our tests because Polywell divides all of its hard drives into three separate partitions, with the main partition on which we run our tests using FAT32. The vast majority of systems we see use a competing file system called NTFS, which has more overhead than FAT32 and extra security features.
Although it bested other Prescott systems, the Qbox 865T still trailed systems using Intel's high-end and very expensive Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPU. In fact, Polywell sent us a second CPU, a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, which we swapped into the Qbox 865T for additional testing. Even though it is clocked at 200MHz slower than the 3.4EGHz chip, the Qbox 865T's SysMark 2002 score rose by 3 percent. Still, that's not a huge difference when you consider that going from the 3.4EGHz Pentium 4 to a 3.2GHz Extreme Edition adds more than $500 to the price.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
With ATI's All-in-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card, the Qbox 865T is a good fit for both gamers and couch potatoes. It performed nearly as well as the other high-end Radeon 9800XT cards did, and it gives you the bonus of being able to input a TV signal. With 54 frames per second (fps) in our high-end Unreal Tournament 2003 test, gaming performance was more than adequate. And in our anecdotal tests, the system never once choked or sputtered when tackling a variety of multimedia chores.
3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests, and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and resolutions, Unreal is an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell Dimension 8300
Windows XP Home; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; Maxtor 6Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition
Windows XP Home; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme Edition; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC
Windows XP Home; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Polywell Qbox 865T
Windows XP Home; 3.2GHz Intel P4 Extreme Edition; Intel 865PE chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA
Polywell Qbox 865T
Windows XP Home; 3.4EGHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA Polywell pads the diminutive Qbox 865T with a sizable warranty, covering parts for three years and labor for five. Onsite service doesn't come standard, but you do receive 24/7, toll-free phone support for the first year. Support is still a toll-free call away after the first year but only during business hours--Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT and by appointment on Saturdays.
Printed docs abound. We found the manuals for the motherboard, the graphics card, and the case itself all very helpful when setting up and configuring the system. Online help is minimal; you'll find only a very short FAQ page, some driver downloads, and a form to submit a problem to tech support.