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Polywell MiniBox 430AM2 review: Polywell MiniBox 430AM2

It's at the expensive end of the back-to-school market, but the Polywell 430AM2 offers a lot of hard drive space and a decent set of components that should keep you going for several semesters to come.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
5 min read
Polywell, a company whose high-end gaming and Media Center systems we're accustomed to seeing, has put together a basic box suitable for back-to-school shoppers, with the Polywell Poly 430AM2. This PC won't win any awards for design or performance, and at $1,350 (including a 19-inch LCD monitor and 5.1 speakers), it's more then twice as expensive as some of the more budget-minded back-to-school system's we've looked at recently, including the inexpensive but excellent Cyberpower Back to School Super Value. For the additional investment, however, you do get a decent set of specs, including a newly issued dual-core AMD processor, a decent midrange Nvidia graphics card, and 320GB of hard drive space. It's sure to last from orientation to graduation, even for those students prone to taking the occasional semester away from school.

The Poly 430AM2 uses a MicroATX motherboard inside a silver-and-black case that's a bit smaller than a standard desktop. You can configure the system at Polywell's Web site, in fact, with a small-form-factor Aspire X-Qpack case without swapping out any components. The unassuming front panel has a multiformat media card reader and three USB 2.0 ports hidden behind a sliding plastic panel. The panel is at least twice the size of most other sliding panels we've seen--big enough to cover two 3.5-inch drive bays--and we had trouble getting it to slide smoothly back into position.


Polywell MiniBox 430AM2

The Good

Dual-core Socket AM2 processor; component video outputs; plenty of hard drive space.

The Bad

Plain looking; one empty PCI slot is blocked; you can spend less and still get a PC that will get you through four years of school.

The Bottom Line

It's at the expensive end of the back-to-school market, but the Polywell 430AM2 offers a lot of hard drive space and a decent set of components that should keep you going for several semesters to come.

On the side panel is a large black button, about the size of a silver dollar, that says simply, Push. Sadly, pushing this button doesn't automatically pop off the side-panel door, but it does release a small internal latch, allowing you to pull the door off by the indented handle at the end.

Inside the neatly wired case there are two hard drive bays, each filled with a 160GB hard drive. A Sony DVD burner occupies one of the two optical drive bays, and two 512MB DDR2 memory modules fill half of the system's four RAM slots. The single x16 PCI Express slot holds a GeForce 7600 GS video card. Below that are two standard PCI slots, but one is inaccessible; the GeForce 7600 GS includes a small daughtercard, with component video outputs, that blocks the back-panel opening of one PCI slot. Compared to the similarly priced Gateway DX310X, the Poly 430AM2 provides more hard drive space, a more-recent midrange GeForce graphics card, and two more DIMM slots, the latter being especially important with Windows Vista on the horizon.

The Polywell Poly 430AM2 is based on AMD's dual-core Athlon 62 X2 4200+ processor and the company's new AM2 chipset. This chip is a step up from the CPUs we've seen in our other back-to-school systems, and it's on a par with the Gateway DX310S's dual-core Intel Pentium D 930. Compared with the Cyberpower Back to School Super Value, with its AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+, the Poly 430AM2 was 19 percent faster in CNET Labs' new multitasking benchmark and 11 percent faster in the Labs' iTunes encoding test. For the price premium, it's probably not worth the bump you get over the Cyberpower, unless you're a student who moonlights as a video game beta tester.

Thanks to the system's GeForce 7600 GS video card, gaming is a breeze. In our 1,024x768 Half-Life 2 tests, the Poly 430AM2 scored a very playable 87.5 frames per second, even with high-end options such as antialiasing turned on. The GeForce 7600 GS has a small daughtercard that gives you composite, S-Video, and component output--useful if you plan to connect the system to a TV. It's not a particularly media-centric system, but we always appreciate the flexibility component outputs provide.

Bundled with our test system was a 19-inch AvidAV LCD panel and a set of Logitech X-530 5.1 speakers. Knocking off these two options brings the system price down to $1,140. The Logitech speakers are excellent; the monitor is acceptable, and it includes small built-in speakers if you don't need dedicated ones.

The software bundle is limited to an OEM version of Nero's CD and DVD burning suite, and the default operating system is Windows XP Home. Students will need to spring for an office suite or perhaps try out Google's free office-productivity apps, such as Writely and Google Spreadsheets.

Polywell goes above the industry-average one-year warranty by offering three years of parts coverage and five years for labor. There's a 24-hour toll-free tech-support phone line for in-warranty customers, and after that, the company actually offers lifetime phone support on a more limited basis (Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT). Polywell's Web site has a basic page for downloading drivers and manuals, and it offers live chat during Pacific-time business hours.

Half-Life 2 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4xAA 8xAF  

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System configurations:
Cyberpower Back to School Super Value
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ AM2 socket; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7300 GS (PCIe); WDC WD2500JS-00NCB1 250GB SATA 7,200rpm
eMachines T6536
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+ 939 socket; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Nvidia 6100 graphics chip using 256MB shared memory; WDC WD2500BB-22RDA0 250GB SATA 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 430AM2
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ AM2 socket; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS (PCIe); (2) Seagate ST3160812AS 160GB SATA 7,200rpm; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)


Polywell MiniBox 430AM2

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 7Support 6