One of the first systems we've seen with AMD's new Athlon XP 3000+ processor, the Polywell Poly 880NF2-3000 flew through our benchmark tests like no other AMD-based system before it. The Athlon XP 3000+ represents more than a speed bump in the Athlon line: it's the first processor based on AMD's new Barton core. The Poly has a higher sticker price than the other Barton-based system we tested, the iBuyPower Phantom XP, but the extra cash nets you a faster graphics card, double the memory, dual hard drives, productivity software, and slightly better performance. Equally impressive is Polywell's standard three-year-parts, five-year-labor warranty. Lackluster documentation may frustrate novices, but experienced gamers and demanding graphics users will find much to like in the Poly 880NF2-3000.
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|For your convenience, two USB 2.0 ports reside on the bottom of the front panel.|
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|Two Ethernet, two FireWire, and the usual complement of legacy ports can be found on back.|
The Polywell Poly 880NF2-3000 is a study in matte-silver minimalism. Its only ornamentation is a glasslike front panel backlit in blue. We appreciate the understated exterior design, which is a far cry from the blinking, whirring circus of the iBuyPower Phantom XP.
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|Even with two optical drives and dual hard drives, you still have space to grow.|
Two thumbscrews are all that stand between you and the Poly's well-ordered interior. Three of the system's five PCI slots remain free, thanks in part to the one-size-fits-all nature of the Poly's Asus A7N8X Deluxe motherboard, which brings audio, network, and FireWire onboard, obviating the need for dedicated cards. The back panel features all of the standard legacy ports, plus dual Ethernet connectors (for networked gaming), dual FireWire ports, and four USB 2.0 connectors. You'll find two additional USB 2.0 ports up front.
Though the keyboard is silver, it doesn't match the CPU tower.
And a quick note to PC designers everywhere: There are many different shades of metallic. In other words, a shiny, plastic silver keyboard (such as the flimsy unit that shipped with the Poly we tested) does not match a matte brushed-aluminum case any better than a chartreuse keyboard would. This kind of half-baked design detail is what separates your average PC from, well, a Mac.
As one of the first systems we've tested to feature the Athlon XP 3000+ CPU from AMD, the Polywell Poly 880NF2-3000 promises impressive benchmark results, killer multimedia, and breathtaking gaming performance. As you'll see from CNET Labs' testing, the chip lives up to its billing, although the fastest Pentiums still outclass it in some areas. Polywell has matched this top-of-the-line processor with additional high-end features to meet the needs of demanding gamers, graphics users, and home-business owners.
Our evaluation system shipped with 1GB of fast 400MHz DDR memory in two 512MB DIMMs (the motherboard supports a maximum of 3GB). The system also boasted a robust hard drive configuration, featuring two 80GB Western Digital drives and a High-Point controller running at RAID 0. Industrial-strength gamers know full well that the ATI Radeon 9700 graphics card found in our Poly test unit is the industry's fastest to date, thanks in part to its 128MB of video memory. The card, like that of the GeForce4 in the iBuyPower Phantom XP, features a DV-I port on the back for connecting to all-digital displays as well as an S-Video out for connecting to a TV.
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|Two 80GB hard drives in a RAID array.|
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|Creative's 5.1 speakers are an economical surround-sound set.|
In testing, full-screen DVD playback looked flawless. The included 19-inch CRT from AOC looked sharp and bright during most applications, while supporting a maximum resolution of 1,600x1,200. We love the display's intuitive onscreen menu system, which relies on only a single dial. Creative Inspire 5.1 speakers are a smart way to get true surround sound without spending a fortune, and they provide a good fit for the midlevel audio provided by the Nvidia Nforce2 chip on the motherboard. True audiophiles might want to upgrade to a 6.1 speaker set and get a dedicated audio board, but most users will be satisfied with the economical solution that we tested.
The silver-and-black keyboard and mouse each seem a bit flimsy, though we appreciate that both are wireless. Our test system also came preloaded with Windows XP Home, Lotus SmartSuite, Nero Burning ROM, and a six-pack of 3D games.
The Polywell Poly 880NF2-3000 is one of the first Athlon XP 3000+ processor systems we've tested. (The 3000+ represents AMD's latest-and-greatest generation of desktop processor, code-named Barton.) Even though the clock speed of the 3000+ (2.167GHz) is identical to that of the currently shipping 2700+, the newer design increases the L2 cache from 256K to 512K, which boosts performance.
Polywell combines this new CPU with fast 400MHz DDR SDRAM memory and a fast hard disk subsystem into a system that's capable of very speedy application performance. The 880NF2-3000's overall application performance is on a par with that of 2.8GHz P4-based systems. This level of performance, however, is still not quite into 3.06GHz P4 territory.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, 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
Gaming performance doesn't get much better than this. Combining the speedy CPU, memory, and hard disk subsystems with the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro (the fastest consumer graphics card available on the market today), means that gamers of any ilk--even the most hard-core--will be clamoring to get their hands on this machine.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance in FPS (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Home, 2.25GHz AMD Athlon XP 2800+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two IBM IC35L040AVVN07 40GB 7,200pm; Promise FastTrak TX2000 Ultra ATA/133
iBuyPower Phantom XP
Windows XP Home, 2.16GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4800 128MB; Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200pm
PC Progress X-Theory Plutonium
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI All-In-Wonder 9700 128MB; Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 880NF2-3000
Windows XP Home, 2.16GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200pm; HPT372A ATA/133 RAID controller
ZT Group eMAX Gamer Lightning Z1092
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 128MB; Seagate ST312002 120GB 7,200rpm; Silicon Image SiI 3112 SATALink Serial ATA controller
Polywell backs the Poly 880NF2-3000 with a heavy-duty, five-year-labor, three-year-parts warranty, which includes a year of 24/7 toll-free phone support but no onsite service. You're responsible for return postage to the company for service on any defective part. After the warranty term is up, you can still get a lifetime of free support during standard tech hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT on weekdays). You can also upgrade your service agreement to a maximum of five years of onsite service.
Polywell's online tech support is more robust than iBuyPower's, but neither of these smaller companies' tech-support departments is on a par with that of big hitters such as Dell or Gateway. And while the company makes a stab at documentation with a slim user's manual and other printed docs, you're pretty much left in the dark if you want to fix the problem without calling for help.
We must take issue with Polywell's online system configurator, which doesn't display the costs of each feature as you customize your system. In other words, the only way to tell how much more an additional 512MB of RAM will cost is to add it to your system, then scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how this action affected your final price. This gets pretty annoying after a while.