Review summary If you bought a sub-$1,000 computer a few years ago, more often than not you found yourself with a barely useful cheap PC. Fortunately, times change, and systems such as the $999 Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX demonstrate that budget systems have become legitimate propositions. Polywell starts with an Athlon XP 3000+ processor and 512MB of PC2700 memory and adds a 7,200rpm 80GB Western Digital hard drive to make the 880NF2-MX a reasonable performer. The integrated graphics won't thrill the serious gamer, but the BenQ 15-inch LCD will serve basic home users well. Pairing a 14-by-8-by-5-inch MicroATX tower case with the trim BenQ FP531 15-inch LCD panel, Polywell's Poly 880NF2-MX PC is perfectly suited for a dorm room or a nook in your house. The neutral black motif helps this machine fit in where beige or silver would be too gauche, and the matching keyboard and mouse complete the look. The front of the unit has four drive bays--two 5.25-inch and two 3.25-inch--with one of each still vacant. Once you undo the two standard Phillips screws on the side panel and open up the case, you'll find the included hard drive hanging horizontally from a bracket. Disappointingly, however, you will not find other internal drive bays.
A diminutive Aopen MicroATX motherboard sits inside. Two of its three PCI slots are vacant, and there's an AGP slot, which is very important for future expansion. Both memory sockets are filled, unfortunately, so you'll be forced to waste one of the memory sticks if you want to add more memory. On the back are the usual legacy ports, four USB 2.0 ports, plus video, sound, and LAN connections, all of which are integrated on the motherboard. Two more USB ports reside conveniently under a front-mounted flip-down panel, but we do wish the unit had a FireWire port. The Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX has four attractive features: an Athlon XP 3000+ processor, 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM, an 8X AGP slot, and the BenQ FP531 LCD flat-panel display. The AMD processor gives the system longevity, although we would have preferred faster 400MHz DDR SDRAM. Fortunately, although the memory's speed isn't ideal, at 512MB there's enough of it to handle Windows XP Home comfortably. Of course, you end up sharing 64MB of system memory with the integrated Nvidia graphics chip--an arrangement that may cause the system to slow down at times. Thanks to the AGP slot, however, you have the option of adding a real graphics card, which should noticeably boost performance.
Unlike the eMachines T3085 we reviewed in April, the Poly 880NF2-MX lacks a DVD burner. But it does offer a 52X Sony CD-RW drive. And at 10 pounds and 5.4 inches in depth, the accompanying BenQ LCD fits almost anywhere. You can even mount it on the wall, using optional hardware from BenQ. The 1,024x768 resolution display is of high enough quality for most applications you'd use with this configuration.
The 2.5-watt Creative SBS250 two-speaker system included with the Poly 880NF2-MX is sadly underpowered and wastes what could have been concert-quality audio. The motherboard's integrated audio supports 5.1 sound by reassigning the line-in connector to the rear speakers and the mic port to the center channel and the subwoofer. Casual music listeners should get by.
The software bundle has a utilitarian mix of titles, including WordPerfect Productivity Pack, McAfee VirusScan 8.0, World Book 2004 Encyclopedia, Pinnacle Instant CD/DVD, Quicken 2003 New User Edition, and Ulead PhotoImpact. Application performance
The Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX performed well for its processor class. Using a 2.17GHz Athlon XP 3000+ processor, it posted a score of 150 on SysMark 2004. Comparing that to the eMachines T3085, a nearly identical system that got 133 on SysMark 2004, we can see that the Polywell is a solid performer. We also found it interesting that the Polywell beat the Systemax Ascent 64 and its AMD Athlon 64 3000+ CPU, a more advanced processor than the Polywell's XP 3000+. One possible reason that the Polywell outperformed the Systemax is that the latter has only 256MB of DDR SDRAM, compared to the Polywell's 512MB. The Systemax also has a very low-end ATI Radeon 7000 graphics card. Overall, we can safely say that the Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX will perform all office applications with ease.
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, 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 an integrated Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics chip, the Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX wasn't built with 3D gaming in mind. Nevertheless, its score of 43 frames per second on our low-end Unreal Tournament benchmark is better than what you'd see with an integrated Intel Extreme graphics solution. Still, the frame rate lags enough to prevent consistently smooth gameplay. Luckily, the Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX has an AGP slot, should you want to add an advanced graphics card.
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 a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides 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.
System configurations: ABS Awesome 1300
Windows XP Home; 1.92GHz AMD Athlon XP 2600+; Via KT600 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Maxtor 6Y080P0 80GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 2400
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; Intel 8645G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated Intel 845G 64MB (shared memory); Seagate ST3120026A 120GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated GeForce4 MX 64MB; WDC WD1600BB-00FTA0 160GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated GeForce4 MX 64MB; WDC WD800JB-00ETA0 80GB 7,200rpm
Systemax Ascent 64
Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3000+; Via K8T800 chipset; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 7000 64MB; Samsung SP1203N 120GB 7,200rpm The Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX includes a user manual and component documentation, but the instructions are not written clearly enough to comfort most first-time owners. At the company's Web site, you'll find a FAQ, a driver-download section, and a contact link for Polywell's support team. Otherwise, during the first year of ownership you can call toll-free to talk to a tech-support rep seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. PT.
The system carries an unusually lengthy three-year parts and five-year depot labor warranty, with onsite service available at an additional $75 per year for a maximum of five years. Beware of returning the system outright: you'll be charged a 15 percent restocking fee.