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Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 review: Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200

Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200

Asa Somers
8 min read
Review summary
Thanks to its Athlon XP 3200+ processor, the Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200--the first system we've tested based on the 3200+--sends a very clear message: You can find blazing speed in a moderately priced system. The Poly 880NF3-3200 delivered groundbreaking benchmark test results, some of which remain unmatched even by systems based on the fastest Pentium 4s on the market. Such top-notch performance is doubly shocking in this system, considering that, while Polywell does offer some bleeding-edge options, you can choose to configure the Poly 880NF3-3200 much more affordably than true luxury-gaming PCs that offer similar performance. In fact, our evaluation system, which included a mixture of high-end and midrange family-oriented features, carries with it a relatively affordable price. The Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 comes in a brushed-metal midtower case with little adornment. Blue glass accents and a shiny silver power button on the front provide the only ornamentation, while a plastic window on the side panel gives you a view of the system's guts. We like the understated design, which is a few steps fancier than a beige box without looking distracting.
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The huge fan on the graphics card blocks an otherwise useful PCI slot.
The case gives you easy tool-less entry for fixes or upgrades. You must remove two screws in order to take off the side panel and gain access to the case's interior. You'll also need to unhook the power cables for the exhaust fan that's mounted in the panel itself. Unfortunately, the Poly 880NF3-3200's four case fans and the famed "dustbuster" fan on the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra graphics card make this system a bit noisier than many of its peers.
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Free drive bays give you room to expand.
The interior of the case is laid out in an orderly fashion, giving you easy access to all of the components inside. Of the 10 total drive bays in our evaluation model, 5 were free, while only one of the five PCI slots remained available. In addition to our test system's modem card, FireWire card, and RAID controller card, the elaborate exhaust contraption for the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra graphics card takes up a PCI slot. DIMMs are easy to mount and remove--our system had a single slot free for memory expansion.
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Though the system has six USB 2.0 ports and four FireWire ports, you won't find any FireWire ports up front for your convenience.

Unfortunately, while our test system featured four FireWire ports in the back, none of these ports made it around to the front of the case. Two of our system's six USB 2.0 ports, however, are in front, behind a small, flip-down panel at the tower's base. In addition to a barn burner of a CPU in the Athlon XP 3200+, Polywell outfitted our Poly 880NF3-3200 evaluation unit with a whopping 1GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM (in two DIMMs) and Nvidia's latest graphics card--the 128MB GeForce FX 5800 Ultra. We were initially surprised to find that the two-platter RAID array included matching hard disks of only 36GB each, but we soon discovered that they were speedy (and fairly expensive) 10,000rpm Serial ATA drives from Western Digital. These puppies help applications load faster and are especially useful for graphics and video pros who need quick access to large media files. They require a dedicated RAID controller, in this case, the RocketRAID 1520 from HighPoint--an added-cost option available on Polywell's online system configurator. If you don't need this kind of hard drive performance, you can save some cash by choosing among a variety of sizes of Ultra ATA drives that Polywell offers.
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Our Poly 880NF3-3200 system featured CD-RW, DVD-ROM, and floppy drives.
A 16X DVD-ROM drive and a fast 52X/24X/52X CD-RW drive rounded out our test system's media options. Given the system's killer graphics subsystem, it's no wonder DVD playback looked stellar. Our Poly 880NF3-3200 shipped with a 19-inch monitor from AOC with 0.25mm dot pitch, the least expensive display option Polywell offers. We love this monitor's onscreen menu system and single-wheel control--the most efficient, intuitive we've seen--as well as its one-touch color-temperature-recall feature. The monitor's picture looked sharp and bright during most applications, while supporting a maximum resolution of 1,600x1,200. Graphics pros and hard-core gamers may want to look at Polywell's more expensive Sony or ViewSonic monitor options, but for mainstream use, you'll get a good picture for a good price with this AOC CRT.

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What good is a 5.1-speaker set without 5.1-sound inputs?

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Odds are you'll want a different keyboard and mouse.

Too bad Polywell didn't match such high-end graphics and video with equally good sound. The Nforce-2 motherboard has integrated support for 5.1 sound, but Polywell neglected to include the daughter card that offers the necessary inputs for the rear and center channels (it's only an $18 upgrade on Polywell's site). Without this card or a dedicated 5.1 sound card, we weren't able to take full advantage of the bundled Creative Inspire 5200 5.1-speaker set.
Nor are we fans of the flimsy wireless keyboard-and-mouse combo that came with our test system. We highly suggest that you go with something more substantial, even if it costs you a little extra. We'd also recommend paying extra for a productivity suite such as Microsoft Works Suite 2003. Our test unit shipped with Lotus SmartSuite Millennium 9.7, which works with the Poly 880NF3-3200's OS, Window XP Home, but is still an underwhelming and outdated productivity suite.
Application performance
The Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 boasts two new pieces of desktop technology. Not only is this system the first we've tested to use the Athlon XP 3200+ processor, it also gives us our first glimpse at a 10,000rpm hard drive (two, in fact). The 3200+ follows the recently released Athlon XP 3000+, which was the first AMD CPU based on the new Barton core with 512K of L2 cache.
The 3200+ has a raw clock speed of 2.20GHz--not much faster than the 3000+'s speed of 2.17GHz. More significantly, however, the 3200+ has a faster frontside bus (FSB) of 400MHz, up from the 333MHZ FSB of the 3000+. The 3200+ CPU combined with two 10,000rpm Western Digital 36GB Serial ATA hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration make the Poly 880NF3-3200 a truly formidable system. Its SysMark office-productivity score of 230 is the highest we've seen on this test to date. If this Poly 880NF3-3200 PC is any indication, AMD's new offering looks to be very competitive with Intel-based systems and may end up giving Intel a run for its money.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Dell Dimension 8300 (3GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Alienware Area-51 (3GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (AMD Athlon XP 3200+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Voodoo F-Class F510 AMD Custom (AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Hypersonic Cyclone (AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)

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
The Polywell is one of the few systems to come into CNET Labs with the long-awaited and hard-to-come-by Nvidia FX 5800 Ultra graphics card. The new FX graphics engine was supposed to beat the pants off the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro, but this does not appear to be the case. The FX card barely bests the 9700 Pro and does not provide the runaway performance that Nvidia has claimed. Now with ATI's new 9800 Pro, the FX card will have even more catching up to do. But this is just comparing the fastest to the faster; any game on the market today will play beautifully on this system.
3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
Dell Dimension 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
Voodoo F-Class F510 AMD Custom (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
Hypersonic Cyclone (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 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)
Quake III Arena  
Dell Dimension 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
Hypersonic Cyclone (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
Voodoo F-Class F510 AMD Custom (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)

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.

System configurations:
Alienware Area-51
Windows XP Professional; 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; two Seagate ST3120023AS 120GB 7,200rpm, Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER Serial ATA RAID controller
Dell Dimension 8300
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD2000JB-75DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
Hypersonic Cyclone
Windows XP Professional, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two IBM/Hitachi IC35L180AVV07 180GB 7,200rpm; Promise FastTrak TX2/TX4 controller
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon XP 3200+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two Western Digital WDC WD360GD-00FNA0, 36GB 10,000rpm; Highpoint RocketRAID 1520 SATA RAID controller
Voodoo F-Class F510 AMD Custom
Windows XP Professional, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two Seagate ST3120023AS 120GB 7,200rpm; Promise FastTrak TX4000/S150 Serial ATA controller Polywell backs the Poly 880NF3-3000 with an impressive three-year-parts and five-year-labor warranty, though onsite service is not included. You can upgrade to three years of third-party onsite service, but the contracts strike us as expensive ($403 for three years, for example). If you don't choose to upgrade to onsite service, you'll be responsible for return postage to the company for service on any defective part. No matter the coverage you choose, you'll receive a year of third-party, 24/7, toll-free telephone support and a lifetime of toll-free tech support during business hours (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturdays).
Remember those support hours, too, because you won't find much help in the included printed documentation nor on Polywell's Web site. Unless you expect to need lots of hand-holding, however, we think the length of standard parts-and-labor coverage makes up for the dearth of support information in an industry where a one-year warranty is the norm.
One final note: 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. The back-and-forth scrolling gets pretty annoying after a while.

Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 9Support 8