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Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 review: Polywell Poly 884RF-2700

Polywell Poly 884RF-2700

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
7 min read
From its funky silver case to its wireless keyboard to its bleeding-edge graphics card, the Polywell 884RF-2700 screams, "Play with me!" Indeed, you'll find this PC ideally outfitted for games, music, and movies. It's a solid performer overall and a speed demon when it comes to graphics. There's enough 3D horsepower here to satisfy serious gamers till the next presidential election, plus a bundle of top-tier games, a set of 5.1 speakers, and a generous warranty. However, despite its dual hard drive configuration and revved-up front-side bus, the Polywell didn't blow the doors off of our benchmark tests. Our major beef: a cacophany of cooling fans. Fix that, and this system may get a new lease on life.

Head-turning tower.

Expand to your heart's content.

A "boutique" tower in the truest sense, Polywell's shiny silver case mixes an industrial, nuts-and-bolts design with a hint of futuristic pizzazz. A jewel-case-sized light box adorns the front side, with an LCD in the center that acts as a clock and a temperature gauge, plus nifty LED glow colors cycling every few seconds. The partially transparent left-side panel lets you see the little mice working their wheels inside. It also shows off the system's ample space for expansion, including a whopping five free drive bays, two SDRAM sockets, and three PCI slots.

This neon tube failed to light our way.
Of course, the Polywell starts off so well stocked that you probably won't need to add anything. In fact, there are some things we'd like to subtract--namely, a few of the system's cooling fans. While the four fans do keep the insides plenty cool (about 95 degrees on average, based on the aforementioned gauge), they also make the machine sound like a jet engine. They're so ridiculously and annoyingly loud, they're likely to detract from your enjoyment of the machine.
If you decide to pull the plug on one or more of the fans (just make sure you watch that temperature gauge!), you need to remove just two thumbscrews to release the side panel. Incidentally, while inside the tower, we discovered a neon tube designed to light up the interior, but it wasn't working.
For external expansion, the Polywell serves up three FireWire ports and six USB 2.0 ports (two of them in front tucked away behind a drop-down panel). Thankfully, the transmitter for the wireless mouse and keyboard plugs into the system's PS/2 ports, leaving all six USB ports open.

A plethora of ports.

Though the Polywell is stocked with plenty of good stuff, two of its components are particularly noteworthy. First, there's the 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+ processor, which brings with it 400MHz DDR SDRAM (512MB), and a 333MHz front-side bus--both promising faster performance than that of previous Athlon chips. Second, you'll find the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card, which boasts the latest 3D acceleration and enhancement technologies and pushes pixels faster than nearly any other card. It also offers video-out capabilities for connecting the PC to a TV.

Tucked away in there: serious 3D action.

Move away from that computer.

Using your PC as a TV is much easier now, thanks to the inclusion of a ViewSonic wireless keyboard and a four-button wheel mouse, which work just as well on a coffee table as on a computer desk. Based on our informal tests, their practical range is about 12 feet. The keyboard felt a little stiff for our taste, but we liked the extra buttons for CD/DVD playback, volume, Web browsing, and commonly used applications.

It includes a gamer's monitor.
If you like to run Windows at 1,024x768, you'll love the 19-inch AOC monitor that accompanies the system. At that resolution, the display looks crisp and colorful. Bump up the resolution a notch or two, however, and text begins to look a little fuzzy. For games, though, the monitor excels, even at the highest resolutions. A single, simple wheel-button adjusts the AOC's settings.
Creative Labs' Inspire 5.1 5300 speaker system has become something of a staple these days and with good reason: it's an inexpensive surround-sound setup (one subwoofer, five satellites) that sounds better than its price would suggest. Those who like to crank up their movies, music, and games won't be disappointed. The only missing amenities are stands for the rear speakers.

Your bundle includes a Star Trek game.
In addition to shipping with Windows XP Professional (an odd choice for a home-oriented system), Polywell provides Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition (a throwaway for most Microsoft users) and six downright decent games, including Icewind Dale and Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. Better still, you can install the suite and all six games without making a dent in the Polywell's two 80GB hard drives, which are connected in a RAID configuration to provide faster performance, and 160GB of total storage space. Speaking of drives, the Polywell comes with the obligatory CD-RW and DVD-ROM duo.
Application performance
Our Polywell review unit was powered by an AMD Athlon XP 2700+ processor. The 2700+ marks the Athlon XP's shift from a 266MHz to a 333MHz front-side bus (FSB). Unfortunately, AMD Athlon processor-based systems aren't destined for the desktop performance hall of fame. The Poly 884RF-2700 doesn't show huge benefits from either the increase in bus speed or the bump in processor or memory speeds--the 2700+ runs at 2.17GHz and the DDR SDRAM memory runs at 400MHz.
In terms of overall application performance, the Poly 884RF-2700 performs similarly to a 2.26GHz-based Intel P4 system. With content-creation applications, the Poly 884RF-2700 acts more like a 2GHz P4. With office-productivity apps, however, the Poly 884RF-2700 actually comes close to earning the moniker of its 2700+ processor: it delivers performance comparable to that of a 2.66GHz P4-based system. Overall, while the Poly 884RF-2700 is a speedy system, those users seeking maximum performance can find noticeably faster systems elsewhere.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
Dell Dimension 4550 (Intel 2.66GHz P4)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (AMD Athlon XP 2700+)
iBuyPower Value XP PC (Intel 2.26 P4)
Gateway 500SE (Intel 2.0GHz P4)
ABS Bravado 2230 (AMD Athlon XP 2200+)
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
Hard-core gamers are clamoring to get their mitts on the ultrafast ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card. Not only does the Poly 884RF-2700 have one revving under its hood, but with a Via KT400 chipset-based motherboard, the Poly 884RF-2700's graphics subsystem runs at AGP 8X. This all adds up to top-notch 3D graphics performance.
3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)  
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Dell Dimension 4550 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
ABS Bravado 2230 (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 460)
iBuyPower Value XP PC (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440)
Gateway 500SE (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16-bit 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 4550 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
ABS Bravado 2230 (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 460)
iBuyPower Value XP PC (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440)
Gateway 500SE (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440)
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-end 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:
ABS Bravado 2230
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz AMD Athlon XP 2200+; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 460 64MB; two Maxtor D740X 40GB 7,200rpm; Promise MBFast Track133 Lite RAID
Dell Dimension 4550
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB; Western Digital WD120JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm
Gateway 500SE
Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 128MB; Maxtor D740X 80GB 7,200rpm
iBuyPower Value XP PC
Windows XP Home; 2.266GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Maxtor 6L060J3 60GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700
Windows XP Professional; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack133 Lite RAID

Polywell's written documentation needs to add some system-specific documentation to the component manuals that are included with the machine. For instance, nowhere do the help docs explain the three buttons on the tower's light box or the red button that mysteriously adjoins the two extra slot-mounted USB ports at the rear of the case. Worst of all, we found nothing pertaining to Polywell's warranty or support options--you'll have to hit the Web site to look up phone numbers, service terms, and so on.
The good news is that the company offers a lengthy warranty: three years for parts, five years for labor, and one year of 24-hour, toll-free phone support, after which the call's on you and the window is limited to business hours. All of this suggests that Polywell caters to seasoned, knowledgeable computer users rather than novices--something to keep in mind if you need a lot of hand-holding.

Polywell Poly 884RF-2700

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 7Support 8