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Polywell Poly 900VF review: Polywell Poly 900VF

Polywell Poly 900VF

Bill O'Brien
8 min read
Review summary

The Polywell Poly 900VF's headline feature is certainly the Athlon 64 3400+, AMD's latest--and fastest--mainstream 64-bit processor. But the 900VF packs in additional state-of-the-art components, with a pair of 36GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drives and a cool gigabyte of dual-channel PC3200 memory. A flat-screen, 19-inch CRT monitor; five-channel speakers; CD and multiformat DVD burners; a GeForce FX 5900 graphics card; and a wireless keyboard and mouse complete a system that's loaded for performance, whether you have it running your 3D games or helping edit your DV footage. Even more impressive: Polywell is rolling out the Poly 900VF for less than $2,000.

Brushed aluminum screams high tech, and the Polywell Poly 900VF's case is no exception. The silver finish is broken up by a Plexiglas side panel, which is bathed in a blue light radiating from the single neon tube tucked inside. Although it's a minitower at 16.5 by 8 by 19 inches (H, W, D), the case includes 10 drive bays: 4 front-accessible 5.25-inch bays (2 of which were unoccupied on our test system), 2 accessible 3.5-inch bays (1 available), and 4 additional 3.5-inch bays on the inside. Technically, 3 of the internal bays are vacant, but power and data cables effectively block 1 of them.


Polywell Poly 900VF

The Good

Top-shelf performance via new AMD CPU; multiformat DVD burner; fast graphics card; attractive case; competitive price.

The Bad

Monitor quality is only acceptable; limited hard drive capacity.

The Bottom Line

Amazing features and performance at a mainstream price make this Polywell (and its AMD chip) an easy choice for gamers and power users.
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A dense nest of wires and cables, despite ample room for expansion.

A pair of front-mounted USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and microphone and headphone jacks make connecting your digital devices a snap. Along with the usual legacy connectors, you'll find another FireWire port, four more USB ports, and a 10/100 LAN port on the back. The five rear audio jacks--three are integrated, and the other two are provided by an audio expansion card that also includes two optical jacks--may look traditional, but in some ways they're not. They're programmable to accommodate a wide variety of speaker choices, up to a 7.1 configuration. As you connect your speakers, a pop-up screen appears, prompting you to tell the computer what goes where.

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The side-panel fan and Plexiglas window in a non-neon moment.

Getting inside the case takes a twist of two thumbscrews, which reveals five available PCI slots. One is blocked by the aforementioned audio expansion card, while another will be an absolute squeaker, thanks to the overhang of the graphics card's heat sink. Two of the three memory slots are filled, and the First International Computer (FIC) motherboard will accommodate up to 2GB.

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Polywell preserves an external 3.5-inch bay by cramming the floppy drive in with the media-card reader.

AMD's Athlon 64 3400+ in the Polywell Poly 900VF is the big news; it's more than just an incremental bump from last year's Athlon 64 3200+. The 3400+'s 2.2GHz clock speed (compared to the 2.0GHz clock speed of the 3200+) allows the chip to intrude upon the performance backyard of the 3.2GHz Pentium 4 at a fraction of the cost. The Via K8T800 chipset is a holdover that supports that 3400+, and it continues to prove itself competent with the Athlon 64 lineup.

The fuzzy, 19-inch AOC monitor isn't the greatest we've seen at higher resolutions given its 0.25mm dot pitch, but it works well at 1,024x768 and handles video without complaint. If gaming is your goal, our 900VF test system's GeForce FX 5900 graphics card with 128MB of SDRAM is more than up to the task. The card includes a TV-out connector should you need a bigger screen. If you're targeting video editing, the pair of 36GB 10,000rpm SATA hard drives in a RAID array will give you all the speed you need, though you may want more space. Fortunately, you can add a larger third drive via Polywell's online configurator.

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Creative's 5.1 speaker set gets the job done, as long as you're not an audiophile.

On the video-production side, Sony's DW-U14A multiformat DVD burner (4X maximum write speed) offers both speed and flexibility, while the Aopen IDE5232 CD-RW drive (52X write, 24X rewrite, 52X read speeds) lets you build a music library or burn short videos. Nero Express will get you started on that road, and InterVideo's WinDVD handles DVD playback. That's where the Creative SBS 5.1 560 speakers come into play. Although downsized and pumping only 70 watts, they do provide competent audio.

Floppy disks are almost history, and Polywell's homage is a combo floppy drive and 7-in-1 media-card reader. The wireless Microsoft keyboard and mouse are welcome features, giving you some needed distance from the large screen, and if you have absolutely nothing to do, there's a six-CD Family Favorites game pack. They're a little old (included is 2001's Red Faction), but they'll give you a general feel for how fast this system is right out of the box.

Application performance
The Polywell Poly 900VF is the first system we've tested that uses the Athlon 64 3400+, the next speed bump from the mainstream Athlon 64 3200+ that AMD introduced last year along with the more high-end Athlon 64 FX-51. The mainstream 3400+ runs at the same clock speed as the FX-51 (2.2GHz), but it lacks the FX-51's dual-channel memory controller and thus supports only single-channel memory. And the new 3400+ chip offers a slight speed increase from the 3200+'s 2GHz clock.

We expected to see a minor increase in performance from the 3200+ to the 3400+, and the Polywell Poly 900VF performed about as expected. With a SysMark 2002 score of 332, the 900VF was slightly more than 2 percent faster than the Vicious PC Assassin SE, which uses the Athlon 64 3200+. The Assassin SE's CPU was overclocked (it was running at 2.1GHz instead of the default 2.0GHz), however, which resulted in a more narrow performance delta between the two chips than if both were running at the standard settings. In the end, the Athlon 64 3400+ is a worthy update to AMD's consumer line and should be more than adequate for any task it's given.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2002 rating  
SysMark 2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2002 office-productivity rating  
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (3.2GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Polywell Poly 900VF (2.2GHz, AMD Athlon 64 3400+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
ABS Ultimate M6 (2.2GHz, AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Vicious PC Assassin SE (2.0GHz, AMD Athlon 64 3200+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, 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 900VF employs the midrange GeForce FX 5900 with only 128MB of RAM. While its performance does not equal that of the higher-end 256MB GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, it did produce more than adequate numbers, including 211 frames per second (fps) on Unreal Tournament 2003. The GeForce FX 5900 should provide more than enough power to play any of today's games and titles down the road.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark03 v330 1,600x1,200 4X antialiasing 4X anisotropic filtering  
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
ABS Ultimate M6 (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Vicious PC Assassin SE (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Polywell Poly 900VF (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900)
Note: 3DMark03 v330 results may be artificially inflated because of driver optimizations

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark03 Pro v330, an industry-standard benchmark. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 9.0 (DX9) interface at a 32-bit color-depth setting and at a resolution of 1,600x1,200. We also enable 4X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering via Windows' Display Properties settings. A system that does not have DX9 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has such support.

3D gaming performance (in fps)   (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
ABS Ultimate M6 (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Vicious PC Assassin SE (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Polywell Poly 900VF (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900)
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)

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 at a resolution of 1,024x768. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled. At this color depth and resolution, Unreal is much less demanding than 3DMark03 and is therefore an excellent way to compare 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 Ultimate M6
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro XT 256MB; two Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; WinXP Promise FastTrack 376/378 controller

Compaq X09 Gaming PC
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller

Polywell Poly 900VF
Windows XP Home; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3400+; Via K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 128MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; integrated Via Serial ATA RAID controller

Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; one WDC WD2500JB-53EVA0, 250GB, ATA/100, 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller

Vicious PC Assassin SE
Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3200+; Via K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro XT 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; WinXP Promise FastTrak 376/378 RAID controller

In an era of standard one-year parts-and-labor warranties, Polywell goes beyond the call of duty by backing the Poly 900VF with an enormously generous three-year-parts, five-year-labor warranty as standard coverage. For repairs, Polywell offers depot service, where you ship the system or defective part in for repair, and the company will pay for one leg of the shipping. Optional onsite warranties are available for up to three years at $75 per year, if you're not comfortable wielding a screwdriver.

Questions that can't be answered within the somewhat generic user manual can be phoned in toll-free, 24/7 during the first year you own your Polywell Poly 900VF. After that period, calls are still toll-free but available to you only during West Coast business hours (Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Online support is limited to a meager FAQ page, some driver downloads, and a contact form.


Polywell Poly 900VF

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Support 8