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Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60 review: Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60

Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60

Rick Broida
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").

8 min read

Once you get inside, you'll see a clean case interior. As with other SLI systems, the two Nvidia GeForce cards collectively occupy five expansion slots' worth of space. This leaves you with access to only a single x4 PCI Express slot. You might also be able to eke out space for one regular PCI card; it will involve the bracket on the SLI bridge chip spanning the two graphics cards (you'd need to remove the chip from the bracket) to free up access to the expansion slot between them. Both Falcon Northwest and Velocity Micro did this in their FX-60 systems to accommodate a sound card, for example. You can drop in another pair of memory sticks if you choose, and the tower also has room for another couple drives--though it was plenty crowded in our review unit already, given the three hard drives and the two optical drives. The Polywell is a well-ordered system, with removable hard drive cages and cleanly routed wires and cables.


Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60

The Good

Quick, stable performance; versatile, fast-refreshing LCD monitor; smart hard drive configuration; 7.1-channel speaker system gets good and loud; great deal for its class.

The Bad

Tower gets noisy when fan throttles up; graphics cards block PCI slots; wired volume control gets in the way; no discrete sound card; 24/7 phone support requires warranty upgrade.

The Bottom Line

Serious gamers will covet the Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60 because of its utterly stable game performance at the highest settings. It also takes the edge off the sky-high price by including a monitor and speakers. We just wish the design and support were more polished.
Polywell Poly N4-SLI2/FX-60
Built for hard-core gamers who live to push pixels as fast as they can go, the Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60 squeezes blazing performance from its AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 dual-core processor and SLI-connected 512MB GeForce 7800GTX cards. Our $4,730 configuration also shipped with a fast-refreshing 19-inch LCD, a seven-channel speaker system, and even a copy of the outstanding World War II shooter, Call of Duty 2. Sounds like gaming gold, right? It would be, except for some missing overall polish. Among other issues, there's no discrete sound card, the system gets exceedingly noisy, and Polywell's support leaves a lot to be desired. Relative good deal or not, we demand more from such a pricey, high-end PC. Despite its high-powered interior, the Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60's outward appearance is plain but pleasing to the eye. The tower is mostly black, with a silver-accented front panel and grille-style bezels covering the unused drive bays. A single screw holds the tower's side panel in place, and a pair of inelegant tabs extends off the panel to assist in removing it.

With a total of five fans inside, it's not surprising that the Polywell makes a fair amount of racket--especially when the system is performing an intensive task such as gaming, at which point the fans throttle up and raise the noise level from acceptable to annoying. If ever a PC cried out for liquid (that is, silent) cooling, it's this one. Unfortunately, Polywell offers no such option.

One of the major selling points for the Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60 is that, as the name implies, it comes with AMD's latest high-end gaming chip, the dual-core, 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60. Polywell wisely paired it with a high-end lineup, including the Nvidia Nforce4 SLI x16 motherboard, 2GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, and a pair of standard-clocked 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX 3D graphics cards. We're stymied, though, as to why Polywell wouldn't add a full-fledged sound card; instead, it left the motherboard's RealTek ALC850 audio processor. Sure, it's capable of 7.1-channel sound, but with no advanced support for EAX, unlike Creative's Sound Blaster cards, which do support EAX, you'll definitely miss out on the type of rich gaming audio you'd find on the Falcon Northwest Mach V and the Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX. You can configure the system with a variety of sound cards on Polywell's Web site.

The Polywell's 400GB of available storage comes courtesy of three hard drives, while a pair of Sony optical drives--a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo and a double-layer DVD burner--give the system its disc-burning muscle. Polywell deserves kudos for configuring the hard drives with care. The company deployed the two faster drives--10,000rpm, 74GB Western Digital Raptors--on a RAID 0 controller, then divided them into unequal partitions: a 42GB C: drive for Windows and system files, and a 106GB E: drive for games and applications. Polywell named the third drive Data; it's a 7,200rpm, 250GB Western Digital. Obviously, you can use the drives for whatever storage configuration you prefer, but we think this is an excellent setup, one that lends itself equally well to performance and easy backups. We're also glad to see that Polywell chose the modern NTFS drive formatting standard, rather than the typical FAT 32 formatting it sometimes applies to get faster performance at the expense of reliability.

We also liked Polywell's choice of monitor. The Hyundai ImageQuest L90D+ features both analog and digital (DVI) inputs, a height-adjustable base, and a game- and movie-friendly 8ms response time. The 19-inch screen can also rotate 90 degrees for desktop publishing and the like, though you'll have to install the necessary pivot software yourself. In informal testing, we found the L90D+'s images razor sharp and suitably vibrant, with maybe a hint less color saturation than we'd prefer. But games and action-filled movies exhibited no apparent ghosting or blurring, making this a great screen for its intended applications.

As for the speakers, we're a bit on the fence. Creative's Inspire P7800 combines a whopping seven satellites and a subwoofer for 7.1-channel audio goodness. The sound is loud and deep, perfect for games and movies, though perhaps a bit overbearing for music. But this is a relatively low-end package (it retails for $100), and it probably won't satisfy audiophiles who crave features such as THX. What's more, we didn't care for the volume control, a wired dial that not only gets in the way, but also seems to go from soft to ear-splitting with the slightest touch. At least it has a headphone jack.

It's worth mentioning the bundled Logitech keyboard, which resembles a traditional multimedia keyboard but seems thicker and more heavy-duty than most. Also, although the keyboard itself is wired, it comes with a wireless optical mouse. The latter gets its signal from the keyboard, so there's no separate sensor to occupy a USB port (and precious space on your desk). We found the mouse sufficiently precise in games such as Quake 4, though hard-core gamers may prefer a signal-guaranteed wired mouse instead.

On the software side, Polywell delivers a few surprises: the aforementioned Call of Duty 2 (surprising because PCs rarely come with recent games) and a boxed copy of Nero 7 Ultra Edition. The latter is obviously preferable to CyberLink PowerDVD and NTI DVD-Maker 7, both of which are also included. Notably absent is any kind of antivirus software, which should be mandatory with a new PC.

As noted in our reviews of the first batch of AMD Athlon 64 FX-60-based PCs, we ran into some major stability trouble. Fortunately, we saw none of these same issues with the Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60. It ran all of our 3D gaming benchmarks with no problems, and some scores were even as high as its overclocked competitors. Doom 3 at 1,600x1,200 proved the downfall of the other FX-60-based systems, largely due to inconsistent power draw from their respective power supplies. The Polywell had no such issues, posting 130 frames per second, nearly tying the overclocked Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX. We always expect pricier systems to set performance records, and the Polywell doesn't. Still, we have no reservations about the Polywell's gaming performance: it's stable and more than fast enough to run today's games at high resolutions with advanced settings turned on.

3D gaming performance in fps
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF  
Doom 3 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  
Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF  
Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4xAA 8xAF  
Note: ** CPU and graphics are overclocked.

Note: ** CPU and graphics are overclocked.

While its SysMark 2004 scores didn't set a new mark, we're impressed that on this test it flat-out beat the overclocked Velocity system by 6 points, posting an overall score of 295. We suspect that Polywell's fast hard drives lent it a significant boost, more so than the overclocked chip did for the Velocity Micro system. Only the Falcon Northwest Mach V's score of 306 topped the Polywell's. Then again, the Mach V was one of the systems that exhibited power stability problems. (Falcon is aware of them and has since addressed the cause.) The Polywell system might not be the prettiest of these ultraexpensive systems, but if you plan to purchase one, you can certainly take comfort knowing that it's just as fast as the other two systems, and it's the most stable system we've seen so far.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations

Falcon Northwest Mach V (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (SLI); two Maxtor 68300S0 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA 150; integrated Nvidia Nforce4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)

Maingear F131 SLI-AMD
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+; Nvidia Nforce4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (SLI); two 74GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM SATA; one Maxtor 300GB 7,200rpm SATA

Overdrive PC Torque SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; Nvidia Nforce4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; one Seagate ST3200826AS, 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)

Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvida Nforce4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (SLI); two Western Digital WD946D 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA, one Western Digital WDC2500KS-00MJB0 250GB Serial ATA II; integrated Nvidia Nforce4 Serial ATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)

Velocity Micro Raptor 64 Dual X (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce4 SLI x16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe); two Hitachi 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce4 Serial ATA RAID controller (RAID 0)

Novices, take note: Polywell provides manuals for certain components only--nothing pertaining to the Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60 as a whole. The company backs the system with a generous warranty: three years for parts and five years for labor, and toll-free phone support, though you have to purchase a warranty upgrade if you want 24/7 service or onsite service, both of which are provided through a third-party company. We expect Polywell's own service and support to give you at least 24/7 phone support, especially with this class of system. While it is no doubt lame that Polywell asks you to pay extra for this support and the various onsite service plans, experts might at least appreciate that they have the option not to pay for it; other companies roll that cost into the price with no option to cut it out if you don't want it. We also found a decent support section on Polywell's Web site, including an option for live chat with a tech--always a plus.

Polywell Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX-60

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8Support 5
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