Polywell PC measures up

Polywell’s latest gaming PC costs just US$3399 (as of July 11, 2007) — cheap for a gaming system — and it’s the first machine we’ve tested to ship with dual 512MB ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics boards operating in CrossFire mode.

It features a 3-GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ CPU and 4GB of RAM; but for all the apparent speed on paper, we found that its actual performance lagged behind that of other recent gaming systems.

The 580CF-2900 received a score of just 93 on WorldBench 6 Beta 2 tests, a result roughly 26 percent behind the average mark of 126 that rival systems in our gaming-PCs chart achieved. The dual HD 2900 XT graphics boards also struggled, achieving 130 frames per second in Doom 3 at 1280 by 1024 resolution with antialiasing turned on, and 140 fps in Far Cry at the same settings. Of the models in our gaming-PCs chart, the best performer on the same Doom 3 test was the Alienware Area-51 7500, which was equipped with dual 768MB EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX graphics boards. It achieved 165 frames per second, versus the rest of the gaming-PC field’s average of 143 fps. The Dell XPS 720‘s 768MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GTX board helped it lead the way in our GPU- and CPU-intensive Far Cry game script, which we run at 1280 by 1024 with antialiasing turned on; here the Dell averaged 202 fps, easily besting the Alienware and the Gateway FX530XT, which tied at 181 fps.

Though the 580CF-2900’s midsize-tower case resembles that of an Alienware system, it isn’t the same quality. For instance, the latch on the door covering the front drive bays is flimsy–we accidentally broke it off. Inside, the cables are adequately tied, but they’re bundled such that it’s hard to install anything into the three available 5.25-inch bays or the single free 3.5-inch bay. All of the case’s hard-disk bays were occupied on our test system, as it had two 74GB, 10,000-rpm Western Digital hard disks and one 500GB, 7200-rpm Seagate hard disk (for a total capacity of 648MB).

Since the dual-graphics-card rig occupies a great deal of space, the Asus M2R32-MVP motherboard has only a PCI Express x1 slot free for expandability. Connectivity options at the back of the system include two gigabit ethernet ports, two PS/2 ports, one eSATA connection, a six-pin FireWire port, and six USB slots. You can plug in peripherals even more easily using the two USB ports and one six-pin FireWire connection on the front of the case, located underneath the door covering the multiformat DVD writer, the DVD-ROM/CD-RW drives, and the media card reader.

Polywell has matched the 580CF-2900 with some good-quality equipment. The 22-inch Samsung 226BW wide-screen LCD has a 3000:1 contrast ratio plus a fast 2ms response time (perfect for gaming and watching movies); in addition, the company shipped our test model with a Logitech Cordless Optical mouse and a Logitech premium keyboard.

The system runs Windows Vista Ultimate, and Sid Meier fans will be pleased to hear that the bundled AMD game pack includes full versions of CivCity: Rome, Railroads, and Pirates. You also receive a full copy of the first-person shooter Prey.

Though the Polywell 580CF-2900 has 4GB of memory and the latest ATI graphics, with its 3-GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor it just can’t match the speed of systems equipped with one of Intel’s quad-core chips.

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