Polywell Poly 880NF2-2800

WHAT'S HOT: Though priced at a rock-bottom US$993, this Polywell Computers is equipped with a 2.08-GHz Athlon XP 2800+ CPU and 512MB of DDR333 memory, and it earned a commendable score of 127 on our PC WorldBench 4 tests. While not the fastest system we've seen, it matches other systems powered with Intel's pricey 3.06-GHz CPU. Like many Polywell systems, the 880NF2-2800 has a window on the side of its brushed aluminum case that lets you peek inside, and it comes standard with a neon light to illuminate the innards of the PC.

To access the interior, you just undo two large thumbscrews and pull the swing-out handle to slide off the side panel.Our unit provided plenty of ways to add extra components. We found a total of six open drive bays (three externally accessible), three open PCI slots, and a vacant memory socket. However, if you fill this socket, you won't be able to take advantage of the motherboard's dual-channel memory; the board will instead use single-channel, 64-bit memory. Adding extra components should be a breeze thanks to tidy cabling and a roomy interior, though to add an extra hard drive, you will need a screwdriver and an extra minute or two, as the drive bays use screws to hold the drive in place.

WHAT'S NOT: Our test unit used an NVidia NForce2-based motherboard with integrated graphics; in high-end gaming tests it did achieve acceptable numbers, but only at low resolutions and low colour depth. If gaming is on your list of activities, consider ordering the system with an AGP graphics card (doing so, however, will add substantially to the price).

WHAT ELSE: The 17-inch, silver-and-black AOC 7F-SLK CRT monitor displayed crisp text and lifelike colors, making it a good choice for everyday computing tasks, although if you want to do high-resolution viewing, you'll need a bigger monitor. We also saw realistic skin tones and sharp detail in still images. Polywell paired up a Cambridge SoundWorks SW320 speaker set with integrated 5.1 channel 3D audio for this system; we found the results disappointing. The two satellites and subwoofer didn't take much effort on our part to connect, but the subwoofer sent out bass that was overpowering, while trebles sounded tinny and thin (a volume control can adjust the subwoofer, though). A midrange volume setting emitted the best overall sound quality, although it remained lackluster at best. Consider Polywell's other audio options, such as the Creative Inspire 5.1 5200 speaker set for an additional $34.

The wireless keyboard has eight hot-keys dedicated to audio functions, in addition to a separate bank of programmable buttons for launching Web browser and email applications. Polywell's documentation consists of a manual with set-up information, but it was out of date (for example, the information on the print-out sheet didn't match the case design). The software bundle includes Lotus SmartSuite 9.7 Millennium Edition and the video editing program VideoStudio 6 SE from Ulead.

UPSHOT: This Polywell's brushed-aluminum case and above average performance will add panache to any home or office desktop, but you'll want to spring for a better speaker set if you need high sound quality.

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