capsule review

Polywell MiniBox 939NX-MCE

At a Glance
  • Polywell MiniBox 939NX-MCE

    PCWorld Rating

Polywell MiniBox 939NX-MCE
Photograph: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

Polywell's $1888 MiniBox 939NX-MCE comes in a squat, silver-and-black case that at 9 inches tall would look at home on a living-room shelf or an office desk. The case projects "geek chic" with a large window revealing the PC's inner workings, as well as a small blue LED on the front that displays the temperature of the CPU and hard drive. A folding handle makes the PC easily portable, and the included wireless Logitech keyboard is a nice touch.

The MiniBox doesn't scrimp on features. The front of the case offers a dual-layer DVD±RW drive, a DVD-ROM drive, a four-in-one media card reader, two USB ports, a microphone jack, and a headphone jack. Storage is important on any Media Center PC, and the MiniBox provides two 250GB hard drives striped in a RAID 0 array, which can supply faster performance. (The unit has no free bays for additional drives; if you want to swap the drives for bigger ones, however, the hard-drive chassis is very easy to access. Also, all the RAM slots and external drive bays are full, and if you want to add an expansion card to the open PCI slot or open x1 PCI Express slot, you'll have to remove the graphics and TV-tuner cards.) The MiniBox produced a very impressive WorldBench 5 score of 102--making it the fastest value system we've tested recently. The PC is outfitted with a dual-core 2-GHz Athlon 64 X2 3800+ CPU, 1GB of DDR400 SDRAM, and an EVGA E-GeForce 6600 graphics card.

Frame rates on our Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament video game tests were excellent for a budget system. Game play on both titles was fast and smooth, though Return to Castle Wolfenstein looked uncomfortably dark on the accompanying 19-inch Hyundai L90D+ flat-panel display, even with the brightness set to maximum. Also, small, 6.8-point text was difficult to read at the LCD's 1280 by 1024 native resolution.

The MiniBox has the usual complement of audio and video connectors found on a Media Center PC, including inputs for cable TV, FM antenna, and S-Video; the graphics card has VGA, DVI, and S-Video outputs. But connecting this computer to a home-entertainment system is best left to experienced users--aside from a motherboard manual, the setup documentation consists of a single sheet of paper. Our test system also included a remote control and one TV-tuner card; with a single card, you can record only one TV show at a time via Windows XP Media Center Edition's digital video recorder capability. For roughly $80 more you can configure your system with a dual TV tuner so that you can record two programs simultaneously.

With one foot in the office and another in the living room, the Polywell MiniBox 939NX-MCE is a good value for someone who wants a PC for both work and entertainment.

Kirk Steers

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Loads of hard drive space in a compact case. Fast CPU is well suited for processor-intensive tasks.

    Pros

    • Fast CPU; loads of hard drive space

    Cons

    • Included LCD failed to impress
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