capsule review

Polywell MiniBox 780G-940 Value Desktop PC

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At a Glance
  • Polywell Minibox 798G-940

The $1399 (as of 2/2/09) Polywell MiniBox 780G-940 is a bit different from the standard Dragon-platform PCs of the Phenom II variety. Its 3.0-GHz X4 940 processor resides on an Asus motherboard with a 780G chip set, but among that AMD-heavy mix of parts sits an outsider: one of nVidia's latest graphics cards, the GeForce GTX285. Unfortunately, the parts combined don't deliver performance to rival any of the other Phenom II PCs we've tested at the time of this writing.

We're curious as to why Polywell decided not to overclock this system's "Black Edition" CPU. Perhaps that's because the tiny minitower case simply has no room for thermal management. It's a shame, since the chief selling point of an X4 940 chip is the potential for a powerful overclock. And the oversight came back to haunt Polywell on the benchmark portions of our testing.

In our graphics tests, the single GTX285 card helped the MiniBox 780G-940 achieve an average frame rate of 80 frames per second in our Enemy Territory: Quake Wars benchmark (2560 by 2100, high quality). That's excellent performance, though it didn't top the mark of 82 fps from the similarly priced Maingear Dash, which was equipped with a Phenom II and dual ATI Radeon HD 4850 boards. The MiniBox's Doom 3 result of 164 fps (1280 by 1024, with antialiasing turned on) was good, but still short of the results from the Dash and from the Phenom II-based Dell XPS 625 desktop. (Driver issues plagued our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark, so we were unable to develop a score for that game.)

We saw similarly average results in our WorldBench 6 benchmarks, as the MiniBox 780G-940 nestled between the two other Phenom II machines with a score of 113 (versus the Dell's 109 and the Maingear's 117). Overall, the MiniBox's scores placed it among the top performers in our sub-$1500 value PCs chart, but nearly at the bottom of our power PCs category, which includes both Core i7 and Core 2 Quad platforms priced in the $1500-to-$1800 range.

It's hard to determine what to blame for those merely average scores--perhaps the stock-clock CPU, Polywell's strange decision to include only 4GB of DDR2-667 RAM in the MiniBox, or the new GeForce GTX285 card. At least you'll be set on storage space, as Polywell tosses three 500GB drives into the mix for a total of 1.5TB. That's more storage than we see on most desktops in any category, let alone value systems like the MiniBox 780G-940.

The MiniBox's included two-button mouse is a bargain-bin throwaway, not nearly the type of input device that the gamers using this PC would want. The keyboard is a slight improvement, offering the sort of media and function buttons that you find on fancier models. On the other hand, Polywell pulls out all the stops for the MiniBox's connectivity. The rear of the case boasts six USB ports, one HDMI port, a single DisplayPort connection (excellent!), optical S/PDIF, a FireWire 400 port, an eSATA port, a single ethernet connection, and 5.1 surround sound. But wait, there's more on the front--there you get two USB ports, one FireWire port, and a multiformat media card reader for all of your handheld gadgetry.

As you might expect with a name like MiniBox, this Polywell's case is small and compact. But Polywell has gone a few steps beyond the boring ol' box we're used to seeing on PCs of this size, including a lockable, hot-swappable hard-drive bay and a digital temperature sensor on the front of the chassis. While some owners might not get much use out of the hot-swap bay, the digital temperature sensor is a must-have accessory for a PC of this size, since it gives you an immediate sense of whether the MiniBox's cramped internals are approaching a meltdown. We far prefer this little reminder to any kind of software-based temperature sensor. It's the sort of addition we don't often see on the front of most PCs--and it's perfect for enthusiasts who try to overclock this compact computer.

Upgrading the internals of this case would prove taxing, as with most minitower PCs. The system has room for a (small) PCI card, and offers a single open PCI Express x1 slot. You won't get to add any more hard drives to the machine, but at 1.5TB of total storage, the MiniBox's out-of-the-box drives will last you for quite a while. If you have a bulkier upgrade (such as replacing the CPU or graphics card) in mind, be prepared to entrench yourself in a rat's nest of wires. In this small system, you simply have no room to work.

The Polywell Minibox 780G-940 won't win any awards for speed, but it isn't a disaster. The machine performs within the general range of Phenom II PCs we've tested thus far; and for a portable system, its looks are preferable to those of competing models such as Maingear's Dash. Though Polywell didn't do much to tweak its system's internals, the company did spend a lot of time getting the external appearance and features to stand out. The extra few frames per second from this PC might go unnoticed to the average gamer, but this machine's awesome connectivity options and chassis will definitely help it stand out in a crowd--or at a LAN party.

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At a Glance
  • The portable Minibox boasts Nvidia's latest graphics card, and an amazing amount of storage and connection options.


    • Terrific array of connections and ports
    • 1.5TB of storage


    • Cramped, messy internals
    • Not much room to upgrade
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