capsule review

Polywell Poly P5500C: Massive Storage, Mini Design

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At a Glance
  • Polywell MiniBox P5500C Compact Power PC

The Polywell Poly P5500C power desktop PC has a 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870 processor. That isn't the fastest CPU on the charts, but it's swift enough to help the system come within 7 percent of the category's speed leader, the Xi MTower PCIe 965. Supporting this Windows 7 Ultimate-based system is 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM; two additional DIMM slots remain empty, for future upgrading. This compact machine's most impressive feature, though, is the storage space: Three hard drives in a RAID 0 array give you a total capacity of 3.5TB. It's funny that the smallest system on our current power PC chart delivers the most capacity of any PC we've reviewed, period.

Power and size limitations undoubtedly prevented Polywell from placing a dual-GPU card in the P5500C, let alone some kind of CrossFire or SLI setup. The system's single ATI Radeon HD 4890 graphics board generated 79 frames per second on in our Unreal Tournament 3 test, and 68 fps in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (both at 2560 by 2100 resolution and high quality). That's as good as it gets with ATI's single-GPU cards. Other power PCs based on single-GPU nVidia cards, such as the Polywell Poly 790GX3 (with an nVidia GTX 275 board), delivered five to ten additional frames per second on these benchmarks.

On our WorldBench 6 series of tests, the $1875 (as of 11/15/09) P5500C achieved the third-highest score of any power PC. Its score of 145 is a mere 7 percent below that of the category leader, the Xi MTower PCIe 965 desktop. Back in March, the Xi system had a price of $3796, more than double the current cost of the P5500C. Checking on the MTower's latest price would be worthwhile, but as it stands, Polywell's small system clearly has an excellent price-for-performance ratio.

The P5500C's single critical flaw is obvious the second you look at the system. Since Polywell has stuffed the gills with as many components as possible, the experience of getting in there and accessing the various components ranges from "not so bad" to "cancel your dinner plans." Our test configuration offered extremely limited upgradability. The massive amount of included storage means zero free hard-drive bays or 5.25-inch bays. And the single free PCI Express x16 slot and the one open PCI slot are more a tease than anything else, because wedging in and connecting more components looks to be a difficult task at best. (All of those components likely make the interior warmer than average, too.)

Diverse connection options are available across the front and on the rear of the chassis. A staggering nine USB ports grace the rear of the P5500C, accompanied by one FireWire 400 port, an eSATA port, a gigabit ethernet port, integrated 7.1 surround sound, an S/PDIF coaxial and optical output, and one HDMI and DisplayPort connector apiece on the ATI Radeon HD 4890 graphics board. The selection on the front of the P5500C isn't quite as comprehensive, but it's just as impressive in its overall functionality. You get three USB ports, a FireWire 400 port, a multiformat card reader, an LCD screen that displays CPU and hard-drive temperatures, and a hot-swappable drive bay that's protected under lock and key.

The case isn't much to look at, but its portability and security features suggest that it would be great for a LAN party. It would have been nice to have stealthed covers for all the front-panel slots, not just for aesthetics but also for security: As things stand, a thief could easily pilfer a disc from the system's integrated Blu-ray drive. The included carrying handle is a nice nod to the gamer on the go, as is the system's included side-panel window.

Our test machine also came with a wireless, generic two-button mouse. The Logitech keyboard thrown into the mix provides no additional buttons beyond what you'd find on a bargain-bin alternative. Both are curious choices given the nature of the P5500C itself--this tricked-out PC demands input devices that are every bit as useful and well equipped. In this regard, Polywell drops the ball.

If you're in the market for a packed power PC, ask yourself: Will I ever want to upgrade my rig? The Polywell Poly P5500C's generous array of internal devices leaves limited space for tweaks--but that's the system's only flaw. If killer performance, Blu-ray, ample connectivity options, and tons of storage space aren't enough to grab you at this price, what is?

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At a Glance
  • The Poly P5500C power desktop may be tiny, but it's no joke--this is a killer rig.


    • Excellent price-for-performance ratio
    • Massive storage capacity


    • Small size means limited upgradability
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