capsule review

Polywell ITX-Z6800: Great Meat; Needs Potatoes

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At a Glance
  • Polywell ITX-Z6800

For a system priced at a cool $1000 (technically, $999 as of 1/3/2012; the price may drop), you’d expect a desktop PC--and a compact PC, no less--to come with some bells and whistles. But the only sound we hear coming from Polywell’s ITX-Z6800 is one of raw performance. Don’t get us wrong: We love a speedy system. However, the market is cluttered with Compact and Budget PC contenders that offer a lot more than what the ITX-Z6800 delivers in total.

Polywell stashes the lower-power variant of Intel’s Core i7-2600 CPU into this 8-by-8-by-3.5-inch system. This gives the ITX-Z6800 a bit of an advantage on cooling due to the lower power draw, as the i7-2600S CPU runs at 2.8GHz versus the i7-2600’s full 3.4GHz, helping this compact PC run a little quieter during normal operation. But, as hinted above, the ITX-Z6800 is no slouch in the performance department: Intel’s Turbo Boost feature allows the i7-2600S to jump up to a clock speed of 3.8GHz when necessary. And this flexibility really comes across on our WorldBench 6 suite of tests, where the ITX-Z68’s speeds deliver a superhigh score of 147.

Here’s the problem, though: Other inexpensive systems hit the general performance ball a bit farther, and do so with more features than the ITX-Z6800 brings to the table. To put it another way, the price-to-performance ratio of this model is a bit out of line. And because of its compact size, the ITX-Z6800 isn’t very friendly on the inside, even for experienced tinkerers.

One area where the unit does manage to excel is in connectivity--on the rear, that is, as only one sad USB port is on the front. Flip the box around, however, and you’ll be treated to no fewer than four USB ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a SPDIF optical port, one gigabit ethernet port, a VGA port, and integrated 7.1 surround sound. That would amount to an ideal setup for a living room PC, except for the ITX-Z6800’s high price tag and its below-average storage (500GB).

So, to tally the wins, the ITX-Z6800 really nails it for general performance and connectivity. It loses in the graphics department--we didn’t mention that earlier, because there’s little worth mentioning, but the system can’t game for beans. We had to dial our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark down to a resolution of 1024-by-768 (on high quality) to achieve playable frame rates, and that’s just not an acceptable graphical trade-off for the modern gamer.

Other losses center on the system’s price and what you’re getting for what you’re putting in: no Blu-ray player (you get a DVD-CDRW combo drive instead), below-average storage capacity, frustrating upgradability, and less general performance than what more inexpensive systems offer. Shoot, our ITX-Z68, as reviewed, didn’t even come with a mouse or a keyboard.

This is a great example of why it’s important to look beyond a system’s speeds when picking a new PC to purchase, as clock speeds and performance scores are just single measurements. They’re one side of a die (arguably, two), but they do nothing to tell you whether you’re getting the best system for your investment. You have to think holistically on the lower end of the Budget PC spectrum. And when you do, Polywell’s ITX-Z68 just doesn’t pan out as a great choice.

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At a Glance
  • This super-fast system costs a pretty penny for just that: Where did all the other features go?


    • Diverse rear connectivity
    • Impressive general performance


    • Lack of Blu-Ray limits media center functionality
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