Polywell Poly i680SLI-QX

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Polywell Poly i680SLI-QX

Lately, we’ve been getting two kinds of systems for review: rigs overclocked to within an inch of their lives (or beyond) and those about as exciting as plain yogurt.

Polywell’s Poly i680SLI-QX comes from that ho-hum school of safe and sane computing. It’s L7 to the max, but that’s oddly comforting. Lately, we’ve been getting so many machines overclocked too far that the thought of a stock-clocked, boring box is refreshing. We’re just shell-shocked from seeing too many unstable machines that can POST but then spit up something pixilated and oozing at the first sign of a benchmark or application.

Poly i680SLI-QX
No need for a 1,000-watt power supply here; Polywell gives you two 700-watt power supplies.

Of course, calling the Poly i680SLI-QX a “boring” box shows you just how quickly we get jaded around here. This PC features Intel’s Core 2 Extreme QX6700 quad-core processor, a pair of 150GB WD Raptor 10,000rpm drives in RAID 0, 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800, an EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard, and the pièce de résistance, a pair of XFX GeForce 8800 GTX cards in SLI. For most people, that’s fantasy PC hardware you read about, but never own. So maybe we take back what we said about this system being boring.

One of the top problems facing system builders and consumers today is getting a PSU that can drive all that hardware reliably. It’s become so critical that Nvidia and ATI are testing PSUs for compatibility with their products, and diverging from the approved list usually ends in disaster. Polywell’s solution to the PSU problem is certainly unique. The company sidesteps the issue by using not one, but two 700-watt FSP PSU units in the huge Cooler Master CM Stacker case. The FSP PSU is certified only for 7900 GTX cards in SLI, but by using two separate units, the load is likely so light that power won’t be an issue. It’s different, but we’d probably rather just see a high-end kilowatt PSU in there. One of the problems with using dual PSUs is that you can’t tap all the power of the second unit.

Polywell ejects Microsoft Vista from the configuration here. The company didn’t say why, but we suspect it decided to play it safe since 8800 drivers for Vista are still pretty sketchy.

Polywell also does an interesting trick with its drive configuration. Along with the two 150GB Raptors is a 320GB drive for backup—it’s a little small but certainly better than nothing.

Poly i680SLI-QX
A new self-contained waterblock and cooler from Asetek doesn’t require you to yank your mobo to remove the cooling.

Unfortunately, the Poly i680SLI-QX won’t set any records for performance. The last two desktop machines we reviewed packed the same hardware as the Poly, but their 2.66GHz CPUs were overclocked to 3.46GHz. While the Poly i680SLI-QX makes a chump out of our zero-point Athlon 64 FX-60 machine and any Pentium D or Athlon 64 proc, there’s just no way in hell it can pull down enough numbers to beat the competition. The benchmarks are very good, excellent almost, but against a 3.46GHz quad core it’s just an exercise in futility. Of course, as we noted above, there’s no risk of this machine suddenly crashing two years from now due to extended overclocking. We did experience problems with SYSmark, but the benchmark has been increasingly flaky for the last few months, which we can’t fault Polywell for.

So where does this leave the Poly i680SLI-QX? In a pretty good place, actually. The Maingear F131, with its similar hardware, smokes the Polywell, but it also costs about $2,000 more. That makes the Poly i680SLI-QX a pretty compelling machine, despite its benchmark deficit to the overclocked kids.

POUND CAKE

Bling-free with stock-clock reliability.

FRUIT CAKE

Lack of soundcard leaves you at the mercy of pathetic Realtek audio.

8

SPECS
  Poly i680SLI-QX
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (2.66GHz quad core)
MOBO EVGA nForce 680i SLI
RAM 2GB Corsair DDR2/800 (Two 1GB sticks)
LAN Dual Gigabit LAN (Nvidia)
HARD DRIVES Two 150GB Raptors (10,000rpm SATA) in RAID 0, and one 320GB Western Digital 7,200 SATA drive
OPTICAL Sony CRX320EE, Sony AW-Q170A
VIDEOCARD Two XFX GeForce 8800 GTX in SLI (576MHz core, 900MHz RAM)
SOUNDCARD Onboard Realtek
CASE Cooler Master CM Stacker TX110
BENCHMARKS
  Poly i680SLI-QX
SYSmark2004 SE WNR
Premiere Pro 2.0 1,960 sec
Photoshop CS2 227 sec
Recode H.264 1,653 sec
FEAR 1.07 116 fps
Quake 4 163.5 fps
Our current desktop test bed is a Windows XP SP2 machine, using a dual-core 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of Corsair DDR400 RAM on an Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, two GeForce 7900 GTX videocards in SLI mode, a Western Digital 4000KD hard drive, a Sound Blaster X-Fi soundcard, and a PC Power and Cooling Turbo Cool 850 PSU.
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