We had a tough time figuring out how to categorize the Polywell H770i-400B PC. Its small size puts it clearly in the class of HTPCs or mini PCs that get tucked behind a monitor or TV.
What’s confusing about the Polywell H7700i-400B is its power curve. PCs in this class typically pack AMD’s Fusion CPUs or Intel’s lower-voltage CPUs to balance price, thermals, acoustics, and the typically modest performance requirements of a mini PC.
Instead of going for low power, however, Polywell stuffed a 3.4GHz Core i7-3770 part into its diminutive rig and topped it off with a 120GB OCZ mSATA SSD (along with a 500GB notebook hard drive). This makes the Polywell the fastest HTPC-class PC we’ve ever tested in most tasks. How fast? In our older Photoshop CS3 test that we still use to judge HTPC-class boxes, most Fusion and Atom boxes take upward of seven minutes to complete the action‑script test. The Polywell rolls through it in just over one minute. In encoding tests, a typical AMD E-350 box will take more than an hour to complete, with some Atom chips pushing it to two hours. The Polywell? Just 14 minutes.
A handsome aluminum chassis is marred by chintzy rubber feet that easily come loose.
Perhaps more interesting is how the Polywell stacks up against our previous performance champ: Asrock’s Vision 3D. With its 2.4GHz Core i3-370M and GeForce GT 425M, the Vision 3D murderized all other HTPC boxes. That mobile Sandy Bridge CPU, however, has no chance against the Polywell’s full-tilt Ivy Bridge part. The Polywell is easily twice as fast in compute-bound tasks. In graphics, though, we’re putting an older discrete chip up against the latest integrated graphics. The winner? We’ll call it a tie. The older GeForce GT 425M gives up 17,394 in 3DMark 2003, which isn’t that much faster than the Polywell’s 15,162. In games bound by the CPU, though, the Ivy Bridge part takes the front seat.
That’s an impressive feat for integrated graphics. The Polywell is capable of playing some more modern titles if you’re willing to tamp down visual quality and resolution, but don’t think it substitutes for a good graphics card.
That brings up an important question. In compute-bound performance, the Polywell outclasses other HTPC-centric boxes. It also has reasonable graphics performance; but why even limit yourself graphically? Why not instead step into an Alienware X51? The Alienware has since been upgraded to Ivy Bridge CPUs, as well, and lets you run fairly decent discrete graphics for under $1,000. Then again, is it even fair to pit the 8x8x3-inch Polywell against the Alienware X51 or the Falcon Tiki that we reviewed in September, both of which are two to three times larger than the Polywell?
That decision is, frankly, up to you, the consumer. It doesn’t make sense to lay out the cash for discrete graphics if your HTPC needs won’t include gaming. For that matter, do you really need a machine as fast as the Polywell sitting under your TV? Again, we think that depends on your usage. If you intend to watch streaming video and browse the web, a Fusion-based HTPC is more than enough. If, however, you intend to run a USB ATSC or USB CableCard tuner and encode video on your HTPC, then yes, you do need this much power.