We suspect the majority of our readers are probably the DIY types, but every now and then it's nice to let somebody else do all the work. I'm sure we've all had those late nights figuring out why something isn't working or cursing over a broken component because you were too tired to use proper lighting and tools.
Pre-built systems can ease your pain in several ways. To begin with, they all come with warranties, so if something fails, you can just get it fixed. Everything has been pre-tested, so there's no guess work into trying to make things work. Finally, due to the sheer volume of purchasing, it is actually possible to save money to buy pre-built rather than doing it yourself.
Now, we just simplified all of that, and it's never as cut and dry as we've just described, but the gist of it is accurate. We're still big fans of building your own, but we understand many people choose not to go down that road.
Anyhow, we can debate that topic all day, and perhaps we will at a later date but today we bring our attention to the Polywell MiniBox 939NP (Media Center). This PC uses NVIDIA's latest C51 chipset and features a ton of features packed into a mATX motherboard.
||AMD X2 3800+ Dual Core Socket 939
||Nvidia C51PV with nForce 430GE Chipset and integrated GeForce 6150 Graphics
||1GB DDR 400MHz 2x512MB PC3200 Memory
||- Integrated Nvidia GeForce 6150 Graphics
- On-board RAID-0, 1 or 5 Controller
- On-board 5.1 Sound, 1394 Firewire
- On-Board Gigabit/100/1000T Ethernet
||- 500GB 2xWD SATA 250GB 7200RPM HD
- Floppy + Media Reader 7-in-1 Internal Drive
- Sony 16X DVD+/-R/RW 48X CD-R/RW Dual Layer
- Sony 52x32x52/16x CDRW+DVD Combo Drive
- Nvidia 2-Channel NVTV Tuner for Media Center
Polywell may not be a name familiar with many of our readers as they may not have the mindshare that enthusiast vendors such as Falcon and Voodoo PC may have. That said, I do remember all those Computer Shopper magazines I used to read back in the 90s and it was tough not to find an advertisement or review of a Polywell system. Here's a bit of an intro from their :
Polywell Computers Inc. manufactures the highest quality computers for today's extremely competitive market. Since 1987, Polywell has supplied the U.S. and international markets with the latest technological computer systems using the highest quality components.
Specializing in manufacturing custom configurations for high-end computers, Polywell markets a wide range of products primarily through editorial reviews, direct mail, and referrals from customers. Our product line ranges from Desktop PCs to RISC based Workstations as well as Cluster Servers and SAN/NAS Storage products.
The does have a corporate feel to it, so it may not seem obvious that they do carry a number of high-end products. The site itself is fairly easy to navigate (until you get to the product pages), and finding a sales rep or technical support is a simple affair with the live chat. Unfortunately, customer service and support was a little tough to find at 2:14PM EST on a Thursday afternoon, though a sales rep was available to help. We'll get back to this a little later, but getting back to the site, the only complaint we have is maybe it needs a little better design or organization, especially with the product pages we just described earlier. is quite an eyesore and does not make shopping very easy unless you know what you're looking for.
The Polywell MiniBox 939NP (Media Center)
We arranged for the Polywell MiniBox 939NP (Media Center), and within 4 days we received our package. In short, we ordered a 19" LCD and the MiniBox 939NP, and both arrived in a large box. Inside were smaller boxes with no foam or bubble wrap to keep things from bouncing around.
While the contents where packaged within smaller boxes inside, the main box was dented quite badly and we were a little concerned the product may have been damaged. Examining the inner boxes revealed they were ok, and once we started working with the MiniBox 939NP, we can say no real damage was done, but more on that later.
The MiniBox 939NP is housed in an . Overall, it's a decently designed chassis which doesn't stray too far from the basic fundamentals of a "cube" SFF. It's roomy and easy to work with, so any user upgrades to the MiniBox should be a snap. We're going to have to admit that the case is not one of our favorites in terms of aesthetics, especially since Polywell is marketing this particular model as a HTPC. You would think they would use a more HTPC type chassis, such as those from Silverstone or Ahanix, but the X-QPACK is fairly low cost which will keep the cost of the entire system down.
As you can see on the front of the case, there are two optical drives configured for the MiniBox. The primary drive is a Sony 16x DVD burner (supports multiple formats) and the secondary drive is a Sony CDRW and DVD reader combo. Personally, I find the inclusion of the CDRW somewhat pointless, but it can be removed by the user when custom building the PC. Since a lone floppy is useless these days, Polywell upgrades it by configuring the PC with a floppy and 7-in-1 card reader combo.
This particular model of the X-QPACK has only one side window. While we're less than enthused about the case choice, at least Polywell chose one without the three case windows which would have looked out of place next to a television.
Moving on to the rear, we can see that there are not too many extra cards included with the default configuration of the MiniBox. The only peripheral card we received was the TV Tuner, but the MiniBox is certainly capable of much more. There are two video outputs built into the C51 based motherboard which are the traditional VGA, as well as DVI.
In the heart of the Polywell MiniBox beats an , which is AMD's budget offering but that can be changed depending on your needs. Given the excellent thermal properties of the processor, the stock cooling is more than enough to keep things cool. Given the cramped confines of a SFF case, large aftermarket coolers wouldn't fit anyhow.
For the memory, our unit was configured with 1GB of SuperTalent CAS2.5 DDR400. For enthusiasts, it doesn't carry the reputation of Corsair or OCZ, but the ram is better than the generic no-names found in some OEM PCs and sport some heatsinks to keep cool.
TV tuning duties are handled by the . As one may expect, the NVTV card is fully compliant with the Microsoft Media Center Edition 2005 that Polywell uses for their Media Center PC. If, for whatever reason, you decide to switch the OS, the card will no longer work as MCE 2005 is a requirement.
Polywell replaced the stock X-QPACK PSU with a . We can't really question the decision too much as Thermaltake traditionally makes solid PSUs, but we did find that the original X-QPACK PSU did the job well.
The primary storage is made up of two hard drives. Polywell configured the drives in RAID-0, which will allow for better performance overall compared to a single drive. The drives feature 16MB of cache, and a 300 MB/s transfer rate.
All of this is connected to an MicroATX C51 motherboard. For a MicroATX board, the A8N-VM CSM packs a lot of features such as dual channel DDR 400, PCI-Express, Gigabit LAN, Dual VGA out (DVI-D, RGB), HD audio, and a TV out interface. One thing to point out is while TV out is supported, Polywell neglected to include the hardware for it in our review unit.
You'll hear the codename C51 tossed around a lot, and C51 represents the NVIDIA GeForce 6150 GPU and nForce 430 MCP Southbridge. The 6150 GPU supports DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.o and NVIDIA PureVideo Technology. The 430 MCP delivers extensive RAID support as well as the ActiveArmor Firewall.