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Polywell Poly 880K7C-1300Du

What's hot: The Poly 880K7C-1300Du is the first system we've tested that runs at over 1 GHz to use AMD's budget Duron processor. Equipped with a 1.3-GHz Duron CPU, 256MB of DDR memory, and Windows XP Professional, this system really delivered: Its PC WorldBench 4 score of 104 is only three points below the average for PCs using 2.0-GHz Pentium 4s.

Considering that this is a value system--albeit one priced higher than average at $1450--Polywell ( tosses in a broad range of extras. The system has a total of eight USB ports--a pair of USB 1.1 ports are on the front, and two more USB 1.1 ports and four USB 2.0 ports are on the back of the beige tower.

The system comes with RAID on the motherboard and twin 40GB hard drives. The RAID setup allows for 80GB of very quick storage, which contributed to the fine performance numbers. You can also set up a 40GB mirrored RAID configuation to provide redundancy in case one hard drive fails.

What's not: Users who delve into the interior will have to bushwhack their way through a jungle of cabling to reach the RAM slots and drive bays. Also, the flip-up cover for the front USB ports can get stuck open or closed.

What else: The system we evaluated arrived with a 15-inch Nfren NF-1500MA LCD monitor in a gray Polywell case. This monitor is a nice match for Polywell's aluminum midsize tower; unfortunately, our system came in a basic beige minitower. Despite the mismatch, we were impressed with the monitor's display capabilities. Text appeared crisp and readable in our test documents, and our test photo showed rich colors and realistic flesh tones. We noted that the monitor's vertical viewable angle is somewhat limited, which is common to budget LCDs. But when we looked at the screen head-on, the monitor delivered a good-quality image overall.

Apart from the messy wires, the interior of our system includes some thoughtful touches. You need to remove just one screw on the single PCI slot cover to gain access to all four of the open slots. The system has two open removable-media drive bays; after you unlock a black tab, you can install and remove components through the front of the tower without using tools. You do need tools to slide out the interior drive bay cage, which makes inserting another hard drive easier.

A thick Polywell system manual, which comes packaged in the company's handy black box, is a little light on explanatory illustrations but heavy on textual information; the manual includes meticulous troubleshooting and upgrading sections, as well as a lengthy glossary. Other documentation includes a model-specific setup guide and a setup poster from motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte.

The system ships with Lotus SmartSuite 9.5, as well as Microsoft's optical mouse and Internet Keyboard.

Upshot: It's not a rock-bottom bargain and its messy interior is a drawback, but the Polywell Poly 880K7C-1300Du has powerful components that shouldn't need to be upgraded for quite awhile. By Joel Strauch

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