Top 10 performance desktop PCs

You'd be hard pressed to beat the overclocked monoliths that dominate the Performance charts -- but power doesn't come cheap

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Polywell Poly X5800A3
Poly X5800A3 Review, by David Murphy March 31, 2010

Pros:
USB 3.0 joins a mass of connectivity options
Near-chart-topping, six-core performance

Cons:
Messy internal wiring job impedes access
Case design makes some upgrades strenuous

Bottom Line: It may not be much to look at, but the Poly X5800A3 offers premier components and delivers fast speeds, making for quite a compelling power PC.

REVIEW:
Though it is the first system with Intel's Gulftown processor to grace the PCWorld Labs, the Polywell Poly X5800A3 doesn't shoot close to the top of our performance PC rankings by virtue of its six-core technology alone. What that processor does do, however, is allow Polywell's machine to compete mercilessly against the category's best (and pricier) rigs for a respectable cost of $4500 (as of March 21, 2010).

To see just how important Intel's flagship CPU--the 3.33GHz, six-core, Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor--is to the X5800A3's design, consider the cost: The $1000 processor alone makes up a little less than one-fourth of the system's total price. Polywell also includes 12GB of DDR3-1333 memory and a 600GB boot-drive RAID array (of two 300GB Hitachi SAS drives), as well as one additional 2TB drive for storage.

That killer combination lifts the X5800A3 close to the top of our chart in WorldBench 6 performance. Its score of 175 isn't the category's highest--that honor still belongs to the Maingear Shift and its commanding score of 181. However, even given the Shift's unique aesthetics and tri-CrossFire setup, selecting that system would mean paying a price premium of slightly more than $2500 for a mere 3.4 percent increase in general performance.

To be fair, the Shift is the stronger PC on the graphics front. The X5800A3's single ATI Radeon HD5970, a dual-GPU configuration, performed admirably on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark with its average of 175 frames per second, but it was still no match for Maingear's setup, which pushed out an average of 204 fps on the same test. Both systems come with a Blu-Ray burner--it would be a crime to have anything less at these price points.

The X5800A3's chassis mimics Antec's popular Twelve Hundred case, offering blue-tinged aesthetics and extreme air cooling. However, unlike with the Twelve Hundred, on the X5800A3 you have no way of adjusting the speed of the many fans (including a mammoth 200cm fan on the system's ceiling). That limitation could prove mildly annoying when the sound of your desktop jet engine overtakes that of your gaming.

Not content to let Intel hog the spotlight, Polywell built yet another brand-new element into the design of the Poly X5800A3. Two USB 3.0 ports grace the system's rear alongside four USB 2.0 ports, S/PDIF coaxial and optical outputs, two gigabit ethernet ports, integrated 7.1 surround sound, a mini-DisplayPort connector, and a mini-FireWire 400 connector. The machine has no eSATA connection, but the inclusion of USB 3.0 makes that less of a drawback. The system's front is a smidgen less stacked in its offerings, giving you three USB ports, a FireWire 400 port, and a multiformat card reader to play with.

Strangely, Polywell didn't take a lot of time to gussy up the interior of this otherwise eye-catching system. The wiring job leaves much to be desired, with cables strewn every which way throughout the top and bottom of the full-tower case. This mess definitely impedes your ability to access the hard-drive bays. Additionally, the design of the case requires you to take said bays out of the chassis before you can remove or reinsert the screws on the drives, a frustrating "feature." No parts of the three open 5.25-inch bays (four, were the graphics board not so big) are screwless in any fashion. The same holds true for the system's single free PCI Express x16 and PCI slots.

While I appreciate the benefits of a wireless mouse and keyboard, their inclusion with this PC doesn't bode well for a system that gives more than just a subtle nod to gaming. The last thing anyone wants is for a device's battery to run out midgame. Though we normally shower some extra love on input devices that aren't tethered to their systems, in the case of the X5800A3 they're actually more of a hindrance. On top of that, both the mouse and the keyboard come with no additional buttons and features beyond their wireless capabilities.

The Polywell Poly X5800A3 doesn't have to be the hands-down fastest system on the market to be one of the best models in the performance PCs category. Its general performance is nearly identical to that of the category leader, and its gaming capabilities provide enough oomph to ensure that the X5800A3 remains future-proof for a while. A brand-new processor, a sweet combination of ample memory and storage capacity, and the next-generation connectivity of USB 3.0 ports are just a few of the awesome features that help this machine challenge every other performance PC we've tested. Throw in the substantial cost savings over its peers, and you really can't consider the X5800A3 anything less than a titan in its class.

This story, "Top 10 performance desktop PCs" was originally published by PCWorld.

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