An inexpensive and fast workstation

Polywell Computers' PolyStation 800K7 system is one of the first workstations built with AMD's new Athlon processor. The company bases the system on a 700MHz AMD Athlon processor, 256MB of SDRAM (expandable to 768MB), a 3Dlabs Oxygen GVX1 graphics subsystem, and a Mylex AcceleRAID 250 SCSI RAID controller connected to a pair of 9GB 10,000rpm IBM Ultra2 Low Voltage Differential (LVD) hard disks. Additional components include a Sony EIDE CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) drive, a Yamaha 724 PCI wave table sound card, an ADI .26mm dot pitch 19" display, a pair of Sound Force 550 speakers, and Lotus SmartSuite. This system sells for $4250 with Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Service Pack 6 (SP6) preinstalled, and a 5-year labor and 3-year parts warranty.

The PolyStation's Athlon processor contains a full-speed on-chip 128KB L1 cache and a 512KB L2 cache, which runs at 350MHz and resides on a separate die within the processor cartridge. The cartridge plugs into a slot on the 200MHz Athlon system bus, which uses Alpha EV6 protocols that Polywell licensed from Compaq. Communication between the processor and the AMD 750 chipset takes place at 200MHz, but the system's main memory subsystem runs at 100MHz. All five 32-bit PCI slots on the system's Micro-Star MS-6167 motherboard run at 33MHz. The motherboard's AGP socket supports 2X mode with sideband addressing.

The Oxygen GVX1 AGP graphics subsystem is a midrange AGP 1X product that 3Dlabs based on its GLINT R3 rasterization processor and GLINT Gamma G1 geometry processor. The card also includes a 32MB Synchronous Graphics RAM (SGRAM) unified frame buffer, Z-buffer, texture memory, and both DB-15 analog and MDR-20 digital flat panel interfaces.

When I turned on the system, NT's Disk Administrator confirmed that a RAID 0 stripe set with 2GB FAT and 16GB NTFS partitions joined the two 9GB hard disks. On the NTFS partition, I installed BAPCo's SYSmark 2000 benchmark suite. Then I ran the Adobe PhotoShop 5.5, Adobe Premiere 5.1, and MetaCreation Bryce 4 test scripts.

I also ran these tests on a Dell Precision 410 with a 550MHz Pentium III processor, 256MB of SDRAM, a 7200rpm 9GB Ultra2/Wide SCSI hard disk, an integrated Ultra2/Wide SCSI controller, and Intergraph Computer Systems' Intense 3-D Wildcat 4000 graphics subsystem. Although the Dell's processor and disk subsystems didn't equally match the PolyStation's components, the Dell's high-end Wildcat 4000 graphics subsystem offset this imbalance.

On the Adobe PhotoShop test, which included loading and resizing images, applying filters to images, and adjusting image brightness, the Dell took about 96 seconds, whereas the PolyStation took 114 seconds. However, the PolyStation proved faster on the Adobe Premiere test, taking 92 seconds to compose several pictures, video clips, and audio clips into a movie, compared with the Dell's 120 seconds. The PolyStation also excelled on the Bryce 4 test, beating the Dell 98 seconds to 138 seconds. This test included rendering a wireframe image and saving files in metastream and HTML formats.

Next, I anti-aliased one frame from a LightWave 3D 5.6 animation, then anti-aliased and rendered another frame from another animation. On the first frame, the PolyStation beat the Dell 17 seconds to 29 seconds. The second test delivered similar results: 73 seconds vs. 110 seconds.

Finally, I ran the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation's SPECviewperf 6.1.1 OpenGL 3-D subsystem tests on both systems. Both systems offered similar performance on all five viewsets. The Dell showed an edge on the Advanced Visualizer—03 and ProCDRS-02 viewsets, and the PolyStation scored slightly higher on the DesignReview—06 and Lightscape-03 viewsets.

The PolyStation 800K7 can't accept a second processor and its graphics subsystem lacks support for AGP's 2X and 4X modes. However, the PolyStation 800K7 provides many components and good performance at a reasonable price.

PolyStation 800K7
Contact: Polywell Computers * 650-583-7222 or
Price: $4250
Decision Summary:
Pros: Good performance, a large and fast disk subsystem, long warranty
Cons: No support for AGP 2X or 4X models or
64-bit PCI slots