The Polywell B250G-i7 (starts at $600; $799 as tested) is an eminently customizable and affordable small form factor (SFF) desktop PC, which makes it an excellent choice for small businesses and consumers who don’t need enterprise IT features but want a lot of power in a small package. There are a few disadvantages, such as an external power brick and a case that requires a screwdriver to open, but overall, the B250G is a capable machine and our new Editors’ Choice for SFF desktops.
The B250G features a no-nonsense design. It’s simply a square black box that measures 2.25 by 8 by 8 inches (HWD). It comes with four rubber feet mounted on the bottom of the chassis, so it’s designed to be installed horizontally. As with other small systems, including the Dell Optiplex 5050 Micro, you can chose from an expanded range of installation configurations if you buy mounting accessories. For example, the B250G is compatible with VESA mounts, and it can also be bolted to the wall or slipped into a 1U server rack using optional third-party hardware. The chassis itself is made of the same aluminum that Polywell has used for previous desktop designs, which means additional peace of mind when you’re installing it in a public location where the risk of damage is higher. Unfortunately, there’s no built-in Kensington lock slot or any other form of physical anti-theft protection.
The front of the case includes a power button and two USB 2.0 ports, an eyebrow-raising anachronism in 2017, when virtually all PCs have transitioned to USB 3.0. You will find four USB 3.0 ports on the robust I/O panel on the PC’s rear, along with a single USB 3.1 port and a USB-C port. Polywell has also placed two more USB 2.0 ports on the rear panel, likely for plugging in a keyboard and mouse, which don’t need the faster data transfer speeds that USB 3.0 offers. In case you’re not counting, that adds up to a total of 10 USB ports, an impressive complement for such a small PC, even if four of them are USB 2.0 and only one is USB-C.
Other ports include a single PS/2 port, in case you still have a keyboard or mouse that needs one, as well as Ethernet, DisplayPort, and HDMI connectors. Finally, you’ll find a connector for the included 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna as well as extensive audio connectivity options: two 3.5mm inputs, three outputs (including dedicated ones for a subwoofer and rear and center channels), and an SPDIF jack for digital audio signals.
These extensive audio options make the B250G a good home theater PC, or perhaps the brains of a multimedia installation in a museum. Because it has two display outputs, it’s also a decent choice to power a dual-monitor setup, with support for resolutions up to 4K from both the HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.
Two significant drawbacks of Polywell’s case design could give some IT departments pause, however, especially when deploying many of them in a large organization: You must use a screwdriver to access the case’s internal components, and the B250G requires an external AC power adapter, much the same as you’d expect to plug into a laptop. That means component upgrades will take an extra minute or so for each unit, and you’ll have to find a place for the adapter if you’re installing the PC anywhere other than a flat surface. The Asus VivoMini VC65-G042Z and the Dell Optiplex 5050 Micro both have internal power supplies, and the Dell also includes a captive, fingers-only screw that enables tool-free component upgrades. On the other hand, making room in the case for power requires space compromises, and Polywell is hardly the only manufacturer to go with an external supply (the HP Elite Slice also uses an external brick, for example).
Oodles of Options
The B250G’s 8GB of memory and 256GB solid state hard drive (SSD) are adequate for everyday business computing and multimedia viewing, but the memory complement represents a step down from the previous-generation Polywell B150L2-i7, which also prices out at $799 but includes double the RAM. The B250G’s SSD uses the speedy new M.2 PCIe interface, although if you’re planning on using it in a home theater setup to play your own multimedia files (perhaps as a Plex server), you’ll definitely want a more spacious drive, or to consider plugging in an external one. Luckily, Polywell offers many drive possibilities: On the frugal end, you can configure a B250G with a SATA 512GB SSD for an additional $132, or you can go nuts with a speedier NVMe 2TB SSD, which will add more than $1,400 to the system’s price.
As for software, Polywell is nice enough not to include any bloatware on the PC, but neither will you find apps and features that are useful for enterprise users and are common on business systems from Dell or Lenovo, such as Intel vPro remote management support. Instead, Polywell prefers to take a rogue approach of sorts to helping businesses deploy their PCs in large batches. The company offers its own drive imaging service and custom configurations designed to support a variety of uses, from powering digital menu boards at a restaurant to serving as everyday workhorses for large corporations.
Neither a keyboard nor a mouse come standard with the B250G; Polywell offers several add-on options for less than $50, or you can bring your own. A standard one-year warranty is included.
The B250G delivers class-leading computing performance thanks to its seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7700T processor, running at 2.9Ghz. For multimedia editors and others who can take advantage of the additional performance of a Core i7, the B250G represents a good value at its sub-$800 price. It posted a score of 3,553 on the proprietary PCMark 8 benchmark, which measures word processing, video conferencing, web browsing, and other common business computing tasks. That’s a few points better than the previous Polywell B150L2, which comes with a Core i7 from the older sixth generation. It’s also much better than the rest of Polywell’s Core i5-powered SFF competition, including the Dell Optiplex 5050 Micro (3,462), which costs nearly $200 more.
The B250G continued its sweep of our processor tests with speedy—if not screaming—performance on the Handbrake video-encoding test (which it completed in 1 minute and 1 second), a series of Photoshop image-manipulation tasks (2 minutes, 59 seconds), and the proprietary CineBench 3D-rendering test (with a score of 781).
On the other hand, few gamers will be considering this system, and for good reason. Its integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 doesn’t deliver enough power to enjoy graphics-intensive titles with maximum quality settings, as evidenced by the low-single digits on our Heaven and Valley frame rate tests. None of the competing systems did much better, with most failing to break the 30 frames per second threshold required for smooth gaming, even on medium quality settings. Because these are small form factor desktops, you won’t be able to add in a high-powered graphics card to boost these scores, either.
Calling All Frugal Number Crunchers
The highly customizable Polywell B250G-i7 packs a lot of processing power in a small—albeit ordinary-looking—package. There’s not a lot of innovation here other than the fact that the company manages to offer an Intel Core i7 processor for a price that would get you a system powered by a Core i5 from other manufacturers. For that reason, it will appeal to businesses and consumers who need number-crunching power and can do without the added expense of a capacious solid-state drive or enterprise IT features. Because of its small form factor, the B250G will also be right at home as a home theater PC, but don’t forget to save room in your entertainment center for the power brick and an external hard drive.