Falcon Northwest FragBox (2013) review: Big gaming in a (relatively) small package

To say the FragBox is highly configurable is to undersell the concept. It starts at around $1,600, but for that you're getting an Intel Core i5 and Nvidia GeForce 650 video card. If those are the type of components you're interested in, then you're probably not in the market for a FragBox in the first place. Our $3,400 configuration traded up to an Intel Core i7 CPU, one GeForce 780 GPU, and two 960GB solid-state drives (SSDs). That latter addition really drives the price up, and you could go with a single traditional or hybrid hard drive and get the cost down.

This will shock no one, but the Intel Core i7 -770K in our FragBox -- which is one of Intel's new fourth-generation Core i-series chips -- gave excellent performance in our benchmark tests. As shipped to us, the CPU was overclocked to 4.5GHz, which Falcon offers as a no-cost option. We also reset the CPU to its stock 3.5GHz speed and it was still an excellent performer. Its closest competitor was a Velocity Micro desktop with an overclocked version of the previous-generation Intel Core i7 in it, which may be a reminder that the improvements in Intel's Haswell generation of processors are more about power efficiency than raw performance.

The Nvidia GeForce GTX780 graphics card is also a new part, and ran our very challenging Metro: Last Light test at high settings at 40 frames per second, and BioShock Infinite at more than 90 frames per second (or 180fps if we dialed back the visual settings to medium). One of the fun parts about testing this system was hooking it up to a 2,560x1,440-pixel 27-inch display and really cranking games up to a very high resolution. Anecdotal performance was, of course, amazing, but there are at least 10 video card options you can order with this system, and dual-card setups for many of those, so your performance will vary widely depending on what you choose.

Keep in mind that the benchmark scores reported here represent our exact configuration, and even more so than with mainstream PCs with limited options, your experience may be different.

Part of the appeal of getting a high-priced system from Falcon Northwest or another boutique PC maker is the extra layer of service and support you get along with it. Falcon offers in-house phone support, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. PT, seven days a week, as well as e-mail support. The default warranty is three years (for parts and labor, but you get lifetime tech support access), which is increasingly rare in the PC world, and the company notes that while having your CPU overclocked will void your component warranty from Intel, you'll still be covered by the Falcon warranty. You also get a USB rescue drive and a binder filled with helpful system information.

Conclusion
The Falcon Northwest FragBox should be one of your first stops if you're thinking about making a major investment in a dedicated gaming desktop. It's somewhat more stylish than a full tower, and the performance blows away even the most high-end gaming laptops. Our review configuration was ritzier than some, less than others, but it certainly satisfied our gaming needs for under $3,500.

More so than the components, you're really buying the Falcon Northwest service and support, as well as the hand-assembly and testing. For a big investment such as this, I think that's a smart move.

My only constructive criticism is that the physical FragBox itself feels a bit dated, and I'd like to see some more forward-looking designs from gaming PCs in general, especially now that we're seeing new, inventive designs for laptops, hybrids, and all-in-ones every month.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, overclocked)
140
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, stock)
160

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, overclocked)
65
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, stock)
78

Multimedia multitasking (iTunes and HandBrake, in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, overclocked)
121
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, stock)
148

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering single CPU
Rendering multiple CPUs
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, overclocked)
2.11
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, stock)
1.75

BioShock Infinite (1,920x1,080, in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, stock)
111
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, overclocked)
94.11

Metro: Last Light (1,920x1,080, in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, stock)
40.33
Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (May 2013, overclocked)
40

System configurations

Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (overclocked)
Windows 8 (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-4770K; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,800MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 780; (2) 960GB SSD RAID 0

Falcon Northwest FragBox v3 (stock)
Windows 8 (64-bit); 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-4770K; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 780; (2) 960GB SSD RAID 0

Velocity Micro Edge
Windows 8 (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-3770K; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 680; HD1 120GB SSD, HD2 1TB 7,200rpm

Razer Blade 14
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 8,192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB (Dedicated) Nvidia Geforce GTX 765M; 500GB SSD

Toshiba Qosmio X875-Q7390
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-3630QM; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 3,072MB (Dedicated) HD1 1TB Hybrid Toshiba 5,400rpm, HD2 1TB 5,400rpm Toshiba

What you'll pay

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    Where to Buy

    Falcon Northwest FragBox (2013)

    Part Number: CNETFRAGBOX2013

    As Reviewed: $3,468
    Starts at $1,663.

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