Falcon Northwest Mach V
The Falcon Northwest Mach V is among the first systems based on AMD's recently announceddual-core processor, and it turned in some of the highest benchmark scores to date. At $6,462 (not including monitor and speakers), it also carries the dubious honor of being one of the most expensive PCs we've seen; you can get virtually the and save nearly $1,000 in the process. Further, both systems ran into trouble with our high-end Doom 3 test, a problem we tracked back to a power supply issue. We recommend the Velocity Micro over the Falcon Northwest PC due to the massive price differential, but buyers and builders should take heed of our experience with these systems. Now more than ever, high-end parts and overclocking are putting the squeeze on PC power.
The Falcon Northwest Mach V system we reviewed comes housed in a large, spare silver aluminum chassis; the only embellishment is the backlit Falcon logo etched into the upper drive-bay door. (Falcon offers automotive-quality paint jobs with a clear-coat finish to those willing to pay an extra $545.) Behind the etched door panel, you'll find a double-layer DVD burner, a DVD-ROM drive, and a floppy drive/multicard reader, along with room for three more front-accessible drives. And as per the norm with upper-tier gaming PCs, the interior cabling in the Falcon Northwest Mach V is impeccable, maximizing airflow and simplifying upgrades.
A lower panel hides a 120mm intake fan, four USB 2.0 ports, and a FireWire port. A second 120mm fan points out the top of the system for exhaust, and two 90mm fans draw air from the rear of the chassis. A sealed Sanyo Denki water-cooling unit helps prevent the processor from overheating, and a heat pipe on the motherboard redirects heat away from the chipset. The system is by no means loud, but the fans and the cooling unit make a noticeable amount of noise, even through the case's sound-dampening foam.
Rear connections include dual S/PDIF outputs, four additional USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, an external Serial ATA port, and jacks for the integrated eight-channel audio (disabled in favor of the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi card). Two 7,200rpm Maxtor 300GB Serial ATA hard drives set to RAID 0 give you ample storage (you have to ask for those models specially; they're not listed in the company's online configurator). Our test system also featured 2GB of 400MHz PC3500 DDR Corsair XMS ProSeries memory, which took up two of the four memory slots.
The Falcon Northwest Mach V uses an Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard (based on Nvidia's Nforce-4 SLI X16 chipset), which boasts dual x16 PCI Express slots that run at full speed in SLI mode. For gaming at very high resolutions, this high-end feature lets you take advantage of the expanded graphics bandwidth (standard SLI motherboards provide each slot with only half the bandwidth when two cards are installed). You also get one x4 PCI Express slot and three PCI slots, one of which was occupied by a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Music sound card on our review unit. Due to the massive 3D cards, only the x4 PCI Express slot remains unobstructed.
Not content to let the dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 chip run at its native 2.6GHz, Falcon bumped the processor up to 2.9GHz by increasing the frontside bus speed (a feature you can request at checkout). This tweaking also gave the system memory a boost. The Mach V's 3D gaming prowess comes from a pair of factory-overclocked 512MB BFG GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards in SLI mode, a much-coveted configuration that has been hard to find at retail.
While theof this review delves into some issues that may affect all high-end gaming systems, including this one, the bigger problem with the Falcon Northwest Mach V is its price. It's simply too high. For $5,400, Velocity Micro gives you nearly the exact same PC, down to the Logitech MX5000 Laser Desktop mouse-and-keyboard set. The only major advantages we see to the Mach V are its factory-overclocked BFG graphics cards, which hold a minor clock-speed edge over the Velocity's eVGA cards, and its large Mach V case, which is easy to work inside. Velocity sent us its smaller enclosure, which makes it harder to swap parts, but for $50, you can upgrade to Velocity Micro's larger case.
Velocity Micro offers a better software bundle, too, with a complete version of Far Cry and a 12-month subscription to McAfee AntiVirus. Falcon gives you only Nero's OEM Suite for disc burning, CyberLink's PowerDVD 5 for movie watching, and and Zone Labs Internet Security Suite, but no games.