Our gaming tests reveal a similar degree of domination on the part of the Falcon Northwest PC. Part of its advantage here is that it has four graphics chips, by way of two, dual-chip ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 3D cards. The Mach V's comically high scores on our Unreal Tournament 3 test indicate that current PC gaming hardware has mastered that game. The Mach V also earns the honor of being the first PC to hit 60 frames per second on our high-resolution Crysis test (original flavor, not Crysis: Warhead).
We'd hoped to introduce a Far Cry 2 test in this review as well, but in our testing we found wild frame rate swings between runs. From what we understand, ATI is working on updating its driver, and it has already released two driver updates in the weeks leading up to the release of the Core i7 chip. We hope to revisit this test when Far Cry 2, Core i7, and ATI are ready to cooperate. For what it's worth, we were able to play the game itself (using the latest ATI driver, as well as the patch for Far Cry 2 itself) at 1,920x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing and the Ultra image quality setting on the Mach V, and it was completely smooth.
We'll have a review of an Alienware PC that's more on a par with the Falcon Northwest box posted shortly, but the lesson from this and all the gaming tests is that this Mach V will play the most demanding PC games easily. Although it's expensive enough as it is, we also highly encourage you to pair this desktop with a large monitor, at least a 24-inch LCD, if not a 30-inch display. Otherwise, you can get by with a less expensive PC.
Whether you would also use it to play Blu-ray movies is another question. It comes with a Blu-ray burner drive, so you might as well. We wouldn't advocate parking it in your living room, but with a large enough LCD placed in a convenient spot, the Mach V could certainly serve as a home entertainment device. It has no built-in HDMI port, but Falcon Northwest included the graphics cards' DVI-to-HDMI dongles, letting you connect this PC to a wide variety of displays.
You get a similar degree of flexibility with the audio outputs, by way of the typical high-end combination of 7.1-compatible analog ports, and an optical and coaxial S/PDIF out. There's also an external SATA port and a FireWire 400 port on the back, but no media card reader. We realize that might be an afterthought in a system like this, but we always appreciate them, and as extras go, they're highly affordable. The Mach V also comes with standard Gigabit Ethernet, but no Wi-Fi.
If you want to expand this system post purchase, you get one free 1x PCI Express slot, a standard PCI slot, and room for three more hard drives and three free front-panel drive bays. The two double-wide 3D cards take up an awful lot of room, which is why you don't get more free card slots. All six RAM slots are occupied, as you might imagine in a PC with 12GB of RAM. We won't make the classic "and that's all you'll ever need" mistake, but we suspect for the foreseeable future, you will find 12GB an adequate amount of system memory.
Falcon Northwest's service and support ranks among the best in the industry. The default warranty covers this system for one year of parts and labor service. You can also call the toll-free number for help, which is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., PT, seven days a week. Falcon Northwest is also unique in that in the event your system needs repairs, it will pay for you to ship your system back to the factory overnight both ways.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition)
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition; 12GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card: 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive; 80GB Intel X-25 solid state hard drive
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (overclocked); 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell XPS 730 H2C
Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 3.8GHz Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770; 2GB 1,600MHz (overclocked) DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 graphics cards; (2) 160GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drives, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive