The Talon also delivers on our gaming tests. Any PC that can achieve more than 60 frames per second (fps) on Crysis, even at 1,280 x 1080, earns our respect, and as a gaming system, and the Falcon Northwest Talon is the most affordable desktop we've tested to pass that milestone. You'll note that the Talon slides just shy of 60 fps on our 1,600x1,200 version of that same Crysis test, so, technically you might find a few games and settings where you need to reduce either the image quality or the resolution if you have a 24-inch or larger display. We don't anticipate that you'll find many games where you'll need to compromise though, and for the most part the Talon will deliver smooth gameplay at the maximum settings.
This brings us to the Talon's upgradeability, which also lets us delve into the features of the new Intel P55 chipset required by the new Core i7 and Core i5 CPUs. This system is already fairly well stocked, and as a result you don't have much space left over for significant upgrades. Both graphics card slots are occupied, as are all four RAM slots. You can add two more hard drives, as well as a single 1X PCI Express card and a single standard PCI card, but that's about all the expansion room you get.
For the chipset itself, though, the biggest difference between the new P55 boards and the older Core i7-supporting X58 motherboards is the memory slot design. The CPU architecture is the same, and you still get the embedded memory controller in the new Core i5 and the new Core i7 800-series CPUs. What you don't get with the Core i7 800's is triple-channel memory throughput. Instead you get dual-channel support, which means not only slightly reduced memory bandwidth (which most consumers and gamers won't notice), but you also go back to installing RAM in pairs of two memory sticks, as opposed to sets of three as you did on the X58 boards. You can still use DDR3 RAM at (official) speeds of up to 1,333MHz, and most consumer applications won't lose much performance in the shift from three-way to two-way memory. On balance, the memory channel reduction is likely a good thing as it helps the new chips and the new chipset come out at mainstream-friendly prices.
We're satisfied with the range of ports available on the outside of the Talon. You get all kinds of USB 2.0 outputs, in addition to FireWire and a pair of eSATA ports for external data transfers. Outputs for analog and digital audio are abundant, and while there's no HDMI output on either graphics card, Falcon Northwest at least includes a DVI-to-HDMI adapter. It hasn't wired the audio from the motherboard through the graphics card for audio over HDMI, but that's a reasonable decision given the likelihood that few serious PC gamers will rely on display-attached speakers. You can always make the connection yourself if you really want it.
|Falcon Northwest Talon||Average watts per hour|
|Annual energy cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$72.94|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
As much as we're glad to see the Intel Core i7 chip come down in price, we're also very impressed with its power consumption. Both of the Core i7 designs have variable clock speeds that wind down during low power states, but even though the overclocked Core i7 860 in the Talon mostly trailed the overclocked Core i7 920 in the Digital Storm 950Si on our benchmarks, you can see from our power test scores that the Talon enjoys almost 100 percent cost savings compared with the Digital Storm system (AVADirect dodged our power testing bullet, since we posted that review before we finalized our power test suite). Due to other varying system components between the systems, this isn't a pure CPU-to-CPU power consumption test, so we have to credit Falcon Northwest more than we can single out the new Core i7 860 chip. And for demonstrating such impressive power efficiency, Falcon Northwest most definitely deserves recognition.
Finally, another difference between the Talon and Falcon's flagship Mach V system is the duration of the warranty. With the Talon you get warranty coverage for only one year, as opposed to three years with the Mach V. Falcon Northwest will, however, still provide you with free shipping to and from its offices in the event your PC needs a repair, as well as the usual assumed benefits of an entirely in-house tech support team. Phone support is not 24-7, but lines are open from a still generous 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m Pacific, seven days a week.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (underclocked to 1,480MHz); 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked); 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive; 147GB 15,000rpm Fujistu hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive; 300GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drive
Falcon Northwest Talon (Intel Core i7 860)
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.3GHz Intel Core i7-860 (overclocked); 8GB 1,330MH