Falcon Northwest Talon
Falcon Northwest's flagship line spares no expense in providing the highest-end parts for deep-pocketed gamers. If you can't justify owning a PC that may be worth more than your car, there's the Mach V's more modest sibling, the Falcon Northwest Talon. To keep prices somewhat sane--at $2,148, our test system isn't exactly a cheap date--the Talon eschews the bells and whistles lavished on the Mach V. You won't find options for custom paint jobs or exotic cooling systems or the highest-end processors and graphics cards. You will find Nvidia's SLI graphics, however, which gives the unassuming Talon the ability to harness two graphics cards. It's the most affordable SLI system we've seen to date, so we weren't surprised that the Talon trailed higher-end SLI systems on our tests. Still, the Falcon Northwest Talon is a good fit for gamers looking for an affordable, expandable platform more so than a system to impress their friends.
As with other cost-conscious PCs, the Falcon Talon doesn't stand out in any one area. The case is more functional than flashy, and the system is customizable, but your choices are limited. As a way to differentiate its Mach V line from the Talon, Falcon keeps the custom-painted Cooler Master cases exclusive property of Mach V PCs; the Talon ships in a subdued SilverStone TJ04 case available in one color: black. Until recently, the Talon was a fixed configuration. Now you can customize a system to fit your needs, but you'll find far fewer choices than with the Mach V. You won't find any Athlon 64 FX or GeForce 6800 Ultra parts here. To keep prices from spiraling out of control, the Talon gives you a choice of five mainstream AMD Athlon 64 processors and either Nvidia's GeForce 6800 GT or 6600 GT graphics cards.
Our Falcon Talon review unit arrived BYOE--Bring Your Own Everything. Falcon elected not to supply a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, or some speakers, though the company does carry a wide selection of these components. Thus, we treated the Talon as though it were the new centerpiece of an existing gaming rig, one already outfitted with preferred speakers, monitor, and such.
And a big centerpiece it is. The all-black tower stands nearly 18 inches tall and measures just as deep. If you're looking for LAN-party portability, consider a system such as Falcon's. The good news, of course, is that the tool-free tower has oodles of interior space, including four available external bays (three 5.25-inch and one 3.5-inch), three extra hard drive bays, three open PCI slots, and two x1 PCI Express slots, which, admittedly, are good for very little at the moment. Note: The two video cards block access to one PCI and one PCIe slot.
Speaking of the two cards, they consume quite a bit of power, but the Falcon Talon doesn't sweat them, thanks to its 650-watt power supply. However, that beefy transformer plus CPU and GPU cooling fans make the Talon a decidedly noisy machine. If you stick it under your desk to muffle some of the hum, you'll have to get down on the floor every time you want to access the front ports (four USB 2.0, one FireWire, one microphone, and one headphone), which are inconveniently situated at the bottom of the tower.
Staying true to its performance-PC roots, Falcon Northwest couldn't resist tweaking even these mainstream parts. Our Talon test system features an AMD Athlon 64 3500+ processor and a pair of BFG GeForce 6600 GT graphics cards, all of which were overclocked. (The CPU runs at 2.4GHz, up from the standard 2.2GHz, and the GPUs' core and memory speeds were each bumped up 5 percent.) When ordering the system, you must call Falcon to request performance tweaks--they're not advertised on its site. Any parts it overclocks, Falcon covers under warranty.
On both of CNET Labs' Half-Life 2 tests, the Falcon Talon trailed the, which also uses a unique graphics card config, with two GeForce 6600 GT processing cores strapped to a single card. Because it was overclocked and is a true SLI configuration, we expected the Falcon Talon to outpace the iBuyPower system on our Half-Life 2 test as it did on our Doom 3 benchmark. Don't read too much into the fact that the Talon's Half-Life 2 frame rate at 1,600x1,200 exceeds that of two GeForce 6800 Ultra-based SLI systems. The Falcon Northwest Talon benefits from having been tested more recently with an updated graphics drivers and BIOS. What dampens our enthusiasm for this system is that the and its single GPU turned in better frame rates on both of our Half-Life 2 tests and nearly identical results on Doom 3. In the final analysis, the system will run the most intensive 3D games at playable frame rates; just don't expect to be able to win any speed contests.
There's more to the Falcon Northwest Talon than just graphics. Our review unit featured a Lite-On 16X dual-layer DVD burner, a floppy/media-reader combo drive, the ubiquitous Nero 6.0 software suite, and Falcon's cleverly presented system-restore CD, which arrives in a personalized case. Though larger hard drives and RAID are offered, our Talon shipped with a single small, 80GB hard drive.