Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core 2 Duo E8400)
Falcon Northwest's FragBox line has always been quirky, even among other gaming PCs. This newest iteration of the FragBox 2 is no exception. By introducing a preconfigured approach to selling its small form factor desktop, Falcon Northwest is able to make this $1,499 gaming system an awfully compelling bargain. As usual with smaller PCs, you have to make sacrifices, and in this case you lose expandability. Falcon makes up for it with its system-tuning expertise. We wouldn't recommend the FragBox 2 if you're looking for a record-setting gaming PC, but if you're interested in a small-scale desktop that will grant you space-savings, a degree of portability, and outstanding performance for its price, the FragBox 2 delivers on all counts.
As stated, this FragBox 2 is preconfigured, which is a first for Falcon Northwest. It will also continue to sell customizable FragBox 2 systems, and with higher-end options. This is also the first system we've seen from the Seattle-based boutique shop at a mainstream price that actually offers some bang for the buck. The last time we ventured into Falcon Northwest's more reasonably priced PCs, with its Talon desktop, didn't result in the most glowing coverage. This $1,499 FragBox 2 offers a much more compelling deal.
|Falcon Northwest FragBox 2||Dell XPS 630|
|CPU||3.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400||2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600|
|Memory||2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT||(2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT|
|Hard drives||500GB, 7,200 rpm||500GB, 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium||Windows Vista Home Premium|
We should make it clear that the Dell XPS 630 remains our midrange gaming desktop of choice. Because it's a full-size desktop, the XPS 630 has all the benefits of a roomier case, which for gamers means dual-graphics card capability. The FragBox 2 can only offer a single 3D card, and in that way it will always be limited. However, the FragBox 2 also makes up a lot of performance ground because of overclocking. Falcon Northwest bumped (and will ship) the FragBox's Core 2 Duo E8400 dual-core chip to 3.2GHz, up from its stock speed of 3.0GHz.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
The FragBox 2 outpaces the XPS 630 on four of our seven tests. Likely this is because of the Falcon's faster processor clock speed, and to be fair the Core 2 Quad Q6600 in the XPS 630 only runs at its stock speed, and that chip has shown itself to be very overclockable. Despite the fact that with the right tinkering the Dell system could make up ground here, the FragBox 2 gives an impressive showing for a small form factor system. If you're typically a big multitasker or a multimedia editor, you might benefit more from a system with a quad-core CPU, but for most common applications, the FragBox 2 will tackle them as fast as or faster than its full-size competition.
|1,600x1,200 (high quality)||1,280x1,024 (medium quality)|
We're also happy with the FragBox 2 as a gaming PC, but you should definitely consider your display resolution before running out to make a purchase. The Unreal Tournament 3 chart provides a good example. The FragBox 2 actually outperforms the XPS 630 on our 1,280x1,024 resolution test, but it drops off dramatically when we bump the resolution to 1,920x1,200; whereas the XPS 630 and its pair of GeForce 8800 GT cards doesn't take such a big performance hit. Unreal is still playable on the FragBox 2 at the higher-end setting, but in the interest of future-proofing, anyone who plays PC games on a 24-inch or larger LCD will want to invest in system that's SLI or CrossFire capable.
You might reasonably think that with two dual-3D chip cards on the market, the Radeon HD 3870 X2 from ATI, and Nvidia's GeForce 9800 GX2, you could always upgrade the FragBox 2 that way, regardless of its lack of a second graphics card slot. Falcon Northwest does offer the ATI card as an option on its configurable FragBox 2, so you have at least one option for an aftermarket upgrade, although that card wouldn't provide that big a boost. However, the 500-watt power supply in the FragBox 2 won't allow the 9800 GX2 (which requires a 580-watter), which definitely puts a 3D performance cap on this system.
We also find that as much as the FragBox 2 has a solid configuration and some nice touches to its design (plastic glass windows on either side, for example), we wish it had a few more features, particularly wireless networking. We don't think you need Wi-Fi in a full tower desktop, but a space-saving, semiportable design like this one could definitely stand to cut a cord or two. You can always add a Wi-Fi adapter yourself, as the FragBox 2 does have two spare PCI slots and a single 1x PCI-Express slot, but it would have been great for Falcon Northwest to include it out of the box.
The other features are spot-on for this price, though. The single 500GB hard drive is as large as we expect, and you even have room to add a second one. The uATX motherboard also has four memory slots, which means that you can add two more to the pair of 1GB sticks already in place. We don't necessarily expect a Blu-ray drive in a $1,500 PC, especially considering the FragBox 2's other parts, and we're sure that most gamers would rather have the DVD burner that's currently in this system than a nonburning Blu-ray drive (let alone an even pricer Blu-ray burner). Still, we have a feeling that 12 months from now Blu-ray burners will be more common than not in midrange systems. Again, the size of this system opens it up to all kinds of usage possibilities (like, say, as a living room PC), that don't normally arise with your standard desktop tower.
We should point out that the FragBox 2 comes with no mouse and keyboard, so you'll have to provide your own (and factor those costs in if you don't have a set to spare). You'll be happier to know that the FragBox 2's software is as sparse as its accessories. In other words, Falcon Northwest ships this system clutter free, with no crapware icons, or memory-hogging applications that load at boot up.
If you're a novice computer user, that lack of software also means you get no antivirus software (which you can get free online from AVG), and also no system information tools like Hewlett-Packard's TotalCare, which Falcon Northwest's enthusiast customer base wouldn't want anyway. The support resources you do get include one year of parts and labor coverage, toll-free in-house phone service open seven days a week (from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., EST), as well as a handful of useful support pages on Falcon Northwest's Web site.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell XPS 630
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards; 500GB 7,200 rpm Samsung hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium (tested); Windows XP Professional SP2 (second partition); 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Velocity Micro ProMagix E2055
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive