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Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650) review: Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650)

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The Good Two Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards give you four GPUs in a small form-factor case; best high-resolution performance we've seen this year; smartly chosen configuration outperforms many more expensive PCs.

The Bad Intel's new CPUs are right around the corner; no Wi-Fi, media card reader, or HDMI adapter.

The Bottom Line Falcon Northwest's high-end, preconfigured FragBox 2 leans on a pair of top-of-the-line ATI 3D cards to achieve some of the fastest 3D scores we've seen. You might rightly wait for Intel's new CPUs to ship before making a pricey PC purchase, but if you buy this system now, you'll be treated to a superfast little desktop.

Visit for details.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Support 9

Review Sections

Update 10/15/08: Falcon Northwest informs us that it has no plans to bring Core i7 to its FragBox PC family. You might wait for Core i7 to come to standard desktops, but this FragBox is likely one of the fastest small form factor PCs we'll see for a while.

With Intel's new processors just a few short weeks away, it's hard to get that excited about spending $4,000 or so on a high-end gaming PC now. That doesn't mean that we can't appreciate what Falcon Northwest has done with its highest-end FragBox 2. Thanks to a pair of Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics cards, Falcon has crammed four graphics chips inside this pared-down box. That makes the processor almost secondary compared with the sheer amount of graphics horsepower inside. You may want to wait until Falcon Northwest has incorporated Intel's new chips into its FragBox configurations, assuming it will. But anyone shopping for a small, superfast gaming PC will be more than happy with the performance this high-end FragBox 2 delivers today.

We've already written about Falcon Northwest's $1,500 FragBox 2 config, and the $3,995 model has many physical similarities. Both use the same small form-factor case that Falcon has relied on for years for its FragBox systems. The measurements (9.75 inches high by 10.25 inches wide by 15 inches deep), the handle, and the laser-etched, blue LED-lit skull design on the front panel are all identical. Under the hood, and as you may expect given the price leap, the two are very different.

As we mentioned, the $3,995 model comes with a pair of dual-chip Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics cards. That puts four GPUs in this system, hence the Quadfire nickname on Falcon's Web site. The advantages on our gaming test are apparent below, but we'll point out here that no other vendor offers anywhere near that level of graphics horsepower in a small form-factor case. That feature alone makes this system distinct, and it's largely why we recommend it regardless of its processor.

  Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 Shuttle XPC P2 4800X
Price $3,995 $3,200
CPU 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
Motherboard chipset Intel P45 Intel X48
Memory 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 1,600MHz DDR3
Graphics (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850
Hard drives 1TB 7,200 rpm 250GB 7,200 rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11g WiFi, Bluetooth
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)

To help us illustrate that point we'll direct you to the configuration of the Shuttle XPC P2 4800X. That $3,200 desktop is designed to compete with Falcon's FragBox line. We didn't find that system attractive compared with the $1,500 FragBox 2, largely because it uses the 32-bit version of Windows Vista and only comes with 2GB of RAM. The $3,995 FragBox 2 comes with 64-bit Vista and 8GB of memory.

The Shuttle system also uses Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650, Intel's second-fastest desktop CPU, and a $1,000 part if you were to purchase the chip by itself. The Core 2 Quad Q9650 in the Falcon costs $550, and the clock speed, L2 cache, and front-side bus speeds are all identical. The primary difference between the two is that the Shuttle's Extreme chip has an unlocked clock multiplier, which means you can overclock it. Shuttle hasn't elected to do that here, which makes the $550 version in the FragBox 2 look like an exceptional deal.

This is not to say that you won't be able to get more for your money once Intel's Core i7 chips ship in a few weeks. That's a very real reason to hold off on any high-end PC purchase right now. Still, there's no guarantee Falcon will be able to fit a new, potentially hotter, potentially more energy-hungry chip in its small case, much less find an appropriate motherboard for it. We suspect it will iron those issues out eventually, if not at launch, but typically new CPU releases focus on mainstream desktop designs first, so it could be a while before the FragBox 2 becomes Core i7-capable.

In the meantime, and based on its benchmark results against a variety of high-end systems that have come out this year, the FragBox 2 is a more-than-able gaming powerhouse.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Alienware Area-51 ALX
AVADirect Core 2 SLI DDR3
Velocity Micro Edge Z15
Shuttle XPC P2 4800X

First, we'll put the Shuttle out of its misery. It can't even compete well against the $1,799 Velocity Micro Edge Z15. Instead we'll turn our attention to the Alienware Area-51 ALX, a $7,750 monstrosity with no 64-bit Windows option. Shame on Dell for not keeping its gaming shop up-to-date. And from its scores, the Alienware pays a very real price for lagging behind. Forgetting the fact that the FragBox 2 beats it on two of our four application tests, that the Falcon system is even close on the other two is a testament to both the power of 64-bit Windows and the fact that it can put more RAM to work. Paired with a reasonably fast CPU, the FragBox 2 will handle any task you throw its way with ease.

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Alienware Area-51 ALX
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2

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