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Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core i7) review: Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core i7)

Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core i7)

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown

Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness

Rich is the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, KY. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printing to Z-Wave smart locks.

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6 min read

When we last left the FragBox 2, Falcon Northwest swore up and down that its small-form-factor gaming PC wouldn't use Intel's Core i7 chips due to a lack of compatible, appropriately sized motherboards. Based on this new, $3,261 version of the FragBox 2, which does indeed come equipped with a Core i7 processor, it seems Falcon stands corrected. We understand the frustration of anyone who purchased that older configuration a few months ago. Perhaps you can take comfort knowing that although we're glad to see Falcon Northwest keep the FragBox's parts up-to-date, a competing system from Maingear with similar specs significantly undercuts this FragBox on price. As much as we like Falcon Northwest's craftsmanship, it's hard to recommend this system with a comparable alternative available for less.

OVR
7.7

Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core i7)

The Good

Small, portable case; tidy interior despite its many components; fast multicore and gaming performance; large 1.5TB hard drive; new warranty policy provides three years of coverage and a year of overnight shipping for off-site repair.

The Bad

High price after aggressive cost-cutting moves by its competition.

The Bottom Line

In a normal economy, we'd expect that Falcon Northwest's new Core i7 FragBox 2 would wow us with fast performance in a compact case. Instead, the price of this system as configured has been severely undercut by a competitor. An improved warranty takes the edge off somewhat, but the new market reality makes it hard to recommend this PC.

The core design of the FragBox 2 hasn't changed much over the years, so we won't spend a lot of time on it. At 9.5 inches high, 10.25 inches wide, and 15 inches deep, the FragBox 2 is certainly not on the same space-saving scale as a Mac Mini, but it's still small enough that we're impressed by the amount of hardware Falcon Northwest was able to cram inside of it.

The front of the case puts forth a basic combination of a DVD burner, a handful of ports, and what looks like an open 3.5-inch bay, the latter just begging for a media card reader upgrade; Falcon Northwest offers the option for an additional $30, but the slot cover actually hides the only available hard drive bay inside the case. That makes the internal media card reader option more or less a tease. This FragBox as reviewed has three free memory slots; you have room for no other upgrades inside. Similar to not slamming a Mac Mini or an all-in-one for lacking vast expandability, we can't exactly ding the FragBox for it, either. If you buy this system or one like it, you have to accept the reality of its limited upgrade path.

There's a bigger story in terms of the FragBox 2 and its competition than the traditional side-by-side features comparison we make in our desktop reviews, which we'll get to shortly. For now, we'll compare the FragBox 2 with a recent X-Cube, because we actually reviewed the Maingear system above. The FragBox 2 is a classic Core i7 performance system with an overclocked chip, 6GB of DDR3 RAM, and a pair of fast 3D cards. The X-Cube has a faster raw CPU speed on its AMD Phenom II chip, and three graphics chips total, but we still anticipate that the FragBox will outperform the X-Cube because of its Core i7 chips' superior multithreading and multitasking performance.

The larger issue, though is that if you go to Maingear's site today you can actually configure an X-Cube to line up exactly with the FragBox 2 and the price comes in about $900 less in Maingear's favor. We asked both vendors about the price disparity and received an interesting response. Maingear confirmed the price and said, simply, that it doesn't understand why the FragBox 2 is so expensive. Falcon Northwest dug a little deeper and provided us with two weeks worth of its internal competitive research documents. According to Falcon Northwest's findings, Maingear has slashed prices dramatically across several of its desktop lines, undercutting every major performance desktop vendor. A price war might make Falcon Northwest's life difficult (Falcon responded by upgrading the FragBox's support offering, which we'll outline below), but it's also the perfect time to go shopping for a new PC.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

CineBench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
17,055 
4,265 
Maingear X-Cube
14,791 
3,969 
HP Firebird 803
12,521 
3,461 
Dell XPS 625
12,449 
3,387 

Against its competition we've actually laid hands on, the Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 performs as we expected. Its third-place finish on our iTunes test reflects the fact that the FragBox's 3.2GHz Core i7 chip is slower than the Maingear X-Cube's 3.7GHz Phenom II X4. But as soon as the tests become more complex, requiring either multithreaded-application processing as with Cinebench, or on our multitasking test, the FragBox 2 pulls ahead. For most day-to-day nongaming scenarios, then, the FragBox 2 shows its worth.

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Maingear X-Cube
237 
267 
HP Firebird 803
128 
185 
Dell XPS 625
97 
146 

Crysis
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

Far Cry 2
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Our gaming tests tell an interesting story as well. We'll forgive the FragBox's third-place finish on our Unreal Tournament 3. Sorry gamers, but 200 frames per second will have to do. More importantly, the FragBox 2 dominates its competition on our highest resolution Crysis and Far Cry 2 benchmarks. Those tests provide a more accurate predictor of how a PC will handle the most demanding, current 3D games. Yes, it's one of the most expensive gaming systems we've reviewed this year, so we'd expect the FragBox 2 to do well. We're glad to see that it lives up to our expectations as a higher-end gaming PC.

We've dinged Falcon Northwest in the past for not building wireless networking into its FragBox systems. You can opt for a wireless-networking card, among other options, but you'd have to sacrifice one of the dual-slot graphics cards to make room for it. Falcon Northwest' solution with our review unit came by way of a D-Link Rangebooster G USB 2.0 adapter, a $59 option that you have to ask for specially, as it's not listed on the FragBox 2 configuration page. We can't say we love the idea of a USB dongle hanging off the system as opposed to an integrated solution, but we're glad to have the option.

Falcon Northwest has always done well on our support ratings for its paid back-and-forth repair shipping policy, a unique service that few other vendors match. To compete with Maingear's aggressive cost-cutting on hardware, Falcon has also upgraded the warranty from one year to three years for the FragBox 2. A price war might be tough for vendors in a recession, but as long as you see concessions like these (and as long as the vendors involved can stay in business doing so), you win. Falcon Northwest also offers toll-free phone support from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, seven days a week, and a variety of help resources on its support Web page.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Dell XPS 625
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.0GHz AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core i7 920)
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.2GHz Intel Core i7 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 graphics cards; 1.5TB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive

HP Firebird 803 with VoodooDNA
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800S graphics cards; (2) 320GB 5,400 rpm hard drives

Maingear X-Cube
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.7GHz (overclocked) AMD Phenom II X4 940; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card; 1GB Radeon HD 4870 graphics card; (2) 750GB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives

Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive

OVR
7.7

Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core i7)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 6Performance 8Support 9
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