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

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MSRP: $3,261.00

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.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8
  • Support 9

Review Sections

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.

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.

  Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 Maingear X-Cube
Price $3,261 $2,672
CPU 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 920 3.7GHz (overclocked) AMD Phenom II X4 940
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 AMD 790GX
Memory 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 2GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2, 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870
Hard drives 1.5TB 7,200 rpm (2) 750GB 7,200 rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1 Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1

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)
Maingear X-Cube
Dell XPS 625

Multimedia multitasking
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Maingear X-Cube
HP Firebird 803
Dell XPS 625

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
HP Firebird 803
Dell XPS 625

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

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