Falcon Northwest FragBox II review: Falcon Northwest FragBox II
If you're looking for the latest in small-form-factor gaming, Falcon Northwest's FragBox 2 keeps things current with its latest configuration. With high-end parts from AMD and Nvidia, this PC pushes the envelope both in performance and in price. It will make you seriously weigh the value of power and portability.
If you're way into PC games, you're probably willing to pay a lot for your computer. And if you want that gaming power in a small-form-factor (SFF) system, you'd better be ready to spend even more. The latest incarnation of Falcon Northwest's FragBox 2 is a handy case in point: It delivers on both the power and portability fronts, but it'll cost you $4,600 (with monitor) for a high-end configuration like the one we tested. Because of its high price, we can recommend the FragBox 2 only if ease of transport is as important to you as fast 3D frame rates. Otherwise, a full-size gaming PC makes more sense--or even a high-end gaming notebook for a truly portable system.
In order to house its high-end parts, the Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 tends toward the large end of the SFF scale, weighing almost 22 pounds and measuring 10.5 inches wide, 15 inches deep, and 9.25 inches high. Inside, we found an MSI Socket 939 uATX motherboard with the very costly AMD Athlon 64 FX-57, currently the best gaming CPU around. Those looking to save a little money, however, may opt for the Pentium 4 570 chip, which runs at 3.8GHz. It's almost $600 cheaper, although it reportedly runs hotter than the FX-57, so with an Intel CPU, you get a different fan that spins faster and thus makes more noise. (You can also choose less expensive AMD chips.)
Our FragBox 2 came with 1GB of 400MHz DDR RAM, dual 7,200rpm 160GB hard drives (in a RAID 0 configuration), a dual-layer DVD burner, and a flash card reader. All are features we've come to expect in a high-end computer capable of playing games and managing your digital media, among other wide-ranging tasks.
The FragBox 2 also features serious gaming chops, thanks to a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX graphics card. The Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 definitely delivers the performance goods overall, providing strong productivity numbers and some killer 3D frame rates. But due to its small-form-factor case, its performance is limited compared with that of a full-size desktop with breathing room for overclocking and two graphics cards.
Compared with the Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX, a similarly priced full-size desktop with a slightly overclocked Athlon 64 FX-57 CPU, the FragBox 2 fell short by 14 percent on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 test. The same went for graphics. The FragBox 2 can't compete with a dual-graphics-card SLI system, as our benchmarks make plain. But against single-3D-card systems, the FragBox 2 fared better. It didn't win on every 3D test, but on our Half-Life 2 1,024x768-resolution benchmark, the FragBox 2 beat the Polywell Poly 939n4 Dual X2 by 10 frames per second, which is impressive, since the Polywell's GeForce 7800 GTX card came overclocked. It's worth noting, though, that the Polywell costs about $2,000 less. You might also consider that during a recent visit to Alienware's Web site, we configured a bleeding-edge notebook PC (admittedly with a generation-old graphics chip) for $3,500.
Falcon Northwest bolsters the FragBox 2 with a fantastic 19-inch NEC MultiSync 1970GX LCD monitor, which represents $580 of the $4,600 price. With an 8-millisecond response time and a 1,280x1,024 native resolution, the MultiSync will serve you well whether you play games or watch movies. Shadows appeared deep and dark, and we observed no hitching during fast-paced gaming. The excellent menu system features a little four-way joystick for navigation and provides a simple way to fine-tune the monitor, including four user-configured presets. Off-axis viewing was also shockingly good, and we appreciated the telescoping stand. Larger, smaller, and slower LCDs are also available on the FragBox 2's online configurator.
As for aesthetics, the Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 looks the part of a killer LAN-party gaming system. The case features two side windows with ominous blue neon lighting up the system's guts. You can opt for a $365 custom automotive paint job to turn the FragBox 2 into a personalized fashion statement; pass on this option, and you'll get the standard black case seen on our test system. The signature feature of the first FragBox 2 we looked at, the swooping handle on the top of the case, is present in this configuration as well.
If you remove the five Phillips-head screws and open the FragBox 2's case, you'll find three free PCI slots and two free memory slots, along with a generous 520-watt power supply. The cramped interior space limits access to the hard drives, the optical drive, and even RAM; however, cables are neatly routed around the sides to maximize airflow cooling. A host of fans keeps this puppy cool, and unfortunately, the system is quite loud.
Plenty of ports dot the back of the case, including an S/PDIF digital-audio connector and a DVI port. A FireWire port and two USB 2.0 ports sit conveniently up front. The excellent Logitech MX3100 wireless-keyboard and laser-mouse combo came included as well, although we'd submit that wireless mice aren't up-to-snuff for hard-core gaming just yet because of the faster transfer rate of a wired connection.
Except for a few game demos, the Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 comes with little in the way of preloaded software. In his company's defense, Falcon Northwest president Kelt Reeves told us, "We learned a long time ago the market for $3,000+ PCs is practically insulted by bundled shovelware." We would have liked to see at least a 90-day trial version of some virus software.
You get some very basic documentation with the FragBox 2, along with a standard one-year warranty with paid overnight postage to and from the company. The paid-postage is a considerate add-in, and you can upgrade your coverage to three years for $295, but Falcon offers no other warranty options and no onsite service. All but one of the $3,500-plus PCs we've looked at lately (namely, the Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX) have skimped on warranty plans, and our criticism remains: considering the cost, you should get three years of coverage at no extra charge. Toll-free phone service is available from noon to 9 p.m. ET, seven days a week; however, Falcon's threadbare Web site offers little more than a FAQ.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating
|SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating
|SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF
|Doom 3 1,024x768, 4XAA 8XAF
|Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF
|Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell XPS 600
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 670; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI Intel Edition chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; (2) 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two Hitachi HDS725050KLA360 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce-4 Intel Edition SATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; ATI Radeon RS480 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe); two Seagate ST3160827AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Silicon SiI 3114 SoftRAID 5 controller (RAID 0)
Hypersonic Cyclone OCX Limited Edition
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 550MHz; 256MB (2) Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe, SLI); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; one Seagate ST3300831AS 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Polywell Poly 939n4 dual X2
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+; Nvidia Nforce-4 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; (2) 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; one WDC WD250JD-00HBB0 250GB 7,200rpm SATA; integrated Silicon SiL3114 SoftRAID 5 controller (RAID 0)