Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
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 256MBgraphics 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, 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 ofwe 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.