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Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro review: Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro

Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro

Asa Somers
7 min read
Review summary
Weighing only 14 pounds, with a tiny footprint and a built-in handle, the $1,695 Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro will interest the nomadic LAN-party set. (With a bundled 15-inch LCD, a keyboard, a mouse, and headphones, the cost of our test system totaled $2,285.) The locked configuration updates the original FragBox, but without the ability to customize, the FragBox Pro is not quite as versatile as some other small-form-factor (SFF) PCs we've seen, such as the Polywell Qbox 865T. You can find faster processors than the FragBox Pro's 2.8GHz Pentium 4, but the system's 256MB BFG Asylum GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card helped it turn in excellent frame rates on our 3D tests. The Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro is a great, easy-to-tote gaming system that can also double as a space-saving primary PC when you're not racking up kills. The $2,285 (with peripherals) small-footprint, lightweight Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro just begs to accompany you to your next LAN party. Decked out in clear Lucite with blue fluorescent lighting, it's dressed for a social outing, and the built-in handle invites you to grab it and go. Of course, we saw this case--a rebranded Ice Cube IC-VL67 from First International Computer--last year in the original FragBox.
Thermal issues complicate small-form-factor (SFF) case assembly, which is one of the main reasons Falcon offers only one core configuration for the FragBox Pro. While this might frustrate those of you looking to add extended media functionality such as a TV-tuner card or a larger hard drive, at least you can customize external components. Like any SFF machine, the FragBox Pro offers little in the way of upgradability. The case's tool-free side panel comes off easily, but to get at the one free PCI slot, you must first take out the graphics card. Accessing the single 5.25-inch and 3.25-inch drive bays or the DIMM slots is equally difficult, and you'll have to sacrifice the components already in residence if you want to increase the hard drive space or the memory allotment.
"="" --="">/sc/30871602-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" /> The cramped interior of the diminutive case.
"="" --="">/sc/30871602-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" /> At least it can accommodate a full-size high-end graphics card.

The FragBox Pro's case does offer extensive connectivity. Most convenient are the USB 2.0 and audio ports on the front panel, which make adding peripherals such as headphones and game controllers a snap. Those of you with advanced speaker setups will appreciate the flexibility afforded by both the standard 5.1 minijack audio on the back panel and the optical S/PDIF audio output on the front of the unit. The sheer number of conveniently located ports on the front and rear panels--five USB 2.0 and three FireWire--means you should be able to connect almost any external PC component you want. The Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro is anchored by a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor and an Intel i865 chipset with an 800MHz frontside bus, replacing the original FragBox's slower 2.66GHz P4 processor and i845 chipset. Two 512MB memory sticks occupy DIMM slots, providing a total 1,024MB of 400MHz DDR RAM. The system ships with a 120GB hard drive. A powerful 256MB BFG Asylum GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card anchors the FragBox as a gaming platform. An 8X multiformat recordable DVD-ROM drive adds some usability beyond playing games, but overall this PC was clearly assembled with an eye toward speed and affordability. Because the small form factor is so attractive, it would be convenient if Falcon let you customize the configuration to include a sound card, a TV-tuner card, or other components, but the only internal upgrade you can make is to add a PCI modem.
While the basic FragBox Pro system costs $1,695, our complete configuration ran up the price to $2,285, including a nifty Logitech Cordless MX Duo mouse and keyboard set and a Logitech headset/microphone combo for two-way trash talk. A crisp CRT works best for high-end game play, but lugging around a 21-inch behemoth isn't much fun. Our FragBox Pro came with a more portable 15-inch NEC LCD panel. Surprisingly, we witnessed no serious smearing or ghosting during gameplay.
You can purchase heavy-duty external speakers, any number of displays, and a wide range of keyboards from Falcon's Web site, where the most significant nod to nongaming use is the optional video-editing software. If you are shopping for an SFF system and have more than gaming in mind, we recommend systems from Shuttle or Polywell over the FragBox Pro. Both companies offer fully configurable SFF boxes with options such as TV-tuner cards, built-in media-card readers, and 7.1 sound cards. Application performance
The Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro performed adequately for its processor class. Its SysMark 2004 score of 166 was 3 percent faster than the score of the similarly configured PC Club Enpower Digital Home. Although the two systems share the same 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, the FragBox Pro uses a more powerful graphics card, which we thought should have widened the performance gap between the two systems. That said, the FragBox Pro should provide satisfactory performance for virtually all your computing needs.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Using a 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra-based graphics card, the FragBox Pro performed as expected. Falcon is known for overclocking the graphics cards in its systems but didn't in the case of the FragBox Pro because of thermal issues involved with a small-form-factor case. Running under factory-issue specs, the FragBox Pro performed well on our Unreal Tournament 2003 test, especially on our high-end 1,600x1,200 test, where it generated an impressive 79 frames per second. Next-generation games may challenge this system if you try to play them at higher resolutions, but the FragBox Pro should handle virtually all titles without trouble.

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF  
Falcon Northwest FragBox (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 10x7 tests, and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 16x12 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent way to compare the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
System configurations:
Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; BFG Asylum GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-00CRA1 120GB 7,200rpm
Hypersonic Fury GX
Windows XP Professional; 3.0GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 XT 256MB; Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
PC Club Enpower Digital Home
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 128MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-00FUA0 120GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated GeForce4 MX 64MB; Western Digital WD800JB-00ETA0 80GB 7,200rpm
Shuttle XPC G2 7500M
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004; 3.4GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 XT 256MB; Western Digital WD2000JB-00FUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
Falcon backs its FragBox systems with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, which can be upgraded to three years for $199. You'll have to call and ask for the upgrade, however, since Falcon does not make it available from the FragBox Pro's online order form. Customers are responsible for shipping a faulty system back to the company for service; Falcon pays to return it to you.
Don't expect much documentation for the printer or otherwise. A basic quick-setup sheet was the only printed help that came in the box. Otherwise, toll-free tech support is available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, and Falcon also offers e-mail-based support via its meager Web site, which includes a FAQ, driver downloads, and a few utilities.

Falcon Northwest FragBox Pro

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8Support 7