The handle on top is your first clue. The case's compact dimensions (9.5 by 8.3 by 12 inches) should serve as a second hint that the Falcon Northwest FragBox is made for mobile gaming. It includes touches that are sure to appeal to the gaming crowd: all of the internals are plainly visible through the windowed side panels and illuminated by neon-blue lighting.
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|We commend Falcon for its ability to put so many ports on such a small box.|
What makes the FragBox great for the LAN-party crowd, however, also makes it less ideal for sedentary gamers. Falcon offers just one FragBox configuration, and unlike the company's Mach V line, it's not customizable. Your expansion options are obviously limited due to the FragBox's small case. The AGP slot is easily accessed via the side panel, but you have to remove the graphics card that's installed there to get to the system's single PCI slot. Adding more memory to the remaining open DIMM slot requires some delicate maneuvers because the slots are tucked inconveniently toward the front of the case under the hard drive. The CPU and the RAM are not readily accessible.
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The small case still has room for a full-size graphics card.
Despite its small size, the FragBox offers an impressive number of rear ports, including those for PS/2 keyboard and mouse; two USB 2.0; 10/100 Ethernet; serial; two FireWire; audio connections (speaker out, line in, microphone); and integrated video. Two more USB 2.0 ports, an additional FireWire port, and audio jacks (including an S/PDIF connection) line the front panel, along with the DVD-ROM and floppy drives. The Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra AGP video card provides a 15-pin RGB port and a DVI port for flat-panel displays, such as the NEC MultiSync LCD 1560V+ included with our evaluation unit.
The Falcon Northwest FragBox, with its 2.66GHz Pentium 4 and 512MB of 333MHz DDR memory, offers capable, if not up-to-the-minute, performance. Its CFI-S96 motherboard uses Intel's aging 845PE chipset with a 533MHz frontside bus. If it had a more recent chipset, you'd definitely get better performance, but the FragBox's midrange scores show that it's still more than ready for today's apps.
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The FragBox covers the basics with drives for DVD-ROM and floppy.
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An LCD for gaming? If you plan on taking your first-person shooter skills on the road, it makes sense.
More important to the FragBox's target audience is the graphics card it uses: a 128MB GeForce FX 5600 Ultra manufactured by eVGA.com. It's Nvidia's newest midrange card and a solid performer for the price, hundreds less than Nvidia's high-end 5900 Ultra, allowing Falcon to keep the FragBox's price less than $1,000. (Our test system's peripherals--a 15-inch LCD, a keyboard/mouse, and headphones--are sold separately and push the price past $1,400.
Falcon's FragBox sticks with the essentials for LAN parties and eschews high-priced extras. Although there's no CD burner, for instance, the Sony DVD-ROM drive lets you perform basic tasks, such as audio-CD and DVD-movie playback (the latter supported by Nvidia's nvDVD 2.0 software), software installation, and gaming. The 7,200rpm, 82GB IBM hard drive offers ample storage for games, MP3s, and other downloaded files. Upgrading your storage space, however, means replacing the hard drive entirely; there's no room for a second one.
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Logitech's wireless MX700 mouse is sublime.
The optional components that come with the FragBox are intended to keep the system portable. Falcon wouldn't normally recommend an LCD for gaming, but the 15-inch NEC MultiSync LCD 1560V+ is a lot easier to haul than a CRT. In our informal tests, we saw no ghosting in games, and colors appeared rich and bright. The Logitech cordless MX Duo includes a shortcut-key-laden keyboard and the highly responsive and accurate MX700 optical mouse. The Andrea ANC-65 headset with microphone is a LAN-party essential for hearing game audio while talking smack to your cohorts.
One final word: You'll have to buy your software separately. The FragBox ships with Windows XP Home and the Nvidia DVD-playing software, and that's it.
FragBox's gamer audience will care less about its application performance than it does about the way it runs 3D games. Nevertheless, the FragBox can ably handle any of today's applications. Its older Intel 845G/GL chipset might not be as peppy as Intel's latest mainstream chipset, the 865, but the system still posted solid midrange scores.
|Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, 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
The Falcon Northwest FragBox uses Nvidia's latest midrange graphics card, the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. It turned in impressive 3DMark2001 scores, as well as ample Quake III frame rates. The vast majority of gamers will be more than satisfied with this card, and all gamers will appreciate its cost savings compared to Nvidia's high-end 5900 Ultra. It edged out rival ATI's midrange Radeon 9600 Pro on our 3D graphics tests and is also a significant step up from Nvidia's previous-generation card.
|3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
|3D gaming performance in fps (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
ABS SPC 5
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; WDC-WD1200JB-00CRA1 120GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 4600C
Windows XP Home, 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated Intel 865G 64MB (shared memory); Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
Falcon Northwest FragBox
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; Intel 845G/GL chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra 128MB; IBM IC35L090AVV207 82GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9600 128MB; Maxtor 6Y080L0 80GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB; Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Falcon Northwest backs the FragBox with a one-year limited warranty that includes parts, labor, and return shipping (customers must pay to ship the unit to the factory for repair). Onsite service is not available, but you can extend the warranty to three years for an additional $199. The meager printed documentation--just the stock Windows XP CD and manual and an emergency system-recovery DVD--means that this system is not for novices. Falcon does supply an electronic motherboard manual and recovery instructions in HTML format.
Toll-free telephone support is available Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, and it's free for even out-of-warranty systems. There are also fax- and e-mail-support options, and a "--="" rel="nofollow">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Efalcon%2Dnw%2Ecom%2Fsupport%5Ffaq%2Easp" target="_blank">FAQ page. Falcon Northwest's Web site would benefit, however, from device driver links and setup pictures for the most popular accessories.